Yesterday we swam in a gold flecked sea. The Mediterranean felt cool and refreshing under the blisteringly hot Cannes sun. People from all walks of life were down at the beach, splashing in the ocean. For all of our American multiculturalism, I’d never sunbathed before next to a woman in a burkini or rugby players from Africa. Children in all shapes, sizes and hues - including ours - splashed joyfully for hours in the clear shallow water along the shore. Relaxed women in their fifties and sixties basked topless next to their graying, tanned husbands.
Amid this beauty, my three children crafted memorials in the sand to the feral cat at home in San Diego who we had loved with all our hearts.
Affectionately known to all of us as ‘Grumpy Cat’, the two year old orange cat in question never once failed to hiss at us as he accepted our food, our medicine and (begrudgingly) our attention. In the year since we’d discovered our feral friend and tried to care for him, he did not let us pet him at all. We heard not a single purr! He wouldn't deign to spend time in our house, no matter how often we left the door wide open for him.
“I’m pretty sure we’re being used for our Fancy Feast,” Señor Aventura would grin as he strode by our hissing friend. The children and I did not care. We worried over that angry, frightened ball of orange fur anyway and lavished him with tuna and salmon love.
Grumpy Cat came to us twice a day for food - when he felt like it. He also came for help when he showed up (frequently) with wounds and bites from cat and skunk fights. It went on like this for about eight months.
Then his wounds grew into large infected lumps; one lump leading to the next.
In April, we tried to re-capture him and take him to the vet. We pleaded with many animal doctors to come to our home to look at his injuries. When they refused to help him unless we could bring him to their offices, we humbly begged medicine for our feral cat from friends and pet lovers. We’d hoped a better future for him. We gave Grumpy Cat antibiotics mixed into his food for months.
He was a bad patient, skipping meals and forgetting to show up for days at a time.
By the time we left for our European sojourn, we’d arranged with kind and loving neighbors (true friends) to care for him during our absence. We left them with a small mountain of food for Grumpy, and all of our wishes for his good life.
Yet in the way that cats do, Grumpy Cat ignored all of our collective neighborhood strategizing. He flaunted his independence and went M.I.A. ten days before our departure, sauntering by our back door just once. Then he vanished completely.
Thirty days after we’d left, our neighbors found him on their property falling over from malnutrition - too weak to walk. So weak in fact that for the first time ever, he allowed my kind friend to pet him for a full thirty minutes.
She took him to her vet and he actually went along quietly - a serious miracle!
Grumpy Cat was now blind, with massive growths all around his neck and paw.
“Cancer,” said the vet, “Or a very difficult infection. He is suffering greatly.”
And so, the impossible decision was at last made. Grumpy Cat, whose short life had been too hard, was put to sleep.
Telling your children that their first pet has been euthanized is not an easy thing to do in any country, no matter how beautiful.
When I got the sad news by text, it was 1am in the south of France. My three children were splayed atop their beds in the darkness with arms flung across their faces; hands wrapped around stuffed bears. Fans whirred gently in the background, bringing sweet relief against the heat and humidity. Their faces looked so peaceful and relaxed in slumber. With a hollow heart, I wondered how I would find the words to explain our loss.
In the morning I told them right away. Señor Aventura and I decided it was better to rip off the bandaid swiftly… and then let fresh croissants, sun, sand and water heal their sorrow.
Little Angel threw herself against me, her lithe body flung into my lap. “I DON’T WANT GRUMPY CAT TO DIE!” she wept, wrapping her arms around my stomach.
Nine year old Soccer Dude’s face crumpled into a sad grimace. He lay back down on his bed with tears in his eyes. “That really sucks.”
The Scientist sat calmly beside them, nodding in an all-knowing way (as eleven year olds sometimes do). “I think they made the right decision, Mom. If Grumpy Cat was suffering, putting him to sleep was the best thing to do.” His face was largely impassive, but a wrinkle in his forehead and the serious look in his eyes betrayed real sorrow.
“Why don’t we spend our day celebrating Grumpy Cat?” I suggested. “Even if we aren’t at home to be with him and bury him, we can honor his life today.”
“YES!” they agreed.
And this is how we came to spend our first day in the charming French coastal city of Cannes celebrating the life of our family’s little orange antihero.
At the lovely Boulangerie across the street from our apartment we toasted him, and perhaps his little spirit sent us a message back through the warm eyes of a kind animal friend, this dark French chien who came to sit under our table and watch us eat breakfast.
While walking along Le Croisette’s glorious five star hotel-lined boardwalk, Señor Aventura pointed out several pictures of cats painted by local street artists. “It is sad, kids,” he said. “At least he is at peace now."
With their knees dug deep into the soft Cannes sand, our children fashioned tender sculptures of cats and said prayers.
Later as I traversed narrow streets shop and restaurant filled streets to visit the city’s old “Castre”, I thought with regret about all I had tried to do for Grumpy Cat, and how guilty I feel that I did not manage to save him after all.
I remembered a frantic late night drive one year ago, bringing my feral friend to the emergency animal clinic after we'd finally managed - with four adults and a week of attempts plus one smart cat hiding in the rafters of our garage!!! - to trap him with a blanket. I'd promised him that night as we drove that he would be okay. We would adopt him. He would have a forever family.
I thought about how hard I'd then fought to keep the vets at the animal shelter from putting him to sleep a year ago - and how they'd all told me, "This is not a nice cat, ma'am. He is not adoptable."
I contemplated the many friends who heroically came to our assistance as we'd gotten him transferred to the Humane Society and finally won his release. It felt like a stay of execution! We'd cheered and danced.
I smiled recalling how he'd immediately run away and even ditched his new collar the first day I brought him home. He did not want to be 'adopted'. His independent spirit bucked domestication.
I wondered why I am lucky enough to be 40 and enjoying lovely Cannes while he had such a tough, short existence.
I said a prayer for Grumpy Cat while gazing out on this heavenly panorama.
At a sushi dinner, Soccer Dude and I talked about what made Grumpy such a great cat and how we would miss him.
To the world, he was one cat.
To five Americans somewhere in Cannes, one cat meant the world.
A few more photos taken during our first day in beautiful Cannes...