We stood in the middle of a bare thread room at a local animal shelter, staring at cages stacked from floor to ceiling filled with a flurry of felines all vying for the coveted role of our new pet.
Our previous cat, Yin Yang, had recently succumbed to kidney disease. In an effort to assuage our eight-year old daughter Melissa's grief, my husband Bob and I sought to immediately fill the void by welcoming a new kitten into our home.
The shelter staff gently tried to sway us towards adopting an older cat.
Nope. No dice.
We wanted to start anew with a baby fur ball to call our own.
The shelter had placed a collar around the kitty's neck, engraved with the name Aden, which I found to be quite a silly name for a cat.
I suggested "Tigger", an ode to Melissa's love of all things Pooh.
Bob suggested "Gary", after Sponge Bob's pet snail.
Nope. No dice.
Melissa nixed every proposed name change.
And that's how we adopted a kitten named Aden, who quickly chose Melissa as his favorite from among the three humans who occupied his new home.
"He'll live for a good, long time," I told my second grader. "We'll have him until you're in college."
Last week, Aden passed over the Rainbow Bridge, only five days after Melissa had finished her junior year at American University.
It's heart wrenching to think just how quickly "a good long time" passed us by.
We stroked him and told him we loved him as he lay on the floor on the upstairs landing, too weak to move. As Bob, Melissa, and I comforted one another, our tears fresh and raw, we at least experienced a shared sense of gratitude that our sweet Aden decided to spend his final hours at home, sparing us the painful task of a watching him "go to sleep" at the hands of the vet.
It is only now that he's gone that I've begun to realize how intricate his presence had become in our lives. We did things without thinking, like making sure to put the toilet seat down lest he help himself to a "drink", or taking care to not leave any type of garment or blanket on the floor that we didn't want covered in fur.
And speaking of meals, I knew that every morning, at least a half hour before my alarm signaled the start of day, Aden would remind me, in no uncertain terms, that he needed his breakfast. The incessant meows, the jumping on my head....annoying for sure, but now sorely missed.
I knew that each day Aden could count on a good, healthy fight with Bob, who met the cat on his terms, getting down on all fours and playfully swatting him around.
I knew that Aden loved playing with hair bands, chasing the light from a flashlight, and waiting patiently for each of his humans to finish bathing so he could lick the water off the shower floor.
I knew I'd find him curled in a ball every night, sleeping peacefully next to Melissa. When she dared to leave her kitty behind in favor of a dorm room on a campus much too far away, he reluctantly crawled into bed with Bob and me, only to return to Melissa's side each time she came home for break.
And I knew, deep in my heart I knew, that he purposely waited until she came home that one last time, giving her the chance to say goodbye.
The day after Aden crossed over, Bob and I packed up his remaining food and supplies and donated them to a local animal shelter. While there, I so wanted to take a peek at the kittens, but my much more logical husband pulled me away, knowing if I went inside, I wouldn't come out empty handed.
Bob was right to stop me. After all, we need time to mourn our loss, to adjust to our new normal without Aden's constant presence.
I'm not sure if a new cat will fill our lives again some day. Actually I'm not sure of a whole lot of things. Melissa will graduate next year, and I'm not sure whether she'll end up back home or settle in some distant city to follow her dreams. Perhaps, some day, as she embarks on her post-college journey, she'll adopt a new cat to call her own. But I know she'll never forget the sweet little guy named Aden who chose an eight-year old girl as his favorite human, and filled all our hearts with his unconditional love.
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