Think About It: Losses that matter

“It could mean lymphoma,” the veterinarian said explaining what might cause high calcium in blood lab work and an unexplained weight loss.

I did not expect it. When my husband Paul went into the hospice program, I had a conversation with Maggie, one of our cats. I explained that she must stay well — that the day would come when I needed her comfort on lonely days and nights.

Maggie looked at me with wide eyes that told me she wanted to please me, no matter what I wanted.

Maggie came as one-half of a set. The other half is Jolie. They are tortoiseshell cats, often referred to as torties, so named because of the wide variety of patterns of their colorful fur.

Like snowflakes, there are no two identical torties. Torties are more commonly female. Maggie and Jolie are sisters.

They have been with us for 10 years.

Maggie ingratiates herself with most people who cannot resist this beautiful cat with the silky hair. Jolie, on the other hand, is “crabby cat” whose default response is hissing along with a guttural grrr warning.

I have since read that tortie cats tend to be highly independent and mercurial, affectionate one moment and hissing the next. That would be Jolie. Maggie must have missed the class.

After a year of mourning our last cats, we picked Maggie and Jolie from cats waiting for homes at Peninsula Friends of the Animals (PFOA). The staff thought they were two years old and had abandonment issues.

Once they realized they were safe with us and could explore, they began to define their territory which included us. Jolie picked Paul and Maggie picked me.

Even though I was Maggie’s pick or the default since I was the only one left, it was a year before Maggie would stay on my lap and purr.

Now, 10 years later, she will follow me around, sit next to me and purr until she, in her catlike way signals she has had enough.

Paul, as he does with so many things, introduced me to the love and appreciation of cats early in our relationship. We have had cats in our home for the last 53 years, sometimes Siamese and often the mutt version of cats.

Just like readers, we can name every one of our past and current pets, and how each of their personalities lit up our lives.

Cat, dog, all pet owners share a universal love and gratitude for our pets. We find them endlessly fascinating and easily tell their stories.

We grieve with longing when they leave us. We see their shadow and presence long after they die. The pain of loss and longing is like no other.

In “Women, We’re Only Old Once,” I wrote a chapter called “Losses that matter” to acknowledge the losses that bring us the greatest pain. I included the story of a women who years later still misses her cat. All while she was telling me about her cat, she was gently patting the place beside her where the cat always rested.

How much loss can we bear?

Life for Maggie and Jolie changed when Paul lost function and I took on all cat and household duties.

They love having someone around 24/7. They soon learned I was the go-to person for food. Jolie began liking me a bit more.

I was late in getting them to their annual checkup. I kept putting it off because I alone had to get a cat into the carrier. It is dangerous, especially with Jolie. I bought a better carrier and finally summoned the fortitude to take them, one at a time.

It was lab work from Maggie’s visit that showed that she had a thyroid problem. Our only option was to give her thyroid medicine with an ear gel since I could not leave Paul for the time it would take to get her radioactive iodine treatment.

Several months later and not to be outdone, Jolie’s lab work showed the same thyroid problem. I administer gel into the ear of each cat every morning.

I also weigh them every week to be sure neither was losing weight and needing more thyroid medication. Late last fall, Maggie began to lose weight. I brought her in expecting it was her thyroid.

It was not. It was something different and could be cancer.

Two weeks later I brought her in early to have an ultrasound of her abdomen focusing on her intestines.

Again, I reminded her that I loved and needed her, especially now.

Leaving her was very hard. She was scared. It was mid-afternoon before I could pick her up. I said I wanted to know the results then. It was too hard to wait.

The vet brought her to me in the carrier and explained the ultrasound was inconclusive and advised another blood test for calcium.

When I got into the car and sat next to Maggie, she began to purr. She was glad to see me. It had been a grueling day.

When home, I was shocked to see a large section of her silky fur had been shaved off. I felt so sad, so bad for her. We gave her lots of attention. Jolie hissed.

I was nervous the day of the blood test. She had to fast, which meant Jolie had to fast. The tension made me want to take the tranquilizing drug I must give Jolie before a vet visit.

Maggie followed me around the entire day. She was relieved to come home so soon with all her hair.

We had to wait a day for the results.

I had decided to put all my energy around Maggie into believing it would be OK but could not stop the occasional thoughts that crept in about losing her.

“Not now,” I would say, “not now.”

The vet wrote first thing in the morning, I am sure she shared our anxiety about the prognosis.

“Great news!” she wrote. Maggie’s calcium was within normal limits and recommended we retest in four months. I am to keep monitoring her weight,

Joy in the Cooper home!

And we do not have to answer the question — at least not now.

Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and is the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 25 years. Reach her at