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Absent Friends

Absent Friends

It might be the most 2020 sentiment of all: I miss my friend.

Lucca always felt like an old soul, even when his body was young. Maybe it was the eyes, big yellow saucers on his remarkably expressive face. As a fluffy black kitten he chewed everything in sight and raced around on paws so big he would trip over them, leading to the first of many nicknames: “Puppy” (Pup, Mister Pup).

He earned them all by being the friendliest “people cat” I’ve ever known; when the doorbell rang our other two cats would find a bed to hide under while he charged straight for the door to greet the newcomers. There were no strangers, only friends he hadn’t met yet.

When he reached peak contentment lying in an afternoon sunbeam or hanging out with his humans after dinner, he would lie flat on his back, showing us the little patch of white fur low on his belly. More and more in recent years the kids and I called him “Bubba” (Bubs, Bubsy) because that’s just who he was, a big, amiable, boisterous wingman who was constantly making you laugh.

Lucca’s constant presence and quirky personality became even more of a cause for joy after the pandemic hit. Our household locked down hard on March 11 and has been in a close bubble ever since. In a year when most of our socializing took place over FaceTime or Zoom, Lucca kept us company day in and day out, following me from room to room and settling in my lap for whole evenings in front of the TV.

In April and May, before we negotiated a joint bubble with our son and his family, every time we got on FaceTime with our grandkids, the first words out of their mouths were always “See Lucca!” At some point in this crazy year, our four-year-old grandson Nathan started calling Lucca “my brudder.”

Unfortunately, the hard truth is also that Lucca was nearly 15 years old when COVID arrived.

Early in the fall I noticed he was a little less rambunctious and spry than he had been, but chalked it up to normal aging. Then in mid-November he walked away from his food dish mid-meal a couple of times. And then on Thanksgiving Day he simply stopped eating. Multiple visits to the vet, IV fluids and nourishment, medicines and various tests followed. The findings were several, but in the end they added up to a single heartbreaking conclusion: it was Lucca’s time. The morning of December 10 we talked things over with our vet and decided to give him one last day of thorough spoiling at home before we let him go.

Since his departure, I have felt the ache of his absence like the phantom pain from a lost limb. Everywhere I look triggers a memory. The kitchen table he would commandeer as his personal chaise lounge on sunny afternoons. The yoga pad I stretch on every morning, where he would head-butt every part of me while purring loudly, anticipating the breakfast that always followed. The family room floor where he would stretch out on his back after dinner, an Otter Pup resplendent. At a time when it isn’t possible for us to see our human friends in person, losing a four-legged one we’re used to seeing every single day has hit us that much harder.

One thing we’ve observed again and again over the past nine months, though, is how resilient young children are, and how much greater their ability is to adapt to things that can throw the adults around them into a tailspin.

Nathan and his family came over on Lucca’s last day to say goodbye and give him a final kiss and chin-scratch. A few days later we are in the middle of lunch at the kitchen table when someone mentions Lucca. We talk for a moment about his final days, answering Nathan’s questions, and then he notices our tears. 

“Are you sad about Lucca?” he asks.

“Yes, we’re still pretty sad,” says Karen, dabbing at her eyes. “Are you sad?”

“No,” says Nathan, a thoughtful smile playing across his face. “He’s still in my head.”

And in our hearts. Rest well, Bubba.

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