What It's Like to Lose a Pet in College

I was in my dorm room getting ready for a concert with friends when my mom texted me, “Can I call you?”

I’m not sure why, but my stomach dropped out from under me, and I knew whatever she had to say wasn’t going to be good. Nonetheless, I picked up the phone and learned the terrible news: my cat, T-rex, was going to die. They weren’t sure how much time she had, but they were certain of one thing; it wasn’t long.

We found T-rex at a gas station when I was 2 years old. She was just a tiny little kitten, and I was just a tiny little girl, so we went together perfectly. I named her T-rex because I thought that was the most beautiful of names. Later, when I was older, I would grow to regret this name choice and give her the middle name Penelope to compensate. My cat, T-rex Penelope. An interesting combination of names, but one that was beautiful to me.

Although she was the entire family’s pet, T-rex and I had a special connection. Through the years it was her that snuggled up with me at night, it was her that stayed up late with me to study for that super hard math test, and it was her that I whispered all my darkest secrets to. In the mornings she would hop up on my bathroom counter to drink from the sink while I got ready, and at night she would hop up onto my bed to purr on my chest. When I was sad, I would pick her up, bury my face in her chest and she would purr in a special way that I knew was just for me.

My mother promised me that once I got my own place I could take her with me, so when I saw the apartment I would be living in next year allowed cats, I was elated. We would finally have our own life, just her and me, and I couldn’t wait to come home from class to her.

She was old, though. And while I knew her time was limited, I never imagined that it would happen while I was away at school.

When my mother told me that she was about to pass away, I was incredibly angry. How could this be happening? Not only was I about to lose a best friend, but I was going to lose her without getting to say a proper goodbye. I begged my parents to come pick me up, but the drive was too far to be feasible in such a short amount of time. I cried and prayed, hoping beyond hope that she could hold on until I was on spring break; a mere six days away.

That day was one of the worst of my life; filled with dread, fear and anxiety. Just waiting for the clock to tick down. Knowing T-rex was suffering. Knowing I couldn’t be with her. That night I stayed up for hours, unable to sleep. In the end, it was only by imagining that she was sleeping on the pillow beside me that lulled me into unconsciousness. I’m not sure what overcame me, but before I fell asleep, I felt compelled to say something to her. I told her that I missed her, and that I loved her and that although I wanted desperately for her to stay alive for me to see her that she didn’t have to hang on for me. That it was okay to let go. That I knew she would stay with me no matter what. That we would still see each other again.

T-rex died the next morning.

My mom played an audio recording I had made for her just before she passed. I had sent it the day previous, hoping that I would make it home early enough, but wanting to have final words to T-rex just in case I didn’t. My mother told me that although she was mostly unresponsive in those final hours, her little ears perked up at the sound of my voice. That meant the world to me.

When my mother called me to tell me the news, the strangest thing happened; I felt peaceful. I was incredibly sad, yes, immensely so, but I also felt this all-encompassing peace. All the dread from the day previous, all the heartache and pain of knowing the worst was going to happen but not knowing when all that was gone. T-rex wasn’t in pain anymore. She was free. And though it made me so incredibly sad to know that I couldn’t return home to her and couldn’t fulfill my dream of us living in an apartment together, I felt her presence join me in my dinky college dorm room.

I was able to talk to my sister later that day, and she told me something amazing. She said the previous night T-rex had crawled up into bed with her (something that doesn’t normally happen). She was surprised by this, but let her do it anyway. She said that T-rex sat on the pillow beside her for a short while before hopping down and leaving the room. I’m certain that in that moment, T-rex’s spirit was in Richmond with me, as I lay awake, whispering to her in the night.

I’m not really sure why this had to happen while I was away at college. I’m not sure why I couldn’t have been with her when she died. I just don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever get one. But as painful and sad as this all has been, I’m certain I can feel her spirit with me, even now. One of the songs that brought me the most comfort in this time is Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Disney’s "Tarzan." There’s a line in it that goes, “Just look over your shoulder, just look over your shoulder, I’ll be there.”

“The ones that love us never really leave us,” Sirius Black says in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" by J.K. Rowling. I believe that. And I believe that T-rex is curled up on my bed right behind me, blinking her slow smile at me and thumping her tail, just over my shoulder, just out of sight.