For the Love of a Cat

My cat heals me in so many ways.

Watercolor illustration of a cat curled up on a bed.
Image created via Midjourney

My kids play outside almost every day. Barring any rain or snow, they will go to the backyard and run around after arriving home from school. My 10-year-old doesn't even let rain stop him - unless it is a downpour, he's fine with a light drizzle and I have to debate telling him "no" versus mud tracked inside on his shoes.

Our backyard has a very large pond, the length of several bathtubs and just as deep. Now that they are older, the pond doesn't make me as nervous because falling in simply means "stand back up and shake yourself off" but when they were younger it was a bigger concern. We would always make sure that an adult was outside to watch them just in case they would fall into the pond.

The glass sliding door to the backyard is large and old. My 10-year-old has to wrench it open with all of his strength. I jokingly always said that I didn't mind, because when they were little I knew it was impossible for the kids to open the door on their own, thereby preventing them from wandering into the backyard without our knowledge.

But now that they play unsupervised, they have gotten into the habit of leaving the back door open. They have to pass through a sunroom to get outside, so they will close the inner door between the sunroom and the kitchen, but not bother to try to yank the problematic door shut. This wasn't a big deal - until we brought home a new cat a few months ago.

My husband and I had adopted a pair of kittens twelve years ago, that we named Hurley and Libby (LOST was a popular tv show at the time). They moved with us from house to house and were with us as we had children, eventually crossing state lines from Wisconsin to Illinois when we relocated due to work. We bought our current home, with its glorious backyard and sunroom, in 2013. Being able to see the backyard through the giant glass doors and windows was too much for Hurley, and he would try to escape every chance he got. Finally, about a year later, he succeeded and we never saw him again. It was heartbreaking.

My husband isn't exactly a cat lover, so after Hurley was gone he said "no more cats." Libby continued to be a good companion for our two young kids.

Fast forward a few years and trying to have another baby, and losing two babies in the second trimester of pregnancy, two precious daughters that we loved and desperately wanted.

I was devastated, depressed, and didn't know if bringing home another child was in our future or not.

I wrapped my mind around the idea that if I couldn't have another baby, then I wanted an animal - something that I could take care of, something that I could cuddle with, a distraction. My husband was still firmly in the "no" camp on another cat, so we adopted a puppy.

Neither of us had ever owned a dog before, and while we chose a breed that was on the mellow side and well-behaved, we were still unprepared for how hard a puppy would be. I tried to love her, but I found that I resented the work. The kids adored her however, and we had made a commitment, so I kept trying.

Then I became pregnant again. Nine months later, we brought home the baby girl that we had been longing for.

If I was already struggling with the dog, adding a newborn into the mix only escalated the situation. We finally made the decision that we were not the best owners for our dog, and she deserved better. We found a wonderful new family for her, and to this day they still send me photos every few months with an update.

Fast forward again two more years.

Our cat Libby is getting old, now 12. I begin to worry about my kids when she finally passes away and then we would not have any pets in our home. I finally convince my husband that another cat is best - "for the kids." On Labor Day weekend, we brought home a 16-month-old cat from the shelter and named her Midna.

Midna has become my shadow. She sits on my lap during the day. At night, she sleeps at my feet. I wake up before anyone else in this house, and as soon as I stir, she follows me into the bathroom as I get dressed and wash my face. I know she is starving by that point, but she absolutely will not go downstairs to eat her breakfast until I go with her into the kitchen.  If I am writing, she is always sitting just a few feet away, watching.

Now coming back to where I began this story and the fact that my kids leave the back door open when they play outside….

Even after Hurley ran away, as the kids grew older and began to leave the back door open when they played outside, we weren't overly cautious. Our other cat, Libby, didn't seem to care at all about going outside. She would even sit in the sunroom, with the door open a few feet away, and never attempt to go out.

But bringing home a new cat, I immediately became concerned, knowing that many cats have it in their nature to want to be outside. Midna had been looking very hard into the backyard, even walking over to the door as we would go in and out. I instructed my kids to ensure that the back door was always closed, but it is a hard habit to break….

A few days ago, my son came inside to grab an apple, and then wandered around the kitchen eating it. I glanced over to the sliding glass door between the kitchen and the sunroom, and saw that it was open. I then glanced further and saw the back door also open.

Trying to keep calm, I told my son that we needed to look for Midna and ensure that she was still inside, and shut the inside door. I called up to my husband, in his office, and told him to help us look. When we were not able to find her in any of her favorite spots within a few minutes, I could feel the panic rising, but simply told everyone that we needed to look a little harder.

In my mind though, I was already having a meltdown. I adored this cat. She had become the cat companion I desperately wanted. And even though she didn't come into my life during those awful few years when I was going through so much, I was so grateful for her. I couldn't imagine not having her in my life.

Then I looked up and saw her walking in from the backyard through the back door that was still open. She had gotten outside, but hadn't gone far and came right back in.

If my heart had skipped beats during those moments of dread, it began to beat faster and more regularly with relief as I scooped up my precious cat. I realized how much I desperately love and care for her.

There is a piece of my heart that will always be broken after two of my children died. But this cat heals me in so many ways. Bringing home a living baby healed me in many ways, but Midna is there for me in other ways.  She seems to inherently know when I need her and comes to snuggle by my side as if to say "I'm here if you need me."