Losing a Friend
04 December 2014 | Anchorage
Kiri was born just over one year ago in the small Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced "kiri-bas.") At a gas station in Tarawa, I'd noticed the tiny kitten's tail sticking out of an empty single serving Mylar potato chip bag. She was flea-ridden and mangy, but her eyes shown brightly. "What do you say Lolo," I asked? "We only have the Marshall Islands to go through before we get home to Alaska. You have wanted a cat - and they are not going to care when we get to Dutch." We eyed her keenly and assessed the situation. Her life here in Tarawa, would surely end soon - falling prey either to the nocturnal cannibalistic dog packs, or starvation. We made a pact and agreed; "if she only lives one month with us, she will surely have a better life that she would here."
With the gas station attendant's blessing, we adopted her and brought her home to Radiance. We bathed her in a plastic tub and picked the fleas from her tiny body - which fit in the palm of my hand. Over the next seven months, Kiri would grow into a fine young feline and become a valued crew member and dear friend - serving as watch-mate for an epic voyage of almost 5000 nautical miles of sailing. As Lolo and I stood watch schedules 24/7, Kiri kept us company with her playful antics and warm snuggles. We cared for her like a child and she made our house a home. Together, we endured the mundane with the terrifying, big waves and sea-sickness, the sweltering heat of the tropics, and the frigid temperatures as we moved north. We taught her the ways of life aboard but she knew nothing of life ashore.
In August, our voyage ended when we arrived in Seward, Alaska, and moved to a home in Anchorage. We were worried about her, but she seemed to delight in everything new....trees, birds, grass, strange animals...indeed, everything was wild and amazing and she was full of enthusiasm. She refused to be kept indoors, so we got her fixed and got her a collar. She ventured ever-farther from the front door, but always returned to climb atop Lolo's chest at night - roaring away with her enthusiastic purring. Then she'd settle at our feet for the night. In the morning, she'd rise with me and the alarm clock for a quick snack and then want to go outside.
Yesterday was just such a day. In the morning, I lifted her and gave her a snuggle, and then looking at the new fallen snow outside, let her out. I woke Piper, made coffee and called outside for Kiri. Then I took a shower and called Kiri. I got dressed and Piper made her lunch, and I called Kiri. "Piper, we have to get going so I can get you to school." I said. We hopped in the car and began to drive.
On the next street over, in the middle of the darkly lit road - atop fresh white snow, I saw a black and white object. I knew it was Kiri but I did not want to believe that. I pulled the car over. She lay still - with only a dusting of fresh snow on her fur. Blood dripped from her mouth and her eyes were wide open. I took her in my arms, held her head and buried my face into her fur. "Oh Kiri, it's OK......sweetie.....it's OK." She was warm and her eyes were wide open. Her body was limp, but she seemed as if she was still there. Through tears, Piper and I stroked her and spoke to her - telling her "it's OK.... We love you Kiri...we love you."
I didn't know what to do. I knew she was dead, or nearly so and I thought that Lolo should say goodbye, so we raced back home and broke the terrible news. I gave Kiri one last hug - her body still warm and fur, soft and supple, then lay her in a shoe-box and drove Piper to school.
I have never, in all my years felt so saddened by the loss of a pet. I used to believe that as humans, we could heal. And even our hearts could heal and be good as new. But I know now, after living and experiencing loss as long as I have that a piece of your heart dies each time. And it leaves a hole... that will never, ever, be filled again.
There is a hole in the house and it hurts. As I look at Kiri's collar, half-empty food dish, and little ball of tinfoil, I realize she will never know how much she meant to us, how much she helped us on our passage, how much she was loved, or how much she will be missed by us. By all measure, Kiri won the lottery in quality of life and though her life was short, I will never, ever forget her. I don't for a second regret adopting her, but I only wish she had been able to stay a little longer.