A Letter to Ireland Odette
January 25th, 2021.
Twelve long years and I lost you on my 22nd birthday.
The world seemed out to get me.
From as young as I could remember, I always wanted an orange tabby.
I still remember that day, ten years old, and on our way to the shelter to adopt a companion for your Nebelung sister, Rifka.
Dozens and dozens of cats running about, but I zeroed in on you - the orange tabby with the white feet, the big round face, the muscular body, and the piercing green eyes. Dominating the shelter with confidence.
"Ireland's her name," says the worker at the shelter.
"Female orange cats are rare, you know?"
This made me want you even more.
They told us you were found on St. Patrick's Day, hence the name "Ireland", left pregnant at the door and soon bore a litter of four kittens.
Ireland became "Odette", named after the Barbie of Swan Lake. What would you expect from a ten-year-old girl?
But, the fairy queen name suited you well. You strutted into our household with confidence and elegance. Owning the house like the queen you were.
Odette Ireland LaMonica.
Years later, Daddy started to call you Ireland much more around the house.
Eventually, Odette Ireland was switched to Ireland Odette.
But we also called you:
And the most iconic
"Orange cat" (I know, so original).
While I loved you dearly, you were always more of an independent cat compared to your Nebelung sister. You sought affection on your own terms and usually clung more to the adults in the house.
As a child, I assumed you were never fond of me.
This all changed when we lost sweet Rifka, in February of 2020.
I was destroyed.
Rifka was my first loss of a cat and I had no idea how to cope. I doubted if I could ever get through the pain of losing the cat who was basically a therapy cat to me.
But one morning, I awoke to a purr.
It was then that you took on the role of therapy cat. There is no doubt in my mind that Rifka sent you to heal me.
With the growing bond of Ireland and the adoption of our new kitten, Stevie, light was finally starting to come back into my life again.
But it wasn't till only two months later that we received the heartbreaking news...
Bladder cancer with a prognosis of 4-6 months.
I was devastated. To think, in only 4-6 months' time, I would have to go through this pain all over again.
Nevertheless, I had faith.
Back in 2013, a vet gave you an incorrect diagnosis of cancer after having a sinus cyst removed. He said you had six months...but eight years later there you were.
I wished more than anything that things would be the same in this case.
Surgery was too invasive and chemo would only cause more stress given your age, so good quality of life and a daily inflammatory medication was the most suitable option.
Each day through your illness, I vowed to not take a second for granted, admiring all the unique and special qualities that I sometimes overlooked in years prior.
Like running into the bathroom after hearing the practically inaudible click of the dental floss case.
Or the way you let out that little irresistible meow and rolled over on your back before I brushed you.
Or that adorable, infamous stare you'd give us when the food dish was empty.
You were as sweet and loving as can be, although everyone knew to tread carefully at certain moments because you had a notorious feisty side, which made us love you even more. You certainly were the "best hisser in town".
In some moments, I had a strong sense of hope that our vet might be wrong. You appeared active, healthy, and the medicine seemed to be helping you.
It wasn't until January that your condition began to worsen.
Your trips to the litter box became more and more frequent, you were spotting blood more and more often, and finally, your hind legs began to weaken.
Even through this, you tried so very hard to hide your pain and discomfort, sitting perched in the sunlight and going about your usual routine.
It wasn't until my birthday, January 25th, that your condition had reached the worst it has.
Seeing you unable to use the litter box and collapsing onto the floor from the weakness in your hind legs tore me apart. I thought back to the healthy, strong cat we adopted twelve years ago. The cat who jumped to the highest of heights.
We knew you needed to see the vet ASAP. I thought there was maybe just something they could do...but as we left with you in the carrier, I had a painful gut feeling that this might be our last trip.
Sure enough, the vet uttered those words that no one wants to hear, "I'm sorry...I think it's time."
All I wanted was one more day. I knew you were suffering greatly, but I just didn't want to let go. Not just yet. I didn't want you to leave this world on my birthday. I just wanted one more day.
And as heart-wrenching as it was to say goodbye to you on my birthday, I was reminded of one small silver lining in the midst of my heartache. Through your hidden suffering, you held on just long enough to see my birthday.
Rather than looking at every birthday as the day I lost you, I will honor it as a day for the two of us. To remember the unconditional love and comfort you gave me.
Up to your final day, you looked as beautiful as ever, with your vibrant, flaming locks of orange fur and eyes still glowing green. Everyone at the vet was always in awe of your beauty.
Instead of 4-6 months, you gave us ten.
I was a mix of emotions after saying goodbye.
Devastated, bitter, and detached. I guess that's how grief works.
I begged and pleaded for you to send me a sign.
The next morning, while attending orientation for my new job in a depressed slump, I receive a text with pictures and videos from Mommy.
My jaw dropped.
The pictures and videos showed a big, beautiful turkey walking down our block and making its way up to our mailbox.
Never once did we ever see a turkey on our block. We knew this to be a sign.
To make things even better, a few days later, while at my birthday getaway in New Hope, Pennsylvania with my boyfriend, we see a little insect crawling on the floor of our hotel room at the Lambertville Sation Inn.
It was a ladybug...an orange ladybug...in the dead of winter.
My heart filled with joy. We knew it couldn't be a coincidence, it was a sign. I felt it strong and deep in my heart.
And while the loss of you continues to leave a hole in my heart, those were the moments that left me with a significant sense of closure...that you are happy, safe, and no longer suffering. I know that you are not in some faraway place...you are all around me.
R.I.P. Ireland Odette LaMonica
December 12th, 2009-January 25th, 2021
"The loss of a cat is immeasurable. But so is the love left behind."