I've been thinking alot these last few days about our cat, Nelson. We're approaching the one-year anniversary of when she died, and those who have loved and lost a pet will know that they hold a permanent place in your heart. Ironically, the most valuable lesson about thrift and frugality was learned from my cat, as it was because of her that one day it all came together and made sense.
To tell you about Nelson, first I have to tell you about Blackie. Back in my husband's apartment-dwelling bachelor days, he got out of his car one day and found himself followed by a cautious but friendly cat. She parked himself outside his door, and the next morning was there to greet him and follow him to back to his car. When he arrived home again, she was there to follow him to the door. Soon he began to feed her, then took her in, and eventually she crawled under his couch and delivered 7 kittens. The runt of the litter was Nelson. She couldn't nurse well and Blackie didn't show much interest in her, but she was full of fire and my husband loved her immediately. He bottle-fed her, found homes for the other kittens, and brought her with him into our marriage.
For the first 7 years, the cats were our kids. They wove themselves so subtly into our lives, we simply couldn't remember when we'd ever slept without a cat on our feet or watched TV without a kitty in our lap. When my daughter came along, Nelson provided comic relief on those long, colicky nights when we'd go to slip the baby in the bassinet and find a warm furball in the way.
When she was a year old, Nelson disppeared. The next day, a freak snowstorm passed through and we were worried sick. After a week, we started to lose hope. On the 14th day, she pulled herself through the kitty door, weak and sick and cold. After a trip to the vet for antibiotics and some time in front of the heater she was fine--but the tips of her ears and the tip of her tail had been frostbitten and fell off. From that point on, her ears were octagonal and she was quite a funny-looking cat!
Blackie died of kidney failure at the age of 10, and Nelson became an only cat. By that time, I honestly couldn't remember what it was like NOT to have her. Life marched on, we moved, had another baby, and Nelson marched right along with us.
When she reached 14, we noticed Nelson was slowing down, and for the first time getting a little pudgy. When she grew lethargic and started to hide from us, we took her to the vet. The news was bad. She wasn't fat--she had a malignant tumor the size of a grapefruit in her belly. If we didn't have it removed, it would rupture and kill her within a few days. If we did have it removed, one of the other nodules near it would grow to that size and do the same thing, but in the meantime she'd have her life back. They suggested euthanizing her, because the surgery would cost nearly $1,000 and she'd need a blood transfusion before she'd be healthy enough for surgery.
My husband and I didn't need to discuss it. Occasionally in the past, I'd wondered to myself if we really needed to be frugal. I'd hear my friends say "what's money for, if not to spend it?" and I'd wonder if they were right. But that day, as I stood there in my clearance-rack jeans and freecycle shoes, it all came together. I reached into my thrift-store purse and gave my cat her life back. I didn't even blink. THAT'S what money is for, and I'll never regret it.
Nelson returned home from her surgery and was herself again--jumping into cabinets and causing mischeif, sneaking around outside after birds and of course, occupying any lap that happened to look empty.
Another tumor did take over, far too quickly for us. As she grew sicker, we knew we should think about euthanizing her, but we couldn't--not when she still had life left. On her last night, when we knew it was time, my husband still couldn't do it. He stayed up with her all night, and in the morning went to the vet only because I insisted. Nelson knew it would be too hard for him. She died in his arms before the vet arrived to administer the shot. It was her gift back to him for all he'd done for her.