A friend who had recently lost her cat asked me about my first cat Mao, so I wrote her this:
You asked about Mao. Mao was my soul mate, just like M. was for you. I believe he was sent to me to help my heart chakra open and to guide me through certain parts of my life. He was my "little lion," a fierce, solemn, majestic beast.
A previous roommate moved in with him and she wound up leaving the country so she gave him to me. He was obese when I got him (she compensated for being absent a lot by overfeeding him kitty junk food the rare times she was around), but in my care he slimmed down to a handsome and trim (for him) 14 pounds. She cautioned me that he was not a lap cat, but he crawled into my lap all the time! He could tell when I was upset about something because he'd crawl onto my lap and park himself with his front paws on my knees and his tail at my navel, and he'd just purr, trying to make it all better in his kitty way. In the morning he'd wake me up by walking back and forth on the pillow and stepping on my head, and I consider that to be the finest alarm clock in the whole wide world. He'd also sit on my chest, nose to nose, and purr saying "hi mom, good morning, time for my yum-yums, get your oh so sleepy bum out of bed." For the first year I had him, whenever he woke up from a nap he'd start crying and I'd go comfort him; after a while he didn't cry anymore when he woke up (goodness knows what that was all about, but I'm glad I helped exorcise a few demons by being there for him as he transitioned back into waking consciousness). He was about 9 years old when I got him, and we had 5 blessed years together.
Mao had just turned 14 when he lost a 6-week battle with lymphosarcoma, which has a dismal survival rate in cats. It affected his entire intestinal tract and he stopped eating. For 6 weeks, 24/7, I was in crisis mode, because literally any day during that time, any given hour, he could die. After his diagnosis, when I woke up the first thing I did was look for Mao to see if he had died during the night. I didn't want to go to sleep at night because he might pass away then. I didn't want to leave my apartment because he might die when I was out. I had to bring him in to the vet's every day for chemo, and on Sunday I had to take him to the after-hours emergency vet (All Animals) for treatment. It didn't help him at all, and I had to watch helplessly as he died inch by inch before my eyes. All my love for him had no power to save him from the ravages of the cancer.
After he died I was very bitter; I felt what's the point of loving another living being when your love has no power to save them from this? It took years before I began to understand what the meaning and power of love were, and what the meaning of death was. It stretched all my spiritual, rational and emotional abilities nearly to the breaking point. It felt like I had to virtually rewire my very brain to complete my journey through the experience. But I purposely kept myself open to the full experience -- the good, the bad and the ugly, in full. I embraced the whole gamut of emotions and thoughts, no matter what they were or where they led me. And I found that by embracing the pain it made it infinitely easier to let go of when it was time to let go and move on.
And moving on was hard anyway. But Life is hard, so it didn't matter. I embraced the difficulty. Life isn't about being "happy," it's about following your path and riding the wave where it takes you. Being "happy" is an occasional serendipitous side-effect of pursuing one's evolution, it's not an end in and of itself. That's part of what I learned from taking care of Mao, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, in Life and in Death and in Life again.