My Sweet SymbaPosted 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?
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.