My Sweet Symba

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on January 10, 2013

Symba is my three-legged miracle kitty, my sweet buddy hopping on his back leg through the forest, a rascally adventurer, who is made of love. If you accidentally step on his tail, he licks your face, as if he made the mistake. He spreads his body over my computer, as if to say what more could you possibly be doing with your life when I am right here ready to love you…

Every night he sleeps in the crook of my arm heaving warm sighs as he dreams, safe in the arms of his human friend, who lies awake afraid to move and ruin a cherished moment of warmth, trust, and contentment. He waits for me in the window of the front door–ready to spin in circles to celebrate my return. He keeps me company in the house and peers in the shower, and paws at the curtain. When I make the bed he climbs under the fitted sheet until I ask him, teasing, where’s Symba?

Where’s Symba?

That’s the question I ask only to myself now. Where is my Symba? For although I watched his life fade away two months ago, I keep expecting to hear him pawing at the front door or see him stretching in a sunbeam. There’s one food bowl too many on the floor. Sometimes I imagine him springing around the corner with a thumpety thump of his three legs, to find my lap waiting, warm, and his alone.

I want that so very much. I miss his tiger face & green emerald eyes, his stinky kisses, and the way his tail wagged perpetually. Where is it wagging now? I’ll never find another Symba. Not in a million years or a hundred miles of trees and stars. Wherever he is, he has my heart.

My One & Only Symba

When I learned Symba had cancer, I was shocked. He was only nine. I hadn’t planned on saying goodbye any time soon. He was full of life, so happy, and wasn’t suffering. I thought that sad day was years away.

So when I shared my grief, and someone said I should put him down and get another animal–that if I really loved animals, that’s what I’d do–I felt wounded. If I had lost a child or a best human friend, no one would tell me to put them down immediately and go get another child or best friend. That would have been unspeakable. So why can’t others recognize the place animals have in our hearts?

Animals are individuals. Symba was an individual. He is irreplaceable, and the hole left by his absence can never be filled. It is and will always be his own shape. As in life, so in death: there is only one Symba.

Even now a few months later, the mere thought of him makes me sob–deep, gut-wrenching tears. I miss him so much I almost cannot bear it. It hurts when I speak of him in the past tense. It seems like a nightmare I might wake up from: there is still that undying hope. I see him out of the corner of my eye and when I remember he isn’t there, the pain rips through me all over again.

Symba is the only Symba. Everybody who met him could see he was special. There was just something in his soul that fellow travelers recognized. And he taught me about unbridled joy and love. Because all animals are different, we don’t love animals the same way. Our bonds with some animals are stronger than with others. I live with another kitty but she is not Symba. We wallow in our hollow grief together, both of us missing the clever little three-legged angel who featured in our lives for so long, but my relationship with Symba was about the love of an absolute deep down once-in-a-lifetime best friend.

I’m heartbroken and I only bear it because I must. There isn’t any choice. I am uncomforted by the sentiment that "this too shall pass." Symba will never pass as long as I am here. We don’t have metaphors to explain this feeling, and words won’t fit. The closest I can come to explaining it is heartbreak. I have love in my heart to give, but I’ll never give it with an unbroken heart again.

On Symba’s last night, I begged him to go on his own. He was full of life–walking, playing, kissing, sleeping, eating, and loving. He was still Symba. But in the morning he gave me a look I’ll never forget. It was time. He was struggling and I had to do what I never wanted to do, and what I sometimes wish I could undo. I helped end the life of my best friend. I called the vet and pleaded with her to come to my home. She ended his suffering, while I held him in my arms, thanking him, telling him he was a good boy, that everything would be okay, and that it was okay to go. And then his light was gone.

Symba died in my arms, his head in my hands, his eyes locked on mine. His tail was still wagging as he died, because that’s how incredible Symba was: sweet, trusting, and full of life even in death. It was the worst moment of my life. I regret doing it. But I don’t regret that he isn’t hurting anymore.

It’s hard wondering what else I could have done for him. Did I give him enough love? Should I have done invasive surgery? I wanted him to play in the grass, happily stretching in the sun, just one more time. But there’s no way to barter. You don’t get to say. You can beg, you can cry, you can hope, you can pray. What you can’t do is stop death. Love means grief, and loss. I just don’t see any way around that.

What You Can Do

If you know someone who is losing their friend, please don’t tell them to put their friend down and find another. Acknowledge their grief and their loss, and allow them to feel it. Why are we so afraid of acknowledging the reality of grief, and the pain of loss? It is what is real, and it is what is true. The person will decide when they are ready to make a new bond. And I am not ready. Because love comes with grief, I must first heal my heart, where it burns for Symba still. Maybe it always will.

Love also means gratitude, for every moment with those we love, whether human animals or nonhuman animals. Even if they are taken away long before we are ready–even if we are filled with rage, with horror, with sadness, with sorrow. We must hold them close today because life is fleeting, and every moment shared is more precious than we can know, until we hold only their memories and no more.

28 thoughts on “My Sweet Symba

  1. Ian says:

    Thanks for sharing this heartfelt memory, Sybma seems like a really special cat, I am glad to hear his story.

  2. Lindy Crews says:

    I went through the same thing with my small dog when he got cancer. He was a piece of me and everyone who knew me, knew him. I have the same regrets as you and an ache in my heart when I think of the day I helped him die in my arms. It’s been three years and I am longing for that love again, but it took three years to get to this point and I still cry when I think of him. You will never replace Simba’s love nor want to, but in time you will be ready to open your heart again. I am sending you loving thoughts and hope you find peace in your heart soon.

  3. Karen says:

    Dear Jennifer,
    With a heavy heart & tear filled eyes, I read your story. Unfortunately I can relate all too well. When I was in grade school my parents let me get a little kitten from our neighbors. I named him Pierre. At his best, he weighed about 20 lbs. but he was not overweight ~ just a big boy. He, too, was a black/brown “tiger” cat, with beautiful green eyes and an orange nose & what I call the black velvet arm bands. He did everything with me. I had him for 16 1/2 years and he, too, got cancer. I had to do what I never thought I could do either. Somehow you just know when it’s time. To this day, I still miss him and no other pet will ever replace him. Thank you for sharing your beautifully written story of your beloved Symba.

  4. Patrice says:

    I had a one-of-a-kind SIMBA, too…he lived to be 18.
    One day, out of the blue, he was hit by an “aortic thrombosis”, from which there is no recovery, and which is very, very painful. He was immediately paralysed in his hind quarters…
    My husband and I helped him cross The Bridge at the vet’s.
    I still miss him…he passed last September.
    And HE was a Love Machine…would start his purr engines just hearing my voice. Say his name, and the purrs vibrated throughout the house.
    His nickname was SWEETNESS.
    Yes, I miss my Sim…but he lives forever in my Heart and my Spirit.
    And, while we have other CATS, some of whom are simply amazing…all of whom are loved unconditionally…there will never be another
    Simba, and he will never be “replaced”.

  5. Michael says:

    I love your story of unconditional love. I have been there many times with all those cats I have loved from kittens to adults to the passing. My heart breaks each time I have to see them go, but the joy of having them get me through the sad days. I want you to know that I am with you in your grief. I have been on knocked to my knees in dispair in those moments and understand what you have gone through. Love of an animal is powerful beyond words.

  6. Taylor says:

    I lost my 14 year old blue heeler to cancer 5 months ago, the weekend before starting law school. There is still an Annabelle shaped hole in my heart. This was so beautifully written, and touching. It helps to know I’m not alone in missing an animal friend. Thank you for writing this! I read it with tears in my eyes. Symba sounds like he was a wonderful kitty and friend. Best wishes to you.

  7. A really beautiful heartfelt insight into yours and simbas life. I know how you feel as I had 3 animals that died of cancer and it happens so quickly, one of them was my cat milly, she was 9 also, she suddenly didn’t want to eat or drink and was gone in 2 weeks. Take your time and grieve at your own pace, don’t listen to stupid people who don’t understand how you feel. You will never replace simba but the love you had in your heart for her she would want you to share with another rescue when you are ready.

  8. Sarah says:

    Well written piece, thank you. My cat died in my arms, looking into my eyes a little over a year ago. I remain so haunted/thankful for that moment. I am sorry for your loss, but thank you for giving voice to those of us who share it.

  9. Cynthia says:

    Wow, your story about Symba made me cry. It was like the words that came out of my own heart when I lost my best (cat) friend Mignon in 2010. I had many animals over the course of my life but none compared to her. Like you said, there was a special, shining light inside of her and everyone noticed. I also had to put her to sleep because of an illness and it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in life thus far. I would burst into tears all the time for months after her passing.
    I believe that we have one best animal friend in our life that is our true animal “soul mate” – just like the human relationships we form. We can love again, but it will never be that special connection.
    From time to time I read the “Rainbow Bridge” poem and think of her, and it comforts me. I hope you find comfort and peace with your new buddy as well.
    Thank you for sharing.

  10. poppy spencer says:

    I do not wish this experience on anyone. Once the light for life extinguishes, it is, in a way, the most selfless gift we can offer them.

    Through that deepest, most desperate pain, there is the amazing fact that we have loved so truly, so deeply, and forever, an amazing friend.

    As awful as the loss is, how truly lucky are we.

  11. Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer. What a very special relationship. It looks like lauren and I are losing our beloved bunny Sophie, and it is breaking our hearts.

  12. Eugenia says:

    I Have tears in my eyes! Thank you for sharing, I wish you all the best!!From the Netherlands.

  13. Sheryl says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to Symba. Thank you for the part about how some people consider it our responsibility to move on and adopt another love. Nothing angered me more after my Mina died than people trying to guilt me into another adoption.

    It gets better. I’ve never gotten over the loss of sweet Mina Bean but after three years I can smile about her. And we still have lovely talks.

  14. Sandi Michael says:

    Three months ago I lost my best friend. Her name was Simba too. When she was a kitten, she looked like Simba in the Lion King. On Oct. 8, she died very suddenly. She always slept with me, and the day she died, we had come down stairs to have breakfast. She sat on my lap for awhile like she always did then jumped down and went to lay on her chair. She had been sleeping for awhile when all of a sudden, she made a growling sound. I thought she was dreaming because she and her sister both would meow or hiss sometimes when they were asleep. But she growled a second time, stretched back, then went limp. I ran over to her but she had stopped breathing. I tapped her a few times hoping she would wake up, but she didn’t. I still miss her terribly. I was her person. She followed me everywhere. When I went to the basement to do laundry, she always went with me. It’s been hard doing laundry because I find myself looking around to see where she is. I stil find myself glancing at her chair expecting to see her there. A friend told me about the poem Rainbow Bridge which I found, and reading it has helped somewhat.

  15. Sheila says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I feel your pain. It makes me mad how some people can be so ignorant and unfeeling when it comes to someone losing a family fur friend. Thinking it could be replaced like a t.v. but, 1 day another baby will come into your life unexpectedly that desperately needs you and you will know it’s meant to be and you will have more love in your heart than you knew you had. <3

  16. Kathy says:

    I extend to you my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of your beloved friend. I, too, called the vet and begged her to come to my home on 12/22/12 (right before Christmas) because it was that day, that moment, that I finally summoned the courage to end the suffering of my beautiful, 11-year old, 160 pound Newfoundland dog, Megan. Although she bore her pain with arthritis, on this day, she collapsed in pain and I knew that no matter how much I felt the pain of loss, it was time to stop hers. That is our role and duty in response to the years of unconditional love they give us, we must suffer that horrible pain of defying all the instincts within us to protect and nurture, and allow them to escape the earthly bounds of pain and suffering and go to their heavenly reward. And, yes, I believe that in my heart and soul. These creatures of love are angels in deguise and their essence and loving spirit goes on. May you find peace and know in your heart that you will one day be reunited in some way on some place. Love does not die.

  17. Elaine Flores says:

    I cried when I ready your tribute to Symba, I too feel the love for both of my cats as well as all 15 or so ferals that we feed. My heart just breaks as our animals are our love.

  18. wendy morgan says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with such honesty and tenderness. Loss is something we humans do not know how to deal with and, thus, do not often honor the stages of grief. My condolences to you on your loss. I too have a pet like your Symba. I dread his death and know it is inevitable.

  19. Ann says:

    I know exactly how you feel. My last girl died four years ago and she still is tucked in my heart, along with her four predesessors. She was very special and very beautiful. I kept her water bowl full for a year after she died. But keep your heart open. There are so many that need loving homes. You will not “replace” Symba, but you will love the next one too.

  20. J Harmon says:

    Thank you for sharing! My heart aches for you and you loss.

  21. Dee DeSantis says:

    I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved Symba. This was a very moving and beautiful tribute to him. We all know the pain of losing a friend like Symba. I lost my boy Cheeseburger to cancer 4 years ago, he was 10 years old. He was and always will be my “heart and soul” cat and I’m so thankful to have had him share his love, friendship, companionship and wisdom with me ~ he taught me so much about the wonderful world of felines and about life itself. I vowed I would never have another cat, but am the proud guardian of three adopted boys Mr. Jingles, Tony Cat and another kitty named Cheeseburger who ironically was already named by the staff after he was found wandering around a restaurant called Cheeseburger in Paradise :) I think of my first boy Cheeseburger everyday and the happiness he gave to me. I hope the cherished memories of Symba you have will be of some comfort. His love remains in your heart always.

  22. Thousands thanks for sharing this very moving story. A wonderful tribute to your beloved cat. He was really an absolutely unique being who shared your life during a too short period . I share your grief and can understand your feelings. It reminds me my beloved dog Laszlo who passed away nearly four years ago and who is present in my thoughts everyday.Unconditional and eternal love beyond species . You were lucky to make such a great experience and to meet Symba.This is absolutely unique and should be remembered as such. Take care.

  23. ginger says:

    i wrote sat. that i had found a cat that simbled yours,, but that was before i read your story,, and i see this cannot be yours .. i’m so sorry .. thiis cat is so loving and belonged to someone who loved her ,,i’m sorry for my mistake GINGER

  24. Merrill says:

    A lovely tribute and memorable.
    We never forget our loved ones who will live forever in our hearts.
    Thnaks for being so candid.
    I can still recall every second of the day in 1972 when my dear Pookie was put to rest. It broke my heart.
    Many other pets have come and gone; each the most special in certain ways.

  25. jennifer ingman says:

    What a beautiful letter,I shouldn’t have read it at work though,you are absolutely correct,in everything you said,& I thank you for saying it.

  26. Pat Ackerman says:

    Wishing you peace, my friend.

  27. Laura Miller says:

    We lose a piece of our soul when a loved one dies, and that is irreplaceable. But they will never leave us because we will never let them go.

  28. Surika M. says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know Symba is in a good place where he can stretch in the sunbeams all day and bring life to everything and everyone he touches. I know he wouldn’t want you to feel so sad and heartbroken because as much as he loved you, he wouldn’t ever want you to hurt because he could no longer physically love you. This post was so emotional and it drew me right in to what you’re saying. I work in an animal hospital and hope to become a veterinarian one day and unfortunately, I see animals that have been loved unconditionally their whole life, be put down because they were suffering. Eventually the pain will be easier to handle, but I think you and I know that that pain will never really go away. Thank you for sharing this post. I wish you all the joy and happiness from loving animals so dearly.

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