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Love comes full circle

Princess was our "love child," coming into our lives unexpectedly - and leaving again in much the same way. For the first 18 years of her life, she was raised by my mother-in-law, Dorothy, in a high rise senior apartment in the Twin Cities. The o...

Princess was our "love child," coming into our lives unexpectedly - and leaving again in much the same way.

For the first 18 years of her life, she was raised by my mother-in-law, Dorothy, in a high rise senior apartment in the Twin Cities. The only time Princess ever left the apartment was for an occasional visit to the vet, or a brief adventure down the hallway when the front door of the apartment was accidentally left ajar.

Other than that, Princess lived a sheltered life of leisure, and she was well loved. Whenever we visited Dorothy, Princess would emerge from her napping spot on the end of the bed when her curiosity got the best of her. Then she'd meander through the living room to check out whoever was there and then disappear back down the hallway to her spot on the bed.

She was a unique and beautiful cat, with long, sleek fur and a finely sculpted face that gave her the distinctive look of The Sphinx. She was always the ultimate lady, however, never presuming to jump into anyone's lap without an invitation, and never, but never, lowering herself to hiss at anyone.

On the fateful day when Dorothy passed on to meet her maker, a family member found Princess lying on the end of her bed keeping watch, just as she always had done.

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All of the immediate relatives congregated at Dorothy's apartment later that day and made the appropriate arrangements, dealt with what we could, and prepared to head back home with heavy hearts.

"What about Princess?" someone remarked.

What about Princess, indeed? In all of our grief, in all of our hustle and bustle to do what was right and make sure everything was properly taken care of, we had all neglected to think about what would become of Princess.

One by one, each family member regretfully spelled out all of the reasons they couldn't take Princess home with them.

Ken and I, who had come the furthest, had an elderly cat of our own who we feared was too old to tolerate a second cat in our midst....

"We'll take her!" I proclaimed in a small voice.

"Of course we will," affirmed Ken.

And so, in the dark and cold of that February night two years ago, we headed back to Duluth with a small pet carrier in the back seat of our truck and a very frightened Princess swaddled in the red polar fleece blanket we'd brought home to Dorothy from Alaska several years earlier.

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Amazingly, for a cat who had seldom left the apartment, Princess learned to adapt and thrive in our country home. She and our other cat treated each other with an indifference borne of a spirit of self survival, and Princess learned what it was like to navigate a dwelling place of more than just three rooms. When Rascal, our elderly Siamese, passed on, Princess never missed a beat, calmly presenting herself to us once again to assuage our grief, asking nothing in return.

As the weeks and months passed by, Princess discovered new things she'd never before known in the narrow confines of Dorothy's apartment. When our son, Jason, came home with his yellow Lab, she treated the ebullient dog with dignity and indulgence, though she'd never seen a dog before in her life. When we went outside on the deck in the summer to grill our dinner, she begged to come out, too, and experienced what it was like to be out in the great outdoors for the very first time. When our bed became too great a jump for her arthritic legs to navigate, she gracefully condescended to climb the wooden stepstool we set up for her so she could curl up by my side each night, much as she had with Dorothy.

Lately, at the age of nearly 20, Princess had been in failing health for several weeks but continued to eat enthusiastically and enjoy her one-on-one time with us. Over the last few days, however, she ate less and less and grew weaker. Last Saturday morning, she had trouble making her jump from the stepstool onto our bed and instead spent the day lying in front of the toe warmer vent on the kitchen floor.

That night, we went out for dinner and a hockey game with friends, and when we returned at 10 p.m., Princess was too weak to walk, and we knew her time had come.

And so, we made that long journey into town to the office of the emergency vet clinic. As she lay wrapped in the old red polar fleece blanket of Dorothy's, Princess bade us her final farewell.

We considered ourselves lucky to have been her caretakers for the past two years, and in our grief we realized that she had been lent to us for only a little while, to help ease our pain over Dorothy's loss.

And now, when our hearts had at last begun to mend, it seemed that Dorothy needed her more than we did.

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