Sometimes the pain of loss is so poignant that it’s hard to think about expressing it in words.

That is the way I felt when Pip died four weeks ago.

He was only a cat, but like my husband says, we felt worse when Pip died than when some people we know have passed on.

Pip was a sleek black cat with big yellow eyes. We got him and his sister, Bitsy, 10 years ago when a friend called to say her landlord told her she could keep either her two little kittens or her dog, but not both.

We were in Massachusetts at the time and immediately packed up and headed north to Skowhegan to collect our new felines. I had seen only photos of them prior to that but immediately fell in love. Bitsy was a tiny Maine coon who, throughout their 10 years together, always remained three pounds behind Pip.

My 18-year-old Maine coon cat, Chloe, had died a couple of weeks prior to getting the kittens, and though part of me felt it was too soon to get another one, the other part felt it was serendipitous that the kittens suddenly became available.

It was January and cold. The cats were so small, they both fit in one cat carrier and we brought them home to Waterville, placed the carrier on the living room floor and opened the door. They emerged, fearless and curious, checked out all corners of the house and immediately claimed it and us as their own.

They were good cats, though Pip tended to be impatient, knocking items off our antique bureau at dawn to wake us up and scratching its beautiful wood if we did not respond because he knew we’d react.

He also tended to get into trouble.

One day he came home, his tail flopped over and bleeding. We took him to the vet, who tried to fix it, but in the end had to amputate. We never really knew what happened, but suspected Pip got hit by a car on a busy street off our quiet one. Neighbors once told us they saw him on that busy street a lot, but after his accident, he stayed close to home.

Because he had a stub of a tail and lumbered around like a bear cub, passersby sometimes did a double-take when they spied him climbing the crabapple tree in our front yard. Pip was a friendly cat and loved it when people would come to visit. He was attentive and affectionate, and Phil surmised that he was so sociable because he never met a bad person.

Pip was a great friend to Phil. He climbed into his lap several times a day, looked him straight in the eye and acted as though he understood when Phil chattered on to him about everything under the sun.

Pip also was a good outdoor companion to me. When I planted the garden in spring, he was always there, supervising. Like Bitsy, he loved it when we ventured outside into their cat territory.

It was a good and happy life with the pair, but life, as we all know, throws curve balls. When things are going well, adversity often lurks just around the corner.

One day Pip’s lunch didn’t stay down, and we chalked it up to his having a hairball or having eaten some grass, which cats sometimes do. But the nausea was persistent, so we took him to the vet, who did some tests, but the cause remained elusive. At the clinic’s recommendation, we drove Pip to an animal hospital in Scarborough, which has more sophisticated diagnostic equipment, and after more tests, we were informed he had mast cell cancer in both his spleen and in a lymph node in his abdomen.

It was an aggressive cancer and the prognosis was not good. They told us surgery to remove his spleen was an option, but would require we take Pip to Scarborough every three weeks for chemo. That option might buy him some time, but none of it sounded very good, and we decided to do the alternative, which was to give him meds to help keep him comfortable, maintain a close watch and have him put down when it was time.

That time came three weeks later after living, sadly, with the fact that he was not long for this world. It was perhaps the toughest time of all for us, knowing he would be leaving us, but not knowing when. Pip seemed more affectionate than ever during those three weeks, almost as if he were trying to comfort us, rather than the other way around.

Pip and Bitsy were close, and I think she knew he was sick. Though they would sometimes play-fight and chase each other around the house during Pip’s short life, they never seemed to compete for our attention, and whenever we patted or paid attention to one cat, the other never objected or acted jealous.

In the three weeks after his diagnosis, which seemed akin to purgatory for us, we gave Pip extra pats, hugs and cuddles. While the fall temperatures were chilly, one day the sun shone and temps rose to about 70, so I planted tulip bulbs at either end of my flower garden with Pip at my side, watching and soaking in the warmth. I told him I would think of him every spring as the tulips bloomed.

It was surreal, driving to the veterinarian’s office with Pip on his last day. It was agony. Knowing how badly Phil felt, I insisted on driving. I told myself I had to be strong — that when you take a pet under your wing, you have to care for it in good times, and be responsible enough to do the right thing when it is time for it to die.

As we drove along, I mustered courage by telling myself many people before me have done this very thing and I must, too. The vet and his technician were very patient and empathetic, though it was a busy day there. We stroked Pip as he lay on a soft red blanket, told him we loved him and kissed him good-bye as he went to sleep. Leaving without him was gut-wrenching.

Someone told us, in our grief, that pain is more acute when you really love a pet and he, you, and it is testament to the rich and loving life you had with it. Would we want it any other way?

To feel the warmth of the sun, you must know a cold, raw rain. To experience joy, you must experience darkness. It’s amazing how resilient the human spirit is when, just as you think there’s no relief, a door opens.

The sun will come out, a friend who loves animals wrote in a note to us after Pip died. I know he is right, and I’m starting to feel it, though Phil is moving a bit more slowly on that front.

Meanwhile, we have Bitsy, thank goodness. She has become very sticky, rarely letting us out of her sight as if she fears we might disappear also.

One day, I know we’ll get another kitten to keep her company, though Phil says it is sacrilegious to even think about that now. But I’m keeping my options open, knowing that somewhere, there’s a little creature out there waiting for us to claim it.

And then, eventually, all will be right again with our world.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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