Goodbye, My Dearest Friend

My dearest friend, Winifred (whom we all usually called “Fred” for short) passed away on the 13th of April at 11:20AM. I miss her dearly. People told me the first few days would be hard but it would get easier as time passed. To a certain extent they were right but I’m still missing her every day and life just isn’t the same.

I first met Fred at an RSPCA sanctuary. She was with another kitten, whom she was apparently bullying because even at only a few weeks old Fred had a strong personality and knew what she wanted. She tried to climb up my leg and when I looked at her, I knew she was the companion I was looking for.

Fred loved to sit with me in my office while I worked; and loved sitting on my computer so I couldn’t work even more.

I say companion because a cat isn’t a pet. They aren’t properly domesticated. We just have an arrangement with them – we provide food and shelter and in return they kill everything in sight and occasionally give us a cuddle. They are companions, housemates, friends. They aren’t pets.

The RSPCA wouldn’t let me take her home right away; they wanted to ask a few questions about living arrangements and they wanted to make sure I knew how to care for a very young cat.

Fred was my first cat (any will probably be my only cat because I could never replace her) so I admitted I didn’t know what I was getting into but I worked nearby and my housemates worked from home, so someone would always be there to look after her and we were willing to learn what to do. This satisfied the woman at the sanctuary, so Fred came home with me a few days later.

This is the earliest photo I have of Winifred. She had only been living with me for a few weeks and I already knew we would have a long and happy life together.

That’s when they told me they had no idea where she had come from. Fred was abandoned at an exceptionally young age. The sanctuary had been told a cat was being dropped off with them to be cared for and when that cat arrived, a kitten was in the basket with it.

The people dropping the cat off didn’t know about the kitten – the RSPCA asked to make sure – and nobody nearby knew anything about a young kitten. The cat being dropped off at the sanctuary was not pregnant at the time. This kitten appeared out of nowhere; so the immediate thought went to someone abandoning a very young kitten at the sanctuary without warning. Not the best start to life.

Fred was hardy, though. She was a survivor. She grew and thrived at home with me. I’ll admit that at first I was overwhelmed with the new responsibility of caring for such a young creature but she was so full of life and so happy to explore everything that she just made the worries evaporate. The first night, I slept on the sofa in our lounge so that she could see there was someone with her; and so she knew she wasn’t alone. I woke up the next morning to find her asleep on my throat, most likely because it was warm. After that, we had a bond for life.

For the first year, she used to sleep at the end of my bed because that way she could be close to me. She developed more independence as time went on and started sleeping on the sofa instead but she would always sleep wherever I had been sitting. Cats have a very good sense of smell and it was clear she liked to have my scent close by. I think she never really got over her abandonment at a young age.

Fred was a house cat, she hardly ever went outside. She enjoyed exploring the garden on warm, sunny days but she never stayed out for too long. I think the most time she was out in one period was an hour, exploring our garden and then falling asleep for a while on Jenny’s model railway (the ballasted surface the rails sit on always got warm in the sun). She never strayed far and always came back in for food and snuggles.

Fred travelled with me whenever I went home to visit my parents. This was her at Christmas a few years ago, taking a quick break from snoozing beside a radiator.

I had the pleasure of Fred’s company for sixteen years. When I transitioned from the civil service to working at home for my own small business, Fred transitioned from spending most of her time in the lounge to sitting with me in my home office. I set up a small bed for her in the corner, using an old duvet she had commandeered a few years prior. It had fallen off a railing while I was drying it and apparently in her mind that meant it was hers now.

The bed is still in the corner of the office as I type this. I’ve put her toys on it. I can’t bear to take it away. Not yet.

Sixteen years is a long time to spend with a dear friend, especially one that is always with you. Fred and I were a team. She gave me companionship while I worked long hours; and company when I would otherwise have been stuck in the office alone. Her passing has left a huge hole in my life and I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to fill it.

She started getting ill in December. At first I thought I’d given her too many treats since it was coming up to Christmas; and that she had developed an upset stomach. Treats are designed mostly for younger cats, after all. I thought maybe I’d given her something that her older stomach couldn’t cope with as well any more. So I cut back on the treats and for a few weeks she seemed to improve. Then she started to get worse.

She put on weight, but only around the abdomen. Experts say that can be a sign of too rich a diet in older cats; so again I switched her food to something specifically tailored for cats in the “very senior” age bracket. Again she seemed to improve a little, but then she started going downhill rapidly. The weight continued to pile on and she started becoming more and more lethargic.

So we went to the vet; and he gave me the worst news it’s possible to receive. “It’s her heart,” he said. “She can’t get better from this. I can drain the fluid building up in her abdomen but it will come back and she will continue to get worse. I can’t give you your healthy cat back.”

We discussed the options but it was clear that if we drained the fluid, her heart would simply continue to deteriorate and it would come back; only it would come back faster this time. We would be prolonging her life for a week or two but she would get more tired all the time. It wasn’t right.

So I made the hardest decision of my life. On the vet’s advice, we put Fred to sleep. I stayed with her throughout the process, keeping her calm and relaxed. Talking to her. Reminiscing over the good old times. I don’t know how much of what was going on she understood but I know she understood some of what I was saying to her.

Fred was the smartest cat I’ve ever met. She understood more English than she let on; I could tell from her reactions over the years to what Jenny and I were saying. She could even mimic me saying “hello there” when I would come through the front door after running errands and so forth. I’d like to think she knew I loved her and that I always would.

She died at 11:20AM, with me comforting her as she passed. She died with her closest friend beside her.

I cried for days after she was gone. I’m crying now. I miss her so much. Each day is a little easier to cope with but every day is more empty because she’s not here. When I get up in the morning, she’s not there at the bedroom door to greet me, like she always was for more than a decade. When I work in the office, she’s not here beside me. When I head into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, she doesn’t follow and mew at me in the hope that I would give her a treat (which I usually would because who could refuse that beautiful little girl and her cute mewing?).

Fred’s passing left a hole in my life that will never be filled. She was a dear, sweet old girl and a beloved friend. I will miss her always.

Goodbye, my beautiful baby girl. I will never forget you.