Cat-Shaped Hole

On Friday, February 13, 2009, at about 4:30pm, our cat Spenser died.

We named Spenser not after the poet, but after Robert B. Parker’s best character, the detective Spenser. And he lived up to the name, and gave it an honor all his own.

Spenser spent 13+ years of his life as a lean, energetic, charming, friendly, trusting and faithful friend.

He was the galloping anti-gravity cat who loved to charge through the house at top speed, leap to the back of a couch or chair, hover there briefly, and then gallop off.

He was the loud alarm clock yowling through the door on weekend mornings that it was time we got UP.

He was the loudly-purring buddy who sat on the back of my chair and pulled at my hair or nibbled at my left earlobe or just stood with his front paws on my shoulder, watching the computer screen while I typed, keeping me company through every book from Glenraven through The Silver Door.

He was the cat who sat on our kid’s lap while he did his school work, who would occasionally bat at his pen while he was writing, but who mostly just kept the kid company through years of math and science and history and grammar.

He was the cherry thief, leaping away from the bowl full of cherries with a stem and cherry dangling from his mouth, delighted that he’d found a new, bright red toy, determined to hang onto it and his dignity while we laughed.

He was the stalker of string, the comforter of crying people, the sharer of naps, the endlessly annoying starter of mock-fights with our other cats because he wanted to play and they were lazy.

He was the guy who never scratched, never hissed, never bit, never had a bad day.

He loved life, and his exuberance was boundless and infectious.

He had the most vibrant personality of any cat I have ever known; he was the only larger-than-life character I have known in catdom. Knowing him was a privilege, and his personality imbued The Cat in both The Ruby Key and The Silver Door with the truth that has made The Cat the strong front-runner for favorite character in most of the fan mail I’ve received from those two books.

On January 25th, while my older son was home over the weekend from the Air Force, he was roughhousing with Spenser, and Spenser suddenly hissed at him. We were shocked, but I told my son the cat had been a little out of sorts for the past couple of days—that I’d palpated his abdomen for lumps or calcifications, that it hadn’t been tender, that he’d been eating and drinking just fine, but that he’d been sleeping more than usual.

On the 26th, while he was sitting on my lap ignoring the yarn I was knitting up (for the past couple of years, he would sit on my lap intently NOT looking at the yarn—except for an occasional peek over his shoulder that would set his tail twitching, because I got mad at him if he chewed on it or tried to steal it), I saw him glance at the yarn, then turn resolutely away…while his tail twitched. And I laughed, and petted him, and told him he was a good boy. And scratched under his chin.

That was when I found the lump on the left side of his jaw…a hard, round, nodular, non-mobile, non-palpable growth about the size of a large grape. Treatment would have been radiation and the removal of the left side of his jaw and much of his face, and treatment would not cure him. It would only buy him a few months, maybe a year, of living in an incomprehensible hell of pain and struggle. He would not have been able to understand that we had done that to save his life. He would only know that we had done it.

We decided our friend deserved better.

The progression of the tumor was brutal and swift. He managed to eat until Wednesday, February 11th, when he refused food. On Thursday, he refused water as well. I tried him on food mixed with water on Friday morning, but he refused again. By that time, he was bleeding from the mouth intermittently, he had lost a lot of weight, and the tumor filled the space under his tongue, making it hard for him to swallow. While he still purred when we pet him, and still hung out with us and climbed on our laps, it was time.

The kid and I said our goodbyes at the door. Matt took him the last mile alone. Spenser walked confidently out of the cat carrier onto the table, purred when the vet and the assistant met him, got his shot, and went to sleep.

His absence leaves a cat-shaped hole in our lives; he was unique in my experience with cats—and I’ve had at least one cat since I was twenty-one years old. There won’t be any more cats to try to replace him. He was irreplaceable. Any other cat would simply be “not him.”

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20 responses to “Cat-Shaped Hole”

  1. Keely Avatar

    I am so sorry, Holly! I just stole a few moments from work to check on you, and found this post. I know how hard it is to lose a pet/companion/friend, and it never gets easier. But let all of the wonderful memories of Spenser shine through the pain.


  2. steph-osborn Avatar

    They Are Not Gone Forever
    By Stephanie Osborn

    They are not gone forever;
    just in other fields they roam.
    They are not gone forever;
    they have passed beyond the gloam.
    They wait for us to join them;
    then together will we be.
    They are not gone forever;
    merely wait for our call home.

    They vanish not into the night;
    they wait in sunny day.
    They vanish not into the night;
    in fields of green they play.
    In patience thus they bide them;
    evermore we all will roam.
    They vanish not into the night;
    their hearts, they do not stray.

    No, they are not gone forever;
    once again we’ll see that face.
    They are not gone forever;
    in a happy, happy place
    They await our call eternal;
    they have gone to make the way.
    They are not gone forever;
    they await in land of grace.

  3. steph-osborn Avatar


    My heart is with you. I have lost 2 horses and one cat in the last few years. Anna, the cat (Siamese of course), was 19 when she died, and we’d had her from a kitten. Long story there in and of itself, and I’ve been told I should write Anna’s story one day. And maybe I will.

    And you have the perfect description. A cat-shaped hole – in your home, in your heart.

    But just as we move on from the death of any loved one, so too you can – must – move on from this. I now have Elrond Half-Siamese jumping into my lap, and he is a sometimes feisty, sometimes snugglebuns of a 3-year-old cat. He is child and friend and companion, just as Anna was. They are NOT the same except in physical resemblance. But they are, and will always be, loved.

    No, Elrond didn’t fill the hole in my heart. But he softened its edges with his fluffy fur and his soft (and sometimes loud) purrs, and his insatiable curiosity and desire to play and/or cuddle. And another part of my heart grew to encompass him.

    May it be so for you, as well.

  4. tambo Avatar

    I am so, so sorry.

    We lost our Ghost unexpectedly over the summer, and still miss him terribly. I am glad you got a chance to say goodbye. {{hugg}}

  5. maepowers Avatar

    Dear Holly,
    Terribly sorry to hear about Spenser. I’ve had my Jules for over 10 years now and he’s diabetic, and hanging in there. I’d feel that Cat-shaped black hole if anything ever happened to him. Can’t remember a time I didn’t have a cat either. Good luck on your Rebel Tales. A friend and I, who is a cat lover too, are putting together something for our own blog, containing speculative/fantasy romance tales (and a serial of an on-going sfr tale); which is something we had started planning late last year but are just now getting to, since both our husbands died last year and things went haywire. Keep up the good work and the great reads (I’m a fan of yours too besides being a writer and epublisher). I wish you the best with your endeavors and writing. Mae

  6. dafaolta Avatar

    Spenser sounds like a wonderful friend. I was the secondary human to several cats, since my habitation includes people who sneeze at cats ( to be fair, also at dogs) and I treasure the memories I have of them. Cat-shaped holes are some of the hardest to fill when the original occupant was so special. Whenever your next cat comes to you, there will be a new space made just for them.

  7. BJSteeves Avatar

    It’s very hard to lose a pet. I lost both of my shelties, one about 5 months ago, and the other, 2 days before Christmas. I am going to get another dog soon. In the mean time, I do sit for a couple dogs when needed.

    After time, you will think about getting another pet. I hope you do.

  8. kippras Avatar

    Holly, I’m so sorry to hear about your kitty. The story of Rainbow Bridge comes to mind. If you haven’t heard it:

    Don’t necessarily rule out not having another cat. I’m not sure that Spencer wouldn’t want you to get another – sounds like he was a happy lovable ol’ cat and I’m sure he would want his pets to be happy too.

    Sounds like a wonderful kitty.

  9. teresa Avatar

    Lots of hugs your way, Holly. I can empathize. Four years ago, today, Zarah died. She was only three years old, and her death was sudden and unforeseen. Her mother had been a family pet, so I had Zarah before she was born. We were inseparable, and she moved several times with me during her short life.

    A “cat-shaped hole” is a perfect description, and it’s one that will never, ever be truly filled. I had another cat now, Thomas, who is so unlike Zarah in every way. He’ll never replace her, and I’m not as close to him as I was with Zarah, but he’s a wonderful boy.

    I’ll like two candles tonight, one for Zarah, and one for Spencer. Someday we’ll see them again, waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge.

  10. Katherine Avatar

    Somewhere, there’s a warm sunny field full of catnip, with mice that provide just the right amount of challenge, and other cats to play with, but plenty of space for cats that want space. Somewhere, Spenser is napping in a sunbeam, dreaming of you. Peace.

  11. elsie_at_ease Avatar

    Holly, I’m so sorry for your loss. May your grief be short and your memories of Spenser be clear and joyous.

  12. Jeff Imig Avatar

    Oh Holly that’s so sad. Cats are love.

    Take care…

    Jeff Imig

  13. cirrat Avatar


    As a property of two cats I feel for you deeply. I can’t imagine one of my furry companions suddenly not being here and keeping me company. Even as I type now, Mushu taps my leg with his tail and demands attention.

    May the cat-shaped hole soon become a kitten-shaped opening! The Central Distribution of Cats (CDC) will be ready when you guys are…

  14. Kyralae Avatar

    It’s always hard to make that final decison of a beloved friend like that. I’ve had to do it too many times this past year as my fur children reached ages 20+. They were in my life since they were tiny kittens and there was a hole like you described.

    The best thing is to remember the good times and antics. Don’t be surprised to see a shadow out of the corner of your eye as they linger in your heart and mind. When the time is right, another will come into your life.

  15. vanity Avatar

    I’m very sorry to hear this. May the hole shrink to a manageable size before long, even though it will always be there.

  16. valerie Avatar

    George, who will be 14 in May, and I offer our condolences. Your story (and Erin Hartshorn’s, whose similar-age cat died a few weeks ago) are helping me to remember to skritch George’s chin whenever he asks for it and to treasure the snuggles and purrs. He’s also not the cat he used to be but still seems healthy. Hugs, Holly.

  17. Charlene Teglia Avatar

    Every day with a friend like that is a gift. I’m glad he’s living on in your books.

  18. PolarBear Avatar

    Holly, I’m so sorry. Hugs to you and the family.

  19. rcyork Avatar

    We are very sorry for your loss and very grateful for your memories.

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