The word “goodbye” comes from the late 16th century phrase, “God be with you.”  The original goodbye, from the 1570s, was spelled “godbwye.”  Today we use it as a last parting phrase when we send our kids off to college or when guests leave our homes.  We use it at the end of business conversations as a farewell remark.

I would consider these uses of the word cordial and happy or at least friendly ways to part with friends or loved ones who either have visited our home, or you theirs.  But there is another form that is more somber and deeply emotional.  That is, saying goodbye to a loved one who has left this life behind.  That loved one can be a human or a pet.  Today, we had to say  goodbye to one of our beloved poody cats, Tena.

My wife got her in 2006, when we lived in San Diego, CA.  I was working as a contractor in Texas at the time and didn’t see her until my first trip home for the Thanksgiving holiday that year.  She was a tortise color and was very tenatious, thus her name – Tena (TEN-uh) which was short for Tanacity.  When she wanted something, she never gave up until she got it.

My wife picked her out of a litter, having answered an ad for free kittens.  On the trip home, Tena decided she wanted to nap on her lap.  It didn’t matter my wife was driving, she was going to take a nap on her lap, and that was that.  

My first night home, she was a little shy around me, but very quickly decided I was “a keeper” and climbed into my lap for a nap.  That night, she decided she wanted to sleep on my chest and would not take no for an answer.  I pushed her away several times, she sat for a while until I settled down again.  Her next attempt was more suttle with her placing one paw on my arm and waiting to see what I would do.  We played this game for several minutes before I rolled over on my side.  After that, she went to my wife and tried the same routine.

Tena was queen of the house.  When she joined our family we had a Golden Retriever named Jager, and another cat named Stinker.  Even though these two had been in the family long before she came, Tena decided she was going to be the boss.  It wasn’t too hard to convince Jager.  He had been around our cats for quite a while and learned not to mess with them.  Stinker needed some persuasion, but very quickly got the hint.

Over the years, other pets came and went, each having to learn their place in the pecking order.  Tena also decided which human would be her favorite.  When I wasn’t around, my wife was her person, but as soon as I walked into a room, she came to me.  Must have been my animal magnatism?

Saying goodbye to her today was very hard.  She was 15 years old, and had suddenly lost a lot of weight, going from just over seven pounds to barely five pounds.  She had developed a bad sneeze, her right eye looked to be irritated or swollen with an infection.  She barely ate or drank for the past few days, wanting only to hide and sleep.

Our regular vet couldn’t see her but recommended another one across town.  Mary called and got an appointment for this morning.  We put her in her carrying case and off we went.  I don’t know about my wife, but I had a strong feeling how this trip would end – we would have to let Tena go.  Neither of us wanted to see her suffer and not have a good quality of life.

The new vet was fantastic, very caring and understood there wasn’t much she could do for Tena.  After her exam, she told us we could spend a lot of money on tests and treatments, but it would not give her a good quality of life.  Her condition was such that heroics and money spent on treatments would not help.  We knew then the only option was to say goodbye.

The vet left us alone for a while to discuss the issue we both knew was coming.  Tena wanted down off of the examing table and jumped down on her own, wandering around the room for a while sniffing and looking for a place to hide.

I sat down on the floor and patted my leg to get her to come to me.  She was the only cat I have ever been around that responded to her name when called.  She would meow loudly in response as if to say, “Ya, what do you want?”  But she always came when called.  Now, she was too tired to even answer.

After a few minutes she came over, crawled up on my lap and curled up in a ball.  I sat there holding her and petting her to let her know she was safe.  One of the assistants came in and went over the paperwork with Mary, and explained the procedure asking if we wanted to be present or not.  At first, Mary said “no,” but then changed her mind and said “yes.”  She didn’t want Tena to be with strangers during the procedure.

The assistant eventually took Tena to another room to insert an IV catheter into her front paw.  They also took a paw impression for us as a memento.  When they brought her back, Mary took her in her lap while the vet administered the drugs.  Tena left us peacefully in the arms of my loving wife, her “mommy.” 

How do we get so attached to animals?  I’m not a philosopher or psychologist to even begin to answer that question.  Is it the fact that they love us unconditionally no matter how our day has gone or how we feel?  Is it the fact that they can sense our emotions, our illnesses, our need for comfort?  If not, what is it?

We use dogs to comfort kids and older people in hospitals and nursing homes.  Our own pets seem to appear out of nowhere when we feel down or sad, giving us their love and a sense of calm.  I have seen stories of cats in nursing homes who seem to know when a resident will pass.  They will go to that persons room and stay on their bed during their final hours.  How do they know?

My cat Henry seems to appear out of thin air at times when I am tired and plop down in my recliner.  I won’t see him for hours, but all of a sudden, there he is. He gives me a head butt, curls up on my lap and pats my hand wanting me to give him his “noogy” rubs on his ears.  Whatever I am feeling goes away when he starts to purr and  settle down.  He makes me laugh and smile at his antics and before I know it, I feel better.

Maybe our pets are our comfort angels?  If you believe in such a thing, maybe it’s God’s way of sending His comfort to us?  Who knows for sure?  All I can say is, our pets become as big a part of our families as our human children.  Loosing one is painful and heartbreaking.  Saying goodbye to our pets is hard no matter what you believe.

Tena was a wonderful companion to us for 15 years.  She gave is a lot of love, laughter, and joy that we cannot measure.  We will miss her very much, but now she is at peace.

Goodbye Tena.  We love you and miss you.

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