Our last "child" left the nest today. Like any parents, our eyes welled with tears while knowing this was different. With this departure, there will be no reunions, no holiday dinners, no weddings, no grandchildren.
That's what occurs when the child is your family pet, in this case our 17-year-old cat, Victoria (aka Vicky, Miss Vic, or Mob Boss, a nickname coined by Kate.)
Vicky and her sister — the appropriately named Tempest — were shelter kitttens who came into our lives shortly after we moved to Virginia. The kids were 9, 4, 3 and 3. Jill and I always had pets, and it made sense given how much running around we do for us to have cats rather than dogs.
Tempest was the alpha, well, something. Headstrong and stubborn, it was no surprise when she left one day and never came back. Victoria, on the other hand, was docile and sweet; originally named Tootsie, we changed it, because she was never one to demand much attention.
Every day around the same time, Vicky would come through, run figure 8s through our legs, purr loudly, allow us to pet her (holding her was at her option) and then be done until around the same time the next day. That was enough.
She never ate wet food and enjoyed the occasional kitty treats, but her favorite food for some reason was sliced processed ham. (Passive-aggressive approach to the food chain, perhaps?)
Vicky largely tolerated other pets — dogs and cats — who stayed with us for short periods. She mostly ignored them, but occasionally tensions would flare, and Vicky's response — usually quiet but always pointed — left you with the feeling that she was the family member in charge.
When Cairo came into the picture is when Kate gave Victoria the official Mob Boss designation. Cairo, sweet, loud and needy, was more than happy to be Miss Vick's lackey as the consigliere perched on top of the living room chair and reaped the benefits.
What I came to appreciate most about Vicky was her resilience and her presence. She was always there, never demanding to be the center of attention. She simply endured. When Cairo passed away in February, I called the kids to let them know and each was shocked it wasn't Victoria. I wasn't; until the past month or so, I would have bet she'd outlive us all.
After our move to Alexandria from Lorton earlier this year, Victoria adapted to our new home, finding her spots, always purring. But age — she was over 100 in human terms — was taking its toll.
Self-grooming was an after-thought; the litter box was as well. She developed an abscess that the vet said was likely cancerous, and it became obvious the end was near.
Last night, Jill and I made the decision. We let the kids know, and Emma and Ben called via FaceTime to say goodbye; Kate came to the vet's office to do so in person. We talked to Nicholas as well.
Victoria's passing is as huge a shift for them as it is for us. Like any family pet who survives to see kids leave home, she represented a link to the day-to-day of childhood.
For us, it's a reminder that our nest is truly empty. Any steps we make going forward are part of the next generation, one that I'm looking forward to while mourning the past in the present.