Max was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and passed away at home in my arms around noon on April 2, 2020.
I adopted Max from the Bucks County SPCA in Pennsylvania 14 years ago today. He was around four and a half months old. I remember holding his little face next to mine and instantly knowing that he was the one. He had big ears and paws. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he would grow into a beautifully large and long adult cat.
Some might say that I saved Max by adopting him out of the shelter, but he saved me. He changed my life forever and brought me so much joy. I quit smoking cigarettes for good that year (2006), and returned to veganism, acknowledging little difference between Max and any other animal who wants to live and be happy.
Max was my only nonhuman companion. He was my whole world and the love of my life, my best friend, confider, and soul mate. We were alike in so many ways: cautious, insistent, inquisitive, affectionate, vocal, and creatures of habit. Max loved to curl up in small spaces. Sometimes he would sneak into the linen closet, and I would find him fast asleep on a shelf.
I remember the first week after I brought Max home. Initially guarded, he slept under the bed, but at some point that week, in the wee hours of the morning, he crept out from underneath the bed and curled up next to me. It was heavenly. Earning Max’s trust then and over the years to come was like receiving a badge of honor.
Max was handsome, smart, athletic, and playful. We would chase each other around the house and he loved to climb his cat tree, which was fascinating to watch. I would throw his toys up to him and he’d bat them down better than any volleyball player. Quite often my head would be the receiving end of those toys, which would cause me to break out in laughter. His favorite toys were his little plush beaver and catnip-stuffed banana. When I brought cat grass home from the supermarket, he would get so excited that his tail would puff up. Each week when I changed the bedsheets, he’d love to jump on the mattress and hide under the sheets and we’d play hide and seek.
There was no other place in the world I ever wanted to be than home with Max. Our apartment was our sanctuary and he was the epitome of home and happiness. I hated leaving him to go to work and I knew he felt the same because he would often try to engage me (successfully) with play as I stood by the door, not quite ready to leave. At other times, he went to the bed to nap and I would return one, two, three times to him for “one more kissy” and to let him know how much I loved him and would miss him. I would tell him I missed him when I was on my lunch break and call out to him in the car on my way home to let him know, “I’m coming, Max!” My favorite time of the day was when he greeted me at the door. We were so happy to see each other. I’d pick him up and hold him for as long as he would let me, and he would rub his head next to mine or nuzzle my ear.
Max was very good about telling me what he wanted and when, but we had such a soulful connection that we frequently communicated without words. Sometimes I would be sitting on the couch and think about him and, even though he would be sleeping in the bedroom, he would somehow know I was thinking about him and suddenly emerge to hang out with me. If I wasn’t quite ready for bed when he was, he’d often join me on the couch and fall asleep next to me.
I loved the way Max scrunched his nose when he was eating or covered his eyes with his paw to block out the light when he was napping. As I turned down the covers for bed, Max would patiently wait and then instinctively snuggle up on his side of the bed and bury his face under his pillow. Many a day I would stand over him and watch him sleeping, marveling at how beautiful he was, and how happy and blessed we were to have each other.
Max was my connection to the nonhuman world. Whenever I saw oppression, pain, and suffering among my nonhuman friends and felt helpless, it was through loving Max that I felt a little less sad and a little more useful. I gave him the love I wish all animals felt and received. Max was a constant reminder to me of what is really important. Our relationship was so vital and meaningful to me; it made me highly conscious of the experiences of other animals as I tried to see life from their eyes.
Max was so pure and innocent and good. I came to recognize how much better he was than me. Max taught me to be less selfish as I made every effort to put his needs ahead of my own. He taught me the importance of being still and being together. He taught me the importance of play and enjoying the simple things in life. In caring for Max, I learned the value of time and patience and the true meaning of love. Lastly, he taught me how to endure and to be brave.
I tried very hard to understand and respect Max for who he was—an equal and autonomous being—and to make him happy. I was constantly researching the best food, litter, and toys for him, and trying to provide him with the best care. I was devoted to him.
In the end, it wasn’t enough to keep him from getting sick. He took a turn for the worse. Constantly throwing up, he finally stopped eating and spent most of his time under the bed. I knew he was in pain. In fact, he told me so three times by his water bowl the morning of his passing. His voice was hoarse and weak, but his words were resolute: “I don’t feel well.” I reached down and hugged him. “I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
The hardest thing I ever had to do was release my Max. My heart is broken because he is no longer here to talk with, curl up with on mornings, or play with. I deeply miss his daily presence in my life and not being able to kiss him and give him “lots of lovie.” I feel empty and useless without him. If home is where the heart is, I feel lost and displaced because Max was both my home and my heart.
I’m sorry, Max, for the times in our early years together when I was ignorant about food and nutrition. I’m sorry when I left you alone to do things that I wanted to do. I’m sorry for the times when I didn’t understand or when I was impatient and irritated. I’m sorry for the times when I was distracted and didn’t give you my full attention. I’m sorry for any shortcomings, but I always tried to do better and learn from my mistakes.
I miss and love you so much, Max. I’m grateful to God for the 14 wonderful years I had with you. You’ll always be my guy. You’ll always be with me because the bonds we have are everlasting. Please come visit me, bunny; don’t be a stranger. I miss you so very, very much. I look forward to the day when we can both be home, together again.
What greater gift than the love of a cat. –Charles Dickens
In Memory of Max