The past couple of weeks have been a somber time in our home. On Saturday, Candy, the cat that came to live with me and my family 17 years ago, died in my lap, at the hands of my (very gentle, compassionate, wonderful) vet. She went to the vet’s office on Monday, after having not eaten or drank much the previous few days, and we found out that she was dying of either lymphoma or cardiomyopathy. Her weakness and frailty worsened very quickly as she still did not eat, and by the end of the week, one filled with sighs and tears, the decision was clear.

That Monday night, things looked so bad that we thought we might have to euthanize her then. She surprised us by eating some of the vet’s food, so we got to take her home and spend four more days with her. I’m so grateful for those four days. I’m grateful for the 17 years I had with her, particularly these last three that she spent living with me and Nat (and Dean/Moon/Cody) in Kansas and in Oregon. It’s funny to remember when I took her to the vet summer of 2013, when my parents were moving to Pennsylvania and told me that Nat and I had to take Candy to live with us in Kansas. We were convinced the vet would advise us to put her down because she wouldn’t be able to handle the drive or the stress of leaving the only home she had ever known, where she had always been the only animal, for a little house with two other cats and a dog. And (while they did tell me her kidneys were not in great shape, and they’d only get worse as she aged), she made it to Kansas with no problems, then back to Colorado, then all the way to Oregon. She was a pretty badass girl.

I have been so sad. I just want to hang out with her. It’s been strange to come home to a house full of boys, and not my girl. I miss her so much, my little sister and friend who’s been with me all these years. Honestly, the thing that’s brought me the most comfort has been going through the years of my photos and videos of her. I remember everything, and oddly I didn’t really remember that a year ago at the vet I was holding her and smushing her up against me for photos while we waited. She’d stopped being able to be picked up and held without major discomfort since then. At various points throughout the last few months and years, she’d stopped climbing up on things, rolling around in a comfy spot, laying on top of me, smashing her face against mine super hard, getting up on her hind legs when she wanted something you had, walking around the house at night and yowling with her mouth full of one of her “babies.” As I am time and time again, I’m grateful for that part of me that insists on making photos and videos of almost everything, every day.

I’m also grateful for the process of euthanasia, which ended Candy’s suffering in comfort and peace and relief. I feel so strongly that euthanasia is a wonderful thing, for animals and for humans, and honestly it was such a positive thing to be a part of. I made some photographs of her body, which looked so different the moment her life ended. We picked up her cremated remains last night. They are housed in a beautiful wooden box.

As a person and artist so interested in animals and death, and the ways we do and do not mourn different types of animals, I feel like my mind has been going nonstop thinking about what’s happened. I had never experienced the death of an animal I’ve lived with before, and I’m trying to be very aware of the ways I’m feeling and the things I’m thinking. I’m trying to be intentional about the language I use, and making sure it accurately reflects both my personal feelings and the way I believe we should be speaking about death. Candy died, and I miss her and I’m sad she’s gone, but dying is part of all life. I won’t say she “passed away,” and she is not at rest, not in peace–she is gone; her life is over. It’s still challenging, since I’ve been talking about feeling this way in theory for years but not regarding a death so personal to me (it was almost five years ago that my beloved grandfather died, leaving me blindsided by pain and anguish, and while I think I still would be if it happened today, I would like to believe my thinking has changed a lot since then). The week she was dying, I found myself thinking a few times how nice it would be to think about the inevitable in ways I had heard others do–“she is going to a better place” or even “she is going to be with her heavenly father” (what can I say, I grew up Catholic)–how comforting that must be for people who believe such things. I will never see that little animal I loved so much again for the rest of my life. That truth doesn’t feel heartbreaking or devastating, it just feels heavy. It is an adjustment. It is part of growing older. I am grateful to be learning it.

I spent hours going through pictures of the little cat I picked out at a rescue event when I was 10 years old. This creature taught me how to make my first photographs of animals, and how much I could adore animals, and how to treat them with respect and be endlessly curious about them. Those lessons absolutely shaped my life. I’m so grateful to have known her.