• Bella Dean Joyner

When You Are No Longer By My Side, You'll Be Forever In My Heart

The rainbow bridge. I hope it's a real thing. I hope that when I die, the pets I have loved and lost will be waiting there for me to cross over into the eternal life beyond. I choose to believe that the God that I love and serve values the animals He also gave us for companionship, because there have been so many moments in my life that I could not have made it through without His guidance and without the unconditional love and comfort from my furry baby. I like to think that He values and cherishes that bond as much as I do.

I think back to that first day with fondness. A lady I had worked with told me about how her cat had had babies and she was having trouble finding a home for the last little kitten. I drove the 30 minutes from my house to hers and was greeted by the sweetest cat and the most rambunctious little kitten. Love at first sight. However, the drive home seemed endless. Boy that little kitten could meow, and meow she did as she hung upside down on the wire grate of the carrier I had brought. She tried to push her nose through the grate so much that she wore a spot in the fur on the bridge of her nose, meowing INCESSANTLY. I spent that entire first trip wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. I had no way of knowing then that what I had gotten myself into was 14 years with my best friend.

For the rest of my life I will remember the cat that meowed at me when I said her name, who head-butted my hand or my forehead whenever she wanted attention, who would lean so heavily when she was rubbing against you that she'd fall over, who cuddled me whenever I sat or laid down. I'll always remember the day I first tried to walk her on a leash and harness. She literally flopped over onto the grass and made me drag her a few feet, refusing to cooperate. I'll always remember the first time she saw fireworks from the safety of my arms, and pooped all down the front of me in response.

She saw me through a couple of asshole boyfriends and one good man, 4 beautiful children and the loss of two, 4 states and 2 countries, the loss of one very much loved grandmother. She's let me hold her as I soaked her fur with my tears and she's retaliated by peeing in my shoe when I've pissed her off. She's picky as hell with her food, hates toys, and prefers sleep over all things. But most importantly, I'm her person. I will always be her person.

I thought I'd have years more with her. There's all these stories of cats that live to be 19, 20, 21 years of age. She has always been super healthy, never had to have a vet visit for her except to get her fixed as a kitten and then her shots. But right before it came time to move to South Korea, I found a lump on her tummy. It felt like it was on the skin itself, not like it was attached to anything in particular. The vet at Ft. Carson did a quick biopsy with a needle and said that it was fluid and blood filled, most likely an abscess. They gave me the option to send the biopsy off to a lab, but we were just about to leave the country so I declined.

Once we got to Korea though, that small little bump quickly became a large softball-sized mass that had broken through her skin. I thought it was definitely an abscess at this point. When we took her to the vet though, he did not drain anything. He removed a large mass from her abdomen. No biopsy was done. Nothing was sent to a lab. I thought it was done and she was okay. However, three months later, we were back in that same Korean vet's waiting room because it was back and it was all over her tummy and he was telling me in broken English about destiny and final destination and I got it. He didn't think she was going to make it. He didn't think she'd make it through a second surgery. He was trying to prepare me for the worst.

But while the worst wouldn't come that day, it was coming. It is still coming. She made it through that surgery, but the amount of cancer that was taken from her that day told me that our time together was borrowed now. She was never again going to be so large that her belly swayed when she walked. She wasn't going to hop up on the bed beside me to cuddle much longer. Soon, the light in her eyes would dim and I would have to say goodbye.

I'm living with a lot of guilt right now. What if I had accepted the offer for a biopsy before we left the country. Maybe we could have had a surgery sooner that would have taken all of her mammary glands and surrounding lymph nodes out immediately before it became a life sentence for her. Maybe if I had gotten her fixed a month or two sooner when she was a kitten, it would have drastically reduced her chances of getting the cancer in the first place. Have I shown her without a doubt that she is loved beyond measure? That I am forever grateful for the impact she has had in my life?

The surgery she had only extended her life by a month or two at most. We are undoubtedly in the final stretch of this journey together. But the few extra days I've gotten to spend with her because of it have been worth the expense. The night time after the kids have gone to bed has become our time together. I hold her, pet her, listen to her purring. I tell her how incredibly she is loved, how the memories we shared are cherished, how big of a piece of my heart she is taking with her.

I will hold onto memories of her until the end of my days. I have ordered a special urn for her and a necklace to keep a small portion of her ashes close to my heart each day. And I have chosen to immortalize her forever by making a small adjustment to my pen name. When my novels are published, I will do so under the name Bella Dean Joyner. I suppose God knew what He was doing when He held off me publishing my novel by July 1st like I had originally planned. I didn't know how things were going to go then, how near the end would be. I thank Him for that. He gave me one last chance to honor her and our life together.

Here's to you, Bella. I hope that I can make the rest of your days on this earth with me as full of love as possible.

**Update** Bella passed away the day after this blog post was written in my arms at her veterinarian's office, just 12 days shy of her 14th birthday. When all of this started, I told myself that when she started to have trouble breathing, I would make the hard choice to end her suffering and I kept that promise to her. There is no consolation for the way my heart is breaking now except knowing that now she is no longer in pain, no longer suffering. She is whole and she is healthy once more. Until we meet once again at the rainbow bridge, my sweet sweet Bella.

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