Princess Buttercup. She was, and will always be, our loveable embodiment of cuteness in our home. Her heart was too big for her, however, and now she is firmly lodged in our own hearts, a part of the weave of our lives, even if she is no longer here on this earth.
The day we got her, we actually hadn’t meant to take her. We had decided to add another cat to our home – we already had two: Hobbes and Sweet Pea – but our house was larger now and it seemed appropriate to add a third. After a couple of visits to the local PetSmart, the lovely volunteers with Fancy Cats let me step back into the ‘cat room’ to play with a tabby we thought would fit. Clover was a shy cat, but very inquisitive, and as she and I got to know each other – between darting in and out her cage – I couldn’t help but notice this tiny little gray tabby on the other end of the room. As Clover and my wife made friends, I happened to walk by the cage and this little gray paw popped out and touched me. I bent over to say ‘hi’ and that was all she needed.
We walked out with both Clover and Gail. The intention was to foster Gail for a month or so, and see if she was compatible with my in-laws who were soon to visit. They had talked about having another cat, and we thought Gail might be a nice fit. She was quiet and docile and oh-so-cute.
Turns out, the in-laws decided not to add a cat after all.
Gail had other plans as well. She quickly turned on the cute – and never let up. We renamed her Buttercup soon after we decided to keep her; my wife wanted all of our girls named after flowers. The day after we decided on Buttercup, we watched The Princess Bride and knew it was the perfect name. Princess Buttercup, in the movie, is loyal, loving, steadfast, and persistent. All of these qualities fit our little Buttercup, in addition to her Power of Cute.
I’ve had a hard time accepting a new cat into the home after Smokey died back in January of 2008. He and I were long-time best buddies, and watching him slowly wither away from cancer was really hard on me. He died in my arms, and it was a few months before I could accept the idea of getting a new cat. Hobbes suffered a lot of hugs and love during my mourning period, but he was as stoic as his comic strip namesake, and took it in stride. He adapted to Sweet Pea when we brought her home, and for the next few years it was the four of us. But I never quite took to Sweet Pea, though she definitely turned on her charm. I think I mourned Smokey’s loss a lot longer than I realized; when we were decorating the Christmas tree a few years ago, I broke down for a while when I found the ornament we had gotten that winter right before his passing.
For the first several months, every morning when I got up to spend some time getting sorted in my brain before the day started, Buttercup would perk up from her sleeping spot on our recliner and bound all the way across the room – never touching the floor. She would cross over using only the furniture, like kids do when they’re little and pretend the floor was lava or water. She always waited until I had settled into my spot, and then I’d watch her come all the way through two rooms to settle into my lap, and promptly fall back asleep. Buttercup was all about laps and contact and comfort; she never waited to be held or called to your lap – she just up and did it. Guests to our home weren’t exempt; often, she would be the first cat to greet them by crawling into their lap and preening, before settling down for a bit.
At her first yearly checkup, the vet told us she heard something unusual with her heartbeat, and encouraged us to take her to a specialist. As Buttercup lay on the cool metal surface of the sonogram machine, her face nuzzling my hand, we watched as the doctor pointed out her heart to us, and the concerns that he had. The name of what was wrong with her heart escapes me, but I do remember that he turned and looked at us, and noting the incomprehension on my face, said, “Simply put, her heart is too big for her.”
Buttercup never really grew up into cat-size; I often joked she was our perpetual kitten because, when sitting with the other three felines in our home, she was barely a third of their size. When we adopted her, she was just under a year old. Diagnosed with a damaged heart at barely two years of age, she just lay there looking up at me with her slightly crooked eyes, nothing but love radiating from her.
We left the vet that day with prescriptions for several medicines, all of which would need administered on a daily basis. They would do various things, such as slow the rate of her heart’s deterioration, to reducing the amount of fluid that would eventually fill her lungs. On top of all of this, we had recently discovered she had a weak digestive system, and was prone to getting “plugged up.” She was taking some laxative and stool softening medicine already, so when we added the heart medications, it became 4 liquid shots a day.
Over the next year, I diligently gave her the liquid “squirts,” which meant trapping her between my legs and shoving the plastic syringe into her mouth before squirting it. Often, it went down her throat. But not always; she was somewhat good at blocking the squirt at the last minute, drooling chicken-flavored medicine down her chin.
During that time, though, something happened. Buttercup and I grew close.
I would often joke that the girls were “mommy’s girls” with Hobbes and I the lone holdouts. Buttercup especially loved to stretch across Ri while she read or watch television. She often placed her paws along my wife’s shoulders or neck, laying flat and nuzzled closely; her purrs were loud and comforting. After her heart diagnosis, I became convinced that Buttercup did it so she could feel Ri’s heartbeat and calm her own body down. I’d have to count Buttercup’s breaths a few times a day to monitor her; if she reached 30 we had to administer a special shot and take her to the vet. She would often come in around 27 breaths a minute; when she lay with Ri, they dropped to below 20.
Over the months of administering the medicine, Buttercup stopped fighting me – we’d often have a 5 to 10 minute chase every evening at shot time – and began just waiting for me to give them to her. Not that she didn’t still try to block or drool it, but I think she knew I had to do this for her. She’d settle in between my legs and after the ordeal, rather than dart away to a comfort zone, she’d sit quietly and let me pet her, often kissing her head. After a while, she’d even stop squirming when I had to pinch her behind – to facilitate removal of blocking waste – and even began presenting her butt to me when I pet her in the morning. (That’s usually when I would check her for any blockage.)
But that was the only time she’d let me near her.
I think what really strikes me about the depth of Buttercup’s loss is that she reminds me, in a way, of my sister Danielle. A victim of cystic fibrosis, Danielle passed away back in 2002 after a courageous fight. She had started to waste away the last few years of her life, eventually being bound to a wheelchair after losing so much weight she couldn’t really walk. Dani and I were very close those last few years, often talking on the phone for stretches at a time. She loved me and my wife dearly, and I was exceptionally honored when she had tasked me to deliver her eulogy at the memorial service she planned for her passing.
Grieving the loss of our princess is harder this time, I think, because Buttercup so much was like my sister. And here, I was able to care for her, comfort her, be here when she wasn’t feeling well. I don’t think I ever properly mourned Danielle’s passing, so here I am 14 years later, my grief amplified from the loss of my cat, and the distant loss of my sister.
After a year of administering the heart medication, I noticed that Buttercup began getting skittish around me. She’d sit still and let me give the medicine, but that was the only time I could get close to her. Other times during the day, when I would go to pick her up, she’d run. She seemed unhappy, especially after the medicine was given, and would disappear for an hour or so before reappearing later in the evening.
We brought our concerns to the vet about a year after we had started the meds. I felt strongly that it was really deteriorating her quality of life and I didn’t want to extend the quantity of days for her at the expense of her peace. Some discussion ensued but eventually the vet agreed with us, because it was obvious that Buttercup was becoming listless and unhappy. The heart medication stopped two years ago; we continued with the laxative measures because those were tasteless, and she had no problem devouring her food every morning.
After only a couple of weeks, we saw improvement. She wasn’t as skittish around me and seemed happier than she had been in a while. We knew, in the back of our minds, that she could have a heart attack or stroke at any time. We turned to God as a comfort, and I know every day I would hold her in the morning, thanking Him for every single day we had, and the days to come still. I was determined to not dwell on her condition, but to just love her as she loved me.
And then she began laying on me like she did with Ri.
Buttercup’s weight dropped off fast last winter; she went from six pounds in the summer to just barely three before New Year’s Day. She was, literally, skin and bones. Petting her, you could feel every bone and she felt fragile. But her love only seemed to increase. Buttercup nosed her way into our laps at every chance; many a night I would have her laying on my forearms while I played video games, or tried to write on my laptop. She would lay “up” along my wife, her paws stretched as high as they could go to her neck, her soft gray head tucked tight against Ri’s chest.
She always slept in bed with us, often on Ri in that same stretched position, though on cold nights we’d find her in the morning tucked up against one of the heater vents in the house. (A go-to place when we needed to look for her.) Curiously, her appetite became voracious, eating up to three times the food she used to have – but never gaining weight. She became the consummate beggar when we ate at the dinner table or at the couch, nosing her little head between our arms to sniff and snatch food from our plates. We let her, because we wanted her to eat (and we eat rather healthy food anyway), and because she was adorable still. You couldn’t deny the Power of Cute.
One of my constant worries over the last few months was the knowledge that we didn’t have a lot more time with Buttercup, and I feared she might pass shortly after we adopted a child. I didn’t want a new addition to our family to become quickly attached – because Buttercup has that power – only to lose her so suddenly. Neither my wife or I wanted Buttercup to pass while we were on a trip, either. There was something about not being here for her last days that bothered us. I think for me, it stemmed back to when we lost our first cat, Peppermint. I had taken her to the vet and opted not to stay while they looked at her in the lab; she passed a few hours later. And when Danielle passed, I was a few states away and unable to visit in her last hours.
So these last few months have been a constant struggle for me. Every chance we got, Buttercup was the center of attention. She was held, cuddled, and stroked often. We’d seek her out when we first got home from anywhere, though most of the time we didn’t have to because she’d be one of the first to greet us at the door. When she would settle into one of our laps, we would try hard not to do anything to disturb her, and just soak up her tenderness.
The other night, I came home late from my weekly gaming group and settled down to watch the Penguins/Capitals game I had recorded earlier that evening. Buttercup was stretched out with Ri in bed when I said good night. About five minutes into the recording, I’d wrapped myself in a wool blanket and suddenly, there she was. She settled into my lap as she is wont, and I didn’t move for a few hours, even though my leg went to sleep. She purred and curled against me as I watched the Penguin victory, barely stirring as I quietly celebrated each goal.
Afterwards, I just sat in the dark and petted her. I thanked God for every single minute I had with her, and the comfort and peace she had instilled into this house from the moment she stretched out that paw and tagged me at the store.
I carried her up to bed that night, and she settled right back with my wife, nestled against my arm as I hugged them both.
The day she died started out cold; winter was still gasping. There was a freeze warning the night before, so when I got up and wasn’t greeted by Buttercup, I wasn’t worried. Typically, she hunkers in near a heater vent upstairs and comes down when she’s hungry. After having eaten right before bed the night before, it wasn’t unusual to not see her. Hobbes, unusually so, was very affectionate with me instead, laying in my lap and purring much like Buttercup would.
She hadn’t come down for when Ri woke up, either…and I knew then. I just knew.
Buttercup died in her sleep, curled next to her favorite vent. She had passed before either of us had awoken. Her last day was a normal one; she cuddled with us both during the day at various time, ate several times her favorite beef pate, spent stretches sleeping tucked in her favorite blanket on the bed. Her last night with us, she crawled into bed between us, tucking in as usual. The last thing I did before drifting off, I kissed my wife and then kissed the top of Buttercup’s head. “Goodnight princess. I love you.” I scratched her head as she looked at me with her crooked eyes, purring gently.
It’s a strange thing, the loss of a pet. You don’t realize the impact they have on you, until they are gone. In examining our grief today, as we reminisce and cry, holding each other and the three cats we have, it’s difficult to imagine life will be going forward without Buttercup. The greeting when we get home. The quiet mews of her begging as we make a meal. The soft rustle as she settles into our lap. The gentle weight of her paws on our neck. The purring that lulls us to sleep at night. Her cute, crooked stare as she hears her name from across the room.
The nuzzle of her nose against our palms.
I dare hope she passed knowing how much she was loved. How much we adored her. That her sweet, tender presence will be greatly missed.
Already we have to adjust. Already, we are moving forward. But we all – even Hobbes, Sweet Pea, and Clover – feel the hole this soft, sweet, gentle little ball of fur, our Princess Buttercup, has left behind. That even as this rawness fades and heals, we will still miss our Princess of Cuteness.