This is a love letter to one of the most important ladies that ever entered my life, my big mom, Essy Francis.
Essy was born in 1994 and died on Thursday January 16 2014 at 11:08 AM. I got to hold her hand as she took her last breaths of air as her toes twitched and she ran off to chase those turkeys.
Our hearts are broken and I didn’t know crying this much was possible. Essy was more than a pet, she was part of our family, the family we created together. Essy was with us from the beginning and went through every experience, adventure and obstacle Matthew and I have shared together. Essy was one of my best friends and she is the sole reason for my love affair with cats. She changed my life. She loved me, I loved her, she took care of me and I took care of her, all in our own ways of showing. I really can’t possibly imagine a life without waking up to her every single morning, seeing her lay in the sunshine during the summer afternoons and watching her whip past her sisters and brother to get to the cat food first in the evening. Her soft food is in the closet, her plate and bowl are there too, her Crinkles frog is in her bed but she’s not here with us anymore. I can’t rub her big fluffy cheeks, I can’t pick her up to dance, I can’t swing Xanadu in front of her to sniff, I can’t bug her while she’s sleeping to cause her to grumble at me. I miss her so much. We miss her so much. It’s hard to put into exact words what she meant to us, but I’m just going to say she meant everything to us. We will miss her terribly forever. She will forever be our Big Mom, our Essy Francis, our Chocolate Bear. I’m so lucky to have loved her and been able to share her last seconds with her. She will always be my Meowza. I love you so much Essy.
In the times of saying goodbye, I found myself going back to documenting everything. Taking pictures, breaking out the 4×5 and medium format cameras to take one last Polaroid of Essy, and crying my way through many videos. I wanted to document her departure, it allowed me to talk to her, reminisce stories with Matthew and keep her spirit with us forever. This was one of the last videos I made, we knew it was close to the end.
Warning: Post is long, picture heavy, emotional and graphic towards end.
The Story of Essy
I met Essy in 2003 when Matthew and I started dating. The first time I met her was back in Ohio, under a kitchen table. I reached out my hand for her to come over to sniff it. I knew she was eyeing me up, after all Matthew was hers (always will be). You see, Essy and Matthew have been together since 1994. Matthew got Essy when she was a few months old from a shelter, he was 10 years old and in 5th grade. Essy wasn’t always named Essy, her first name was Snuggles which quickly changed when everyone realized she wasn’t interested in snuggling. Then her name changed to “S”, short for Snuggles, then finally it became Essy. That one stuck. So there I was on a kitchen floor, asking her to come over and give me a chance. Shocking to all, she came over, rubbed against me and let me pet her. We were friends instantly.
Months later Matthew and I moved in together in downtown Pittsburgh. 2 weeks into our first apartment, Essy took the drive from Ohio and Pennsylvania to join our family. Prior to Essy I never had a cat of my own so I was pretty worried. After all, I wanted her to love me because I was already in love with her. I remember the morning before she arrived, I rushed to a pharmacy down the street to buy her treats and a toy mouse. Was I trying to bribe her? Sure. But really I just wanted to spoil her and for her to know she was welcomed. Essy finally arrived that day, she ate the treats, she ignored the mouse. This would be something she would do many more times in our life. She always liked to play hard to please. We loved her because of it.
So there we were, our 3 person family (with plenty of stuffed animals) living on the 18th floor in Downtown Pittsburgh. We spent the days with her building mazes made out of boxes, having her chase lasers and always sharing the deli turkey. You’ll learn later about Essy’s intense love for turkey. Eventually we got the offer to move up one story to the 19th floor to a even bigger apartment with the most amazing views of Pittsburgh. The apartment was right across the river from PNC Park, the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball stadium. Because we were literally right across from it with nothing but a river in between, this would lead to plenty of nights full of fireworks right in our front window. A barge would come onto the river and blow the sky with neon colors almost a few times a week during baseball season. Essy hated these fireworks. She growled, hit the floor and ran. She never learned to love fireworks after living there. Outside of running away from fireworks, she continued her days looking at the windows at the city below her. She had a pretty comfortable life, full of love and soft food. What more could you ask for?
A side story. Essy has eaten soft food forever, literally since the beginning. When she came home from the shelter in 1994 Matthew’s family tried to give her hard food. Essy glanced at the bowl and walked away. After negotiations were made (aka: hunger strike) they tried soft food. It was a hit. Essy would for the rest of her life would only eat soft food. When she lived in Ohio and heard the can opener, she ran for it. Later on in life I would tap on a can and she would round the corner. Her favorite brands varied, as long as it was shredded or diced she was ok (no pate). Later in life she got very picky and needed variety, she liked to keep us on our toes and would like for us to change the brand whenever she wanted. Did it matter that we just stocked up and bought 100 cans? No, it didn’t matter at all. Did it matter her weekly food bill was up there in the unbelievable category? Not at all. Just keep feeding her the good stuff and you’d stay on her good side. And the good stuff better have gravy and lots of it. Occasionally early on if we had to go on a trip and leave her alone for a few days we would leave her hard and soft food. What did she do? Pick the soft food out. She would not touch the hard food. She was spoiled. We were later learn in life how hard it was to separate Essy with her Queen eating habits with 3 other cats who wanted the same diet. Eventually Essy ate in a different room. Yes, her own private dining room with her own private food. Hook, line and sinker.
We needed to make a professional change so we took a big chance and rented a U-Haul. We were moving to New York City. We left Pittsburgh late one night with memorable experiences of the U-Haul not turning on while our entire life is packed in the back. Essy, in a dog sized crate, was tucked between us on the front seat. We made the drive from Pittsburgh to New York, with a pit stop at my childhood home. I’m really happy I got to show her where I grew up, and I think she really liked it. She ran up and down those stairs in my house, darted down the carpeted hallway and owned the recliner in the living room. She made my home, her own. Now it was back on the road and time to cross the Verrazano Bridge, we were in Brooklyn A new chapter began.
We moved into a blank loft space. It was ours to create our new home. As soon as the couch was unpacked, Essy jumped up on to the arm of it, a favorite place of hers. This couch arm would many years down the road, completely sink in due to the amount of cat loving it got. Essy loved the couch arm, and she loved furring it up. This home would be the place that Essy would die in. The couch was gone, it was replaced with soft rugs and plenty of cat beds. I remember fondly when learned about heated cat cabins. Essy was ecstatic. I don’t think she came out of it for a few months, except for food of course.
Over the next few years we would bring more furry cats into our life. In 2006, Xanadu Pluto entered. Essy spent the first 12 years of her life being the Queen, and now we bring in a Siamese who won’t stop meowing? And why is she so active? And why won’t she stop trying to clean me? These were all Essy’s thoughts, but she learned to love her. She was never a snuggler with the other cats but she tolerated Xanadu unlike Brother Bear and FiFi Bofinkles where she never quite got their appeal. Even though she didn’t welcome Brother or FiFi with open paws, they knew she was the queen of the house. The watched over her. Instead of stealing her food in front of her, they would form a line at dinner waiting behind her. Eventually Essy would look up from the food bowl and see a much larger than her Brother Bear waiting dangerously close behind her and dart out of there.
But it was the thought that counts, everyone respected her. Towards the end in the last months and at the very end, Essy and Xanadu became friends, something that Xanadu desperately wanted her entire life. All those years of trying to knead her cheeks, attempting to clean her head when she wasn’t looking, and those days of watching Essy walk by her and trying to jump on her to ride her paid off. Essy was finally ok with Xanadu. She got the big Essy stamp of approval. Essy would tolerate Xanadu sniffing her head while she slept. At the very end, Xanadu stayed next to her, on the same blanket, watching over her. At one time she even tried to climb on top of her to sleep on her. And then there’s the moment where Xanadu head bumped Essy’s body to say “I’m here, it’s ok” which broke Matthew and I both into hysterical tears.
Through the years, we shared so many great memories so I just wanted to share a few of the ones that really stick out.
Essy loved deli meat, I think she lived for it. When she was able to, she would jump on the kitchen island and steal that piece of turkey right off your sandwich. As soon as she heard the refrigerator door, she would prepare herself. We would rip off pieces and she would stand on tip toes to get to them.
Thanksgiving was Essy’s favorite holiday. It was all about turkey. We used to say all during the year that we had to fatten Essy up as she was our Thanksgiving turkey. The night before Thanksgiving, we would usually brine our turkey, and Essy smelled that raw turkey right out of the package. She would start to pace, licking her lips, the time was near. During Thanksgiving dinner she would always have her own plate. Over the next few days she kept a serious eye on the leftovers. 4AM snack sessions with leftover turkey slices were had.
Essy was known as not much of a people person. If you weren’t her family she really didn’t want to bother with you, which made people love her even more. I think she knew this trick and played it up. Often when people visited she went into the bathroom to get away which would end up a uncomfortable situation when said stranger had to use the bathroom. They would often finish up in the bathroom then tell me “Your cat watched me pee”. Yes, she did, and she judged you every minute of it.
I loved to bug Essy.
In one of the first years I knew her I wanted to get her something real special for Christmas. I ended up buying her what I thought was a extremely large cat tunnel that she could run in and play. On Christmas morning when we opened the present with her I realized this big cat tunnel was actually incredibly tiny, maybe made for a guinea pig. Essy eyed it up with disappointment, she was not going to play with this. On that Christmas she did go into the tunnel once (well like half of the way in), stood still so I could take a picture and then eased her way out looking up at me “Are you happy now? I did it once, never again.”. We still get a good laugh about how sad that cat tunnel was.
Once while Xanadu was bugging Essy to play with her, we picked up Xanadu so Essy could sniff her. Instead of just sniffing, Essy took a big bite (not hurtful) out of Xanadu’s leg hoping this would send the message. Xanadu loved it and practically begged Essy over the next few years to nibble on her.
Xanadu really liked to bug Essy too.
Whenever there was sunshine on the floor, Essy would lay in it, sprawled out on her back with her paws curving up. She loved the sunshine. She would roll to each side in happiness as her belly got sun.
During the winter months Essy loved the heater. She would walk right up a heater on full blast and lay there, enjoying every minute of it. Eventually she became so hot we had to move her away from the heater. She would walk right back to it.
We tried gardening inside one year with some window planters. There were a few small plants, bu they lasted about 2 months until one day we came home and Essy was sprawled out in the window box, with the wooden sticks that held up the plants now knocked down. We moved the garden to the roof.
Essy was crazy over catnip. Anytime she got a sniff the next few minutes were the greatest time of her life. She would roll around in the nip, her belly would be covered, a mess would be made on the floor or table. All we had to do was shake the bag of nip and she came running. We would always celebrate Essy’s birthday on January 31. One birthday at midnight where we sang her happy birthday and gave her gifts we gave her a long blue cat toy that catnip inside. We never saw her acted so wild. She kicked, bit, and destroyed that cat toy with all the love she could muster. She was on a catnip high, she was feeling good. We would try catnip tea a few years later which left her in a Dora Explorer discussion ecstasy, I posted about it here.
Besides catnip, Essy loved Cat grass. I would often go to the farmers market to buy some and then when I got home she saw what was in my hands and ran ran over to it. She especially loved when you sprinkled water on it so she could lick the moist drops. We would sometimes grow our own cat grass, Essy was usually spotted guarding that grass waiting for it to come up.
Essy has had some nicknames, but none stuck better than “Mom” or “Big Mom”. She was not a big cat, but she was full of feist and spirit and that’s what made her big. We called her Mom because she was in charge of us and the other cats. She told us what to do and we aimed to please her quickly. Many friends referred to her as “Mom”. On the bottom of our front door written in chalk it says “Hi Big Mom”, I put it there years ago so she could see it when she walked by. It’s still there.
We lived on Essy’s time schedule. Just because we were sleeping didn’t mean she was, she wanted food, even at 3AM or 5AM. Eventually she figured there was a spot on a wall which was hollow, which if she stood on 2 legs and banged, the wall, closet and everything on that side of the room would shake, waking us up. She did this for nights for years until we finally fixed the spot in the wall. Boy, was she mad. So she did what she had to do, she started to come to the bedroom door and banged on that. We couldn’t stop that. Outside our bedroom door there is a desk where she would sit on and howl (I called it singing) to incredible pitches during the night to get food. She would just go on and on until someone came out the door and tended to her. Most of the time I was the gullible one and I would walk from the bedroom, still drowsy from sleep and she would quickly stop meowing before I would open the door. She would look up at me and say “Oh, you’re up? I wonder what caused that.” and then immediately jump down and lead me to her bowl.
When Essy lived in Ohio she escaped into the woods for a few days, everyone thought she was gone forever. Then one day she showed back up at the house. She wanted food immediately. She learned she liked the luxurious inside life a whole lot better.
Whenever a big truck went down the street and you heard it’s engine for a block long, we would say that was Essy in the truck as she was known for her loud belly rumbles.
We made up a story (or was it real?) that Essy was a successful graphic designer in Honolulu, Hawaii where she owned her own design firm. We always told her we were so proud of her.
Because of her successful business, we always said Essy was very wealthy. We had a dollar bill that sat next to her bowl that everyone would ask us “What is that dollar?”. We would always respond “That’s Essy’s money.” Sadly someone one day took that dollar. We replaced it with another dollar. Someone took that one. Essy was furious that someone stole her 2 dollars.
Essy would eat anything that was “real people food”. She absolutely loved white bread, I would sit there and rip off little pieces and she would eat it out of my hand like a little bird. She loved eggs, she loved noodles (she stole noodles from my soup bowl), she loved any type of meat or shrimp. She would eat a potato chip if she could.
This song was Essy’s soundtrack. Whenever we played this song we would pick her up and dance with her. Her perfectly describes her sass.
The Last Few Days
What I’m about to share below is what we thought was best for Essy. The discussion of what to do when your pet’s life is near the end has endless arguments, but I really believe it’s a personal decision and you will know what’s right for your furry loved one. Being with Essy up until the very end, paw in hand, being in her home, surrounded by her family, feeling loved and safe, seeing her die naturally was how she would have wanted it. All I can say is, do what you think is right. Only you honestly knows your pet and what they would want. Looking back on it, I was worried I would be full of regrets but I have none. I’m so happy and honored to have been with the Essy until the end.
I wanted to share this section incase you are reading this and are experiencing the same thing. So many people became Internet Friends over Essy’s last few days without knowing it. I relied on posts and videos for information and what to expect. I found myself in one of the last few nights, sitting with Essy knowing it was the end while rubbing her paw with one hand and scrolling through blog comments with another. Reading through each comment I found myself feeling like these people were here with me. They were writing the same things I was experiencing or soon would be. It’s really beautiful that people can share their experiences, no matter how sad, it’s a a great feeling to let it out and put it into words. For all those strangers out there that helped me through it, you’ll never know it, but I thank you forever.
We’ve known for quite some time it was nearing the end. As the years went on, Essy got slower and lost weight, but she was still pretty active. To be honest, up to just a few days before her death, she was jumping on tables and doing wild 4 feet horizontal jumps which made us cringe every time (she loved that). She would land a jump and look at us saying “Did you see that? I hope you did.”. If we had to travel for business, a cat sitter would be here everyday and they were given the sad details that Essy was old and not to freak out if anything happened. But she kept on trucking (in her Mom Bear rumble belly spirit)….
On Sunday January 12, Essy was up to no good, attacking her Dad in the kitchen for whatever food he was making (honestly, any type of food). Just that day she did one of those horizontal jumps that left all the other cats in awe. She was just being herself, but we still knew she was getting older. I weighed her and she was 4.3 pounds. Just a few months ago she was 5 pounds. A few years ago she was a healthy 8. For dinner that night she sat at the table with us trying to steal our food, she always got her way.
On Monday January 13 I noticed Essy increasingly being in the bathroom while we were here which was odd. She really only went into the bathroom when strangers were here so she couldn’t be bothered. I tried to find her before I left and after becoming very worried that I couldn’t find her, I found her sitting in the corner in the shower. I carried her out and gave her some food. I had a can of Thanksgiving Day Turkey left in the closet kept there as a real treat so I gave that to her. She ate it quickly and enjoyed it. Later on Monday night I was about to get a shower and Essy went into the shower while the water was on, not scared at all. It became apparent to us that she wanted to be on the cool floor in the bathroom. Later that night she got a big can of some gourmet tuna (looked like people food) that she enjoyed (as did the other cats).
On Tuesday January 14 Essy continued to be in and around the bathroom while laying on the floor, but she still walked around the house and jumped up on her table. While I was at the dentist Matthew texted me to tell me that Essy would not eat deli turkey. This was the first time ever. Something was very wrong. When I came home I found Essy in the bathroom on the floor again. I rubbed her cheeks, gave her kisses, bothered her so much and I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did. I knew there sitting in the bathroom this was it. Essy looked at me and told me. Matthew and I sat on the floor with her, she got up and walked over to Matthew’s lap and hopped on it. She always loved his lap more than mine even though I begged her everyday to be my lap cat. This was always her way of saying she was Matthew’s #1, too bad. While sitting on her lap, Xanadu jumped up too and head butted Essy’s belly, something that she never does, and Essy allowed her. Matthew and I started to cry. Xanadu knew too. Essy got down, walked to her water bowl, rubbed her toes in it and took a drink. This would be the last food or drink she ever ate. Then she walked over to the front door and plopped down in front of it. After she was done laying here, she walked over to her table, jumped from the chair to the top and laid down. We would soon learn that this would be the last time she ever jumped up to her table or was able to stand up without help. We stayed with her that night, talking to her, telling her we loved her. We broke out the 4×5 camera to document her while she slept next to her Crinkles Frog. We went to bed, but then I heard her meow so I ran out and stayed with her until very late AM. I started this blog post then, read other blog posts about people and cats going through the same situation and just loved her. Xanadu sat by her side almost through it all.
On Wednesday January 15 I sat with her while Matthew had to go teach the first day of class this semester. We already talked (cried) a plan in case Essy died while he was gone. Basically all I did that morning and afternoon was sit with her. I played ambient space music (always thought she was a space cat) while telling her so many stories. I cried a million times. I rubbed her paw between my fingers even more. I made videos of her. I sung to her (sorry Essy). I brought over a ham sandwich to give her some happiness from the smells. When I tried to feed her a piece of a nibble of bread, she completely ignored it. I cried more. Around this time Essy tried to stand up and she just just fell down. We knew it the end, but I tried to be hopeful about the whole situation and lie to myself saying she would get better. It’s funny how at moments like this you look for some type of miracle, even though I’m not religious. It’s incredibly selfish, I know, but I just wanted her to be around forever. When she fell down, I picked her up and put her back on her bed. From here out, Essy’s only real movement would be head lifts and trying to get comfortable by moving her front paws. Occasionally her tail would still have a mind of it’s own too. When Matthew got home, we just stayed with her for the rest of the night. We were pretty sure she would die any hour now so she just wanted her to be comfortable. Her paws started to get increasingly cold so we put her blanket on top of her. Crinkles Frog was always next to her giving her kisses (with us on the other side kissing the heck out of her). Her breathing started to change, by this time we watched her belly breathe to know if she was still here. A long inhale was a long moment to watch. We thought it was going to happen during the night so we took her into the bedroom with us which was a bit silly because the bedroom was one room she never went into. While Matthew carried her into the bedroom, Essy didn’t meow or struggle, she just laid there. We put her next to the bed where we continued to talk to her, rub her paws more and cry. I know I’ve mentioned crying alot but I just want to say it’s good to cry. Cry your heart out. We cried so many times during these days that at times it almost felt like we couldn’t cry anymore (which wasn’t true, we cried more). Get your emotions out. We wanted Essy to know how much we loved her. We know she was probably thinking “Tell these people to stop crying”. That was our Essy, our feisty bear. During that night Essy just stared straight ahead. To be honest Essy’s eyes pretty much remained open completely since Tuesday night. Her eyes would never close again. But that night, they didn’t dart around, they just stared straight ahead. There was one moment though where Xanadu walked up to her and sniffed her head and Essy’s eyes moved to her. It was beautiful, I’m really happy Essy was around her sisters and brother. So we tucked her in. Told more stories. And then gave her a kiss goodnight. That was the only night where all 4 of our cats would sleep in the bedroom with us. We were a full happy family.
During the very early hours on Thursday January 16 Essy would let out a little soft sound every now and again. We (and Xanadu) cared for her every time she did that. Sleep was on and off that night, most of it was just laying in bed while thinking aimlessly. We crawled back down to the floor with Essy at 10AM that morning to start a new day. I got dressed and then sat down next to her, paw in hand. Because I read so many articles about the dying process, when I heard Essy start to move her mouth in and out gasping for little breaths of air, I really knew it was it. Essy would be gone very soon. I looked at Matthew and told him this was it. We both continued to kiss her, tell her how much we loved her, how good of a girl she was and we loved her forever. I moved her blanket off her to monitor her breathing belly. For the next few minutes her mouth would open and close. I told her to chase those turkeys while seeing her tongue dart out every now and again. I imagined her seeing turkeys further away and licking her lips waiting to get closer to them. I just kept whispering to her, rubbing her paw in my hand. Her back legs started to shake, I rubbed them with the other hand. Then while I had her paw in my hand, she took her last breath. Her belly never rose again. For the next few minutes, her muscles twitched one last time. She was gone. I rested my head on her belly and bawled. I picked her up and held her like a baby. Matthew did the same thing. That Essy sure was a special girl.
We let the cats all say their goodbyes to her as we thought it was right to do. Some people say pets don’t know, some people say they do know when a friend has died, either way we wanted them to know. In cat fashion, they each said their goodbyes in their own personality driven ways. Xanadu sniffed her curiously. Brother Bear, always soft and sweet tried to lay on top of her. FiFi Bofinkles hissed at her. You might think the hiss was mean, but in all honestly it was nice. Essy and FiFi were never friends, they were both the old ladies of the house. It was nice to know that even though Essy was no longer there with us, FiFi was still intimidated by the Queen Bee Essy. She would have been proud.
We brought Essy out into the other room and gave her a few more hugs and kisses. I held her like a baby again. I couldn’t stop. Essy was never big on holding so it was a bit of a moment when I finally got to do it. We laid her in her blanket and covered her up. We called for a car and headed to the Vet.
We really couldn’t have asked for a better Vet experience. We went to VERG in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and as soon as we walked through the door and told them why we were there, they immediately rushed us into our own room. They were kind, one nurse even cried with us while Matthew told her he had her since he was 10 years old. A few more nurses came in and we went over the paperwork (it was short, they understood). We knew we wanted Essy privately cremated. Another nurse came in and said when we were ready she would take Essy away. We kissed her, said our final goodbyes, but said we would see her again. We would see her everyday, she would always live in our hearts. Always. A nurse came back, took Essy in her blanket and said to wait a few more minutes. When the nurse came back she gave us a a clay ceramic plaque that had Essy’s name, paw prints and date on it. Goodness, that was beautiful. We were going to be able to feel her toes forever. The amount of times we rubbed those toes over the next few days were many.
Then we walked home holding hands. Matthew was pretty quiet while I just continued to talk nonstop reminiscing Essy stories. On the way home I passed a dog and that dog looked at me with the saddest eyes and continued to follow me down the street. In some way, this felt right, I felt like Essy was that special that even the dog knew it.
Dealing With Essy Not Being Here
This blog entry has come a long way, I started writing it while Essy was still here with us and now it ends with Essy not here. It’s been quite a heart breaking journey.
After we came home from the Vet and walked in the door, we just cried. We cried a whole lot the last few days. We will cry when we walk in the door and Essy is not waiting for us. We cry when we eat dinner and she’s not in between us at the table. I cried when washing the dishes and seeing her spoons I used to scoop her food with, I had to put them away for the first time. Often when I woke up during the middle of the night I would tip toe to and from the bathroom not to wake Essy up, because that would mean I would be up at 5AM feeding her for 10 minutes. Somehow that never worked and as soon as I thought I was safe and was going to be able to creep back into bed, Essy would burst through the bathroom door saying “Oh, no you dont”. I miss that so much, I’m begging a cat to keep me up. The day after Essy died we both woke up and looked for her to be on her table but she wasn’t there. We had to remove her food bowl and mat which broke our heart. Brother Bear still goes to the place where her food used to be in hopes of being able to steal a bite.
If you’ve read all this, I thank you for sticking with me. Essy was the closest person to me that I ever lost and it’s been a emotional journey. Matthew and I and our kitty family just really want everyone to know how much of a special girl she was. She was beautiful, caring, sweet, brave and incredibly full of good ol fashioned Essy Bear attitude.
Thank you to every single person who has shown love to us and our family through real life hugging it out, email, texts, phone calls and comments (on all social media). Just hearing your caring words has really helped us through this.
We love you Essy.
Now go on and hug your furry critter for me.