A Year Without Orla

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since we lost Orla. 2020 started off in the worst possible way for me and Mark, and I feel like we never truly recovered. As helpful as it was to attend a pet loss support group and to care for (and be distracted by) two new kittens not long after, I’m still not sure if we’ve really finished mourning the loss of our Little Nugget.

I think part of the reason behind this was that Orla’s passing was so unexpected and so difficult for us. Not only did it all happen much too fast, but she was far too young. Plus, Mark had never lost a pet before, and I had lost the family dog only eight months prior. I cursed the universe for putting me through that. But she was also our baby. She wasn’t just a pet. Mark and I don’t have children – we have cats. The cats are our children, and we treat them as such. We are undoubtedly devoted to them. Orla was the first kitten that we adopted together, so she really was our baby.

Her personality was such that it’s made it that much harder to get over this loss. She was, quite literally, the perfect cat. We had wanted a third cat to balance out the dynamic between our old man Max, who loves snuggling kittens even though he pretends not to, and our intelligent Minerva, who needed a younger cat around to keep up with her shenanigans and keep her out of trouble. Not only did Orla fit in perfectly to our little family, snuggling up to me and Mark whenever she got the chance, but she gave each of the older cats what they needed. She never really caused problems for either of them, and they loved her just as much as we did. Both Max and Minerva went through a period of mourning and depression when Orla was no longer there.

Adopting Finn and Bubs so soon after losing Orla showed us just how perfect her personality had been. Although I think Finn and Bubs are perfect in their own, unique ways they are Troublemakers. From day one, Finn has felt the need to explore and climb everything, all while yowling as loudly as possible. Bubs has no concept of personal space and does not understand that no means no, so his need for attention from his older siblings sometimes leads to hissing. Definitely a stark contrast to little Orla and her polite meows, sassy side eye, and occasional need for speed. But no matter how different the boys are compared to Orla, I still love them just as fiercely.

Unfortunately for me, Orla’s passing left me with a lot of anxieties concerning the other cats. Not only was I concerned for Max and Minerva’s well-being when they became depressed, but I worried about their health more over the past year. Just before Orla passed, Minerva had picked up a cold from her little sister that resulted in an alarming amount of swelling in her face. Now, whenever Minerva so much as sneezes, I worry that she could get sick again.

As for Max, he is an older cat who just turned 11, so I find myself worrying about his age. When my family dog passed away eight months before Orla, he was 16 years old and was very much an old dog. With my experiences from spending time with an old dog, I have started to notice that Max is on his way to becoming an old cat. Some days he has a little bit of a harder time getting down the stairs, and he’s starting to develop the lumpy fat deposits that are characteristic of older animals. Although the vet has recently given him a clean bill of health and he is doing very well for his age, I still find myself worrying that someday I will lose my favourite old man. I can’t think of what I would do without our lap cuddles.

I have experienced the most anxiety with Finn and Bubs though. Orla had FIP, which can present itself any time within the first two years of a cats life. Orla was unlucky enough to start developing symptoms at around four months of age. Although Finn and Bubs are now older than Orla had been, they are still not out of the woods yet. Or, rather, I’m not out of the woods yet. I doubt I’ll be able to truly relax about their health until both boys have reached age two. So, I have one more year of worrying to go. I have gotten better, though. Especially when the boys were tiny, I was paranoid about everything. And when they got neutered, or when Finn needed surgery to remove his bad eye, I felt nothing but panic until my babies were home safe from the vet. Now that the boys are a year old, I’m a lot calmer in terms of my anxieties about their health, but a part of me is still terrified that I could lose them too.

Even though it’s been hard to move on, and we’re still grieving the loss of Orla in some ways, Mark and I have done what we can to keep her memory alive. We have pictures of her on display in the kitchen, along with a display shelf with her ashes, and Mark and I each got a tattoo of her so that we can always be close to her. I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Sebastian at Knux Studio for his amazing work on our tattoos. And although I still worry about the health of our other fur babies, I have learned to love them as much as possible and enjoy each and every moment with them. I’ve done my best to stop worrying and to put that energy into loving them instead.

I’m sad that I never got to watch Orla grow up, but I am grateful that I got to watch Finn and Bubs grow to be the lovable, cuddly, adventurous, shit-disturbers that they are today. Although I can’t snuggle Orla anymore, I take the time to sit an enjoy my lap cuddles with Max and my belly rub sessions with Minerva.

I sure do love my babies.

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