To start, a huge thank you and hug and proud mama love to Anna Cullinan, who has agreed that though it’s not her first choice to celebrate her birthday by putting Mia down, it’s far worse to consider making her hurt another day. As of 1:15PM on November 15, 2010, Mia Hoerschelman Cullinan is in pain no more. As she slipped under, Brooks & Dunn’s "My Maria" was playing overhead through the radio. I liked that the song was upbeat, from closer to the era when she was born, full of love, and could easily be misheard by a cat as "my Mia."
If you’d like to make a memorial donation for Mia to her home shelter in Iowa City, that would be very welcome. If you do so and feel like letting me know you did, that would warm my heart, but of course neither donating nor letting me know is necessary. You can donate as little as $10 using this online service. It’s worth noting that the Iowa City Shelter suffered severe damage during the floods of 2010 (and quite possibly 2010 as well). They could likely use money now more than ever.
Following is my goodbye letter to Mia. Yes, it will probably make you cry. No, you don’t have to read it. I just need to post it.
I met you in the fall of 1995 at the Iowa City Animal Shelter. I’d recently moved into an apartment by myself after living with my mother and then a group of people in a different apartment, and the small size of my place plus the fact that it was often empty made Gulliver, the only cat, lonely. He would stand at the door and cry, and it broke my heart. I went to find him a playmate.
I remember the shelter being cold and sterile, though the staff was kind. I remember going into the cat room and hearing the screeches and yowls and seeing the starved, mangy-looking creatures—and then there was you. A ginger tabby on the left top, rubbing the side of the cage and reaching for me. Not mewling, not doing anything, just quietly trying to get my attention. When I went over to stroke back, the rubbing went wild. I asked to hold you. You didn’t like that! You never did. But you loved to be petted. I went home and debated. I came back a few times. Then I adopted you.
The shelter had named you Mia. I thought of changing it for a while, but I couldn’t. You were such a Mia that it had to stay. The shelter loved you. They were almost reluctant to let you go—they had a habit of adopting favorites as “shelter cats,” and I think you were high on their list for next up. They told me all your stories: how you were found pregnant, delivered at the shelter, and were so attached to your kittens that when they tried to wean them, you got depressed so badly that they put you all together in a dog run for a long time. You’d recently come away from that when I came to adopt you.
I brought you home, where Gulliver hated you on sight. It might have been at least partly because you walked in and jumped immediately into his favorite chair, then looked down at him as if to say, “And what are you going to do about it, hmm?” while you twitched your tail. But it wasn’t long before I would come home to find the two of you curled up together in the green cat bed.
You were always a lover. You would sit on laps and always come over for a petting—though rubbing your rump always made you arch. If we petted you too long, you’d bolt away and go beat up the nearest cat. You have always, always dug your claws into whatever you can find when you don’t want to be moved. You have always been one of the worst to get into a cat carrier with your uncanny sixth sense of vet appointments. You’ve always gorged yourself too, eating more than your stomach can take and then needing to get rid of the extra. You’ve never eating sitting down, always standing and ready to run if you need to.
You’ve never liked males much. There have been a few exceptions, but mostly you were girls-only. But you have always been loving. You adopted Blair as a kitten, grooming and corralling him from the moment he came in the front door. You were less enamored of Bingley and Walter, but you were still loving. You greet guests when things have quieted down and they’re sitting on couches or chairs; you come over and invite them to pet them, and usually capture their hearts. And if we’re not giving you enough attention, (like during Jess’s tarot reading) you simply assert yourself into the situation and remind us of what we should be doing.
When Gulliver died so suddenly (and I was seven months pregnant), I was so devastated I could barely functtion. From the first night, you began coming to “put me to bed,” nuzzling my face and resting beside my pillow where Gulliver had formerly slept until I calmed down. As the years have worn on, you’ve made that your place, sleeping on my spot on the bed during the day. If I take too long to go to bed, you come and find me to remind me of what I should be doing.
I forget when exactly you began getting your drink of water at night. I think it began either just before we moved to Ames or shortly thereafter. You would come with me to the bathroom and jump on the counter, and I’d give you a cup of water. When I started brushing my teeth upstairs with no counter, I took to setting your cup on a stool beside the stool, and you stood on your hind legs, braced against the stool, and got your drink. You did that up until just a few days ago, in fact. It was one of the ways I knew it was time when you stopped coming for your drink.
You have always known when people are upset. You’ve come to find me and others when they’re sad, and you nuzzle and say, with just your sweet face, that things are okay. Even when your cancer first appeared, though you were sick, it was you who comforted me.
It was not quite a year ago when I stroked your back and felt that hard little lump. I tried so hard not to notice it. I tried to ignore it too. But it began to grow, and so in we went for surgery. I was so scared you would die then. You nearly did after. But you made it, a trooper as always. And when we came to see you as you woke up, you saw us and purred—even with your throat raw from the breathing tube. That’s how you are.
You’ve always had a loud purr. We called you the geiger counter for the way it seemed to rattle irregularly. We also said you had a broken meow, because it’s never been loud. But it was adorable, because it was yours.
You rallied from the surgery, and we got nine good extra months with you. They have been the most wonderful gift. And for the last few months we’ve known the cancer was back and that we were at the end. There wasn’t a pet you didn’t get that you asked for. You took up so much of the bed that Dan was practically sleeping with his head on his nightstand, and no one suggested you get off and sleep on the floor. You did not get your meds very much, because you emphatically didn’t want them. I would often chase my “dying cat” around the house trying to pin her down for meds. In the end I decided this was your choice.
But today you cannot make your choice, and I am making it for you. You are so weak you cannot move but a small bit. You couldn’t even rise to get to the litterbox a half hour ago, and I’m so sorry it had to come to that, but I hoped I cleaned you well. You are so sick, so small, and so ready to go, I know. So I am going to be brave and strong like you taught me and let you go, helping you through the door.
I hope you have enjoyed your time with me, with us. We have loved you so very much. I hope you feel you got good care. I hope you felt so loved you overflowed with it, because that is how we have loved you. It hurts me to see you hurt like this. I’ve struggled hard not to hold on and not to let go too soon. I hope I’m hitting you at the right time. I hope you are grateful to be aided into your rest. If not, I hope you can forgive me.
When you are free this afternoon, when your spirit can go—linger if you like, but please, go on to wherever you must. Your memory is strong, and you’ll never leave me. Please do go find Gulliver, though, and give him a kiss from me. I can see him waiting for you. He’s so excited to show you everything. And I want you to go. I want you to know peace and ease and whatever else comes after.
Belonging to you has been one of my greatest honors I have known. You have taught me so much and given me so much, mostly love. It hurts so much to lose you, but really, though I was young and silly when I picked you up at that shelter, a part of me knew I was bringing you home so I could watch you die. To live, to love, but ultimately, this day has always been coming.
I am proud to live with you this day as much as I am that first day and every day in between. The pain of losing you is nothing to the joy of loving you, and even when your body is gone and your spirit is free, that love will remain. You are beautiful, even now with death all around you, trying to take you home. Your strength and courage and beauty and love has always been a model for me, and it still will be even when you aren’t padding around to remind me it’s time to go to bed.
I will be strong and proud like you taught me, Mia. I will cry while I do it, but I will help you ease this pain. And I will love you forever and ever.
Goodbye, my sweet princess. Fly today with angels, and feel pain and suffering no more.