Have you ever had a pet that was in your life longer than the time that it wasn’t in your life? One that was so much more than just a pet. It was your best friend. It was family. For me, that was my cat Lightning. I brought him home when I was just 13 years old and he was just old enough to leave his mom.
He’s been with me through middle school, homelessness, high school, mental health struggles, marriage, three pregnancies, college, multiple moves, health scares, my children’s autism diagnoses—whatever life threw at me, he was there for it. To comfort. To support. He never failed to be there for me. He always somehow knew when I needed him. He would just show up when I was sick, injured, anxious, depressed—whatever it was, he was always there. And he would stay by my side until he knew I was alright. This also transferred to my children. He was always there for them just as he was for me.
Seventeen years we had together. Seventeen years he was my best friend. My confidante. My console. He and Jesus were how I survived everything I’ve been through in my life. And I’m convinced I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my Lightning. That God gave him to me to help me through all the trials and tribulations of this life. And now he’s gone.
Saying goodbye was harder than I ever could have imagined. I sat by his side for three days straight. It was a Saturday when I realized he wasn’t going to make it. It came on so fast. One day he was fine, the next he wasn’t. I couldn’t afford an emergency vet fee, and I hoped he would just lay down and pass peacefully in his sleep. That isn’t what happened. He held on for days.
I watched as his body slowly shut down. As he stopped eating, drinking, and became unable to move. With each change in his condition, my heart broke a little more.
I’m so grateful to my husband who missed two days of work to stay home and take care of our kids, so I could be there for Lightning. I was grieving and in pain and I couldn’t handle my own pain, my cat’s pain, and my children’s all on my own.
By Monday morning he was close to death’s door. We had discussed with the kids what was going on, and it was so hard. The only pet they had ever lost was a Guinea pig but this cat was here for all of their lives, and it was painful for them too. Trying to be there for my children’s questions and pain through my own was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
We called the vet right away in the morning, and they couldn’t get us in until four in the afternoon. So that day was spent showering Lightning with love from all of us. When the time came I had each of the kids say goodbye. I also let our other pets say goodbye to him as well, I believe they knew what was going on. They had been hovering and sniffing him for days. Then my mom stayed home with the kids and my husband and I left for the vet.
When we got there, I set Lightning down on the table where he couldn’t see me because I was behind him. He tried to get up, but when I walked around to his view he instantly calmed down. It was only seconds later when he knew it was safe, he finally let go.
But it wasn’t a peaceful last breath passing like you see in movies. He started convulsing and gasping and then going still and then starting all over again. This went on for a few minutes. The vet said he wasn’t aware of what was going on and that the worst was over. He said it was his final breathing and it was common at the end of life.
It killed me to be there, but I couldn’t leave him. He had to know I was there and that he was safe and loved. I watched my reflection in his eyes and didn’t leave his side. The vet administered the medication to stop his heart, and it took a few minutes to work. Every second was agony.
Then, he was finally at peace. And I broke. I sat there for half an hour after he passed, unable to bring myself to leave him. When I finally worked up the nerve to go, I told him goodbye and made my way home.
Losing him was so much harder than I ever anticipated. The death process was more gruesome and painful than I was prepared for. His loss was more devastating than I could have predicted.
For 17 years, when I was in this kind of pain, he was what helped me through it. I don’t know how to get through this pain now without him. In losing him, I lost a piece of myself, my childhood. It just feels wrong that he isn’t here.
Pets are great companions. They’re great for mental health struggles and providing comfort and bringing joy. But that just makes losing them that much harder. I will never forget my Lightning. He will always be the best cat I could ever have asked for.
For any who doesn’t understand this kind of bond with a pet, I just want to say that you’re missing out on something amazing. As horrible and painful as his loss is to me, I would never trade a second of the time we had together. Pets are family. They’re there for us in a way no one and nothing else can ever be. Their love is unconditional. Their loyalty is boundless.
While I wish we could have had more time together, I’m grateful for every second, every minute, and every year because pets hold a special place in your heart that can’t be filled by anything else. I believe God gave us pets as an expression of his love for us. And that’s a pretty amazing thing if you think about it.
So now I give thanks for the time we had, I grieve for this excruciating loss, and I pray for strength and peace during this process of letting go. But more than anything I thank God for giving me such a wonderful friend for these last 17 years. I couldn’t have done it without him.