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THE BRIEF LIFE OF A DEAR MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

We never should have gotten that kitten. One look at her and I should have said, "No thanks," turned on my heel and left. She was the runt of a litter of kittens in a squalor-filled home. That we were even there was a testament to the tenacity of a 12-year-old girl who loved cats. It was in the car ride home that we discovered her ear mites, fleas and generally filthy, stinky coat.

At the vet, we discovered that she weighed a dangerously low 1 pound, 1 ounce, and also had intestinal parasites. I got the medications, paid the bill, wondered about my sanity and brought this delicate creature home. She was christened Roxy by my daughter and son. I wondered if she would live long enough to make use of her name. For the first few days, all she did was sleep.

To my surprise, after a week she rallied and ate and began to play. She pounced on our older cat, Mandy, and terrorized any visiting dogs. But for all her lionlike ferocity, she was gentle with our children. While she tolerated my husband and me, it was Doug and Louise she followed and with whom she slept and cuddled. She was a kid cat.

Little Roxy slowly became a big part of our lives. Every night before my son went to sleep, Roxy would hop onto his bed and curl up near his head. While tucking my son in, we developed a nightly skit involving the adventures of our two cats. "Mandy and Roxy Host a Radio Show," "Mandy and Roxy With the Remote Control." We alternated who would portray which cat and imagined just how that voice would sound if our cats could talk. Roxy slept on between us, unaware of her part in the drama.

While some people say they have cats so good that they act like dogs, it would have been a compliment to a dog to say he acted like Roxy. She was friendly to all, amazingly clean, very quiet, loyal and brave. And she fetched. That was her one big trick. I don't know how we discovered this, but she was wild about a rabbit's-foot key chain. We would wing that thing across a room, and she would fly to retrieve it. She would drop the foot at our feet to try again. In fact, it was when she stopped fetching that I had my first inkling Roxy was sick.

She was just over a year old, so I figured maybe she was just maturing. When she began to sit very still, I assumed it was the heat. When she began to lose weight, I took her to the vet. She felt a lump in Roxy's abdomen. While she told me it was very rare for a cat this young to have cancer, it was a possibility, and we needed to remove it just the same. The vet put Roxy on medication and scheduled her surgery for the next week. We were all devastated but tried to think good thoughts. On the medication, Roxy appeared more comfortable and even ate some food. All weekend long I noticed my little family, one by one, petting Roxy, holding her, feeding her and talking to her in a soothing voice.

On the morning of her surgery, I feigned cheerfulness, fooling myself a little that everything would be all right. Douglas and I cuddled with Roxy on the couch and finished the drama we had begun the night before, "Mandy and Roxy Go to Mars." I took pictures of my kids with their cat "just in case." It was with heavy hearts that we took Roxy to the vet. She had gained back some weight, which I took to be a good sign, but the vet found the mass in her abdomen unchanged. We snuggled Roxy and kissed her and watched her frightened eyes over the vet's shoulder as she carried Roxy away. I dropped the kids off at school, and I waited.

Around noon the phone rang. When I heard the tone of the vet's voice, my tears began to flow. The cancer had spread internally and was inoperable. What did I want to do? I wanted to hold her soft little body in my arms, and nuzzle her, and above all, heal her. But I told the vet to let her go peacefully while she was still asleep.

When I stopped crying, I went out and bought some perennial flowers. My husband came home early from work and got Roxy. My daughter, Louise, came home and through her tears told me she somehow knew Roxy was going to die. When Douglas came home, his face remained serious, but a single tear slid town his cheek. All four of us looked at Roxy and petted her one last time. She was curled up and so very peaceful. We placed her on the blanket she had slept on as a kitten and wrapped her up. My husband dug a hole underneath the kids' tree fort while we watched. We gently placed her in that hole and buried her. Each of us planted a flower on top. My husband, who could barely speak, spoke for us all when he said, "Goodbye, friend."

And that night, lying with my son, both of us raw with grief, we enacted "Roxy Goes to Heaven."

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