Home Looking back: What does 15 years mean in terms of grief?

Looking back: What does 15 years mean in terms of grief?

A picture I took of Scrappy in 2007, which was framed on my desk when I was a reporter.

In early 2008, I was a young Community News reporter at the Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg, Va.

I wrote a column that spring which began with this question: What does 15 years mean to you?

The meaning behind that question was that, for some, 15 years is a short time and, for others, it is a lifetime. Fifteen years is a lifetime for pet owners whose cat or dog have only 15 or so years to live. For humans, 15 years is a blink of an eye in our lives.

That spring, I was celebrating 15 years with Scrappy Doo, my first Maine Coon cat who joined my family very unexpectedly in January 1993 when we had just built a new house.

We were not a cat family. My brother and I grew up with horses and dogs. But in summer 1992, our first cat, Kittie, was found by my brother in a bush near the house we were renting (while building the other house).

So when Scrappy limped into our lives in early 1993, I was ecstatic at the idea of having two cats. We also had two dogs. I remember my family and I eating dinner at Pizza Hut when my parents announced that we could keep Scrappy, who was named for the fact that he kept eating scrap foods thrown out in the woods behind our house. That was January 30, 1993.

A veterinarian appointment revealed that Scrappy limped on his front left leg because a few months before he had been shot three times in that shoulder. The wound had healed without medical attention and at least one bullet remained.

For the next 15 and a half years, Scrappy Doo taught me the importance of overlooking imperfections and enjoying life. In spite of that imperfect leg, Scrappy lived life to the fullest. He climbed trees after Kittie and annoyed her. He annoyed our dogs. He killed a few squirrels. He demanded affection on a regular basis.

A sweet boy who adored women, Scrappy also had a tough side. I suspected that was from spending a few years fending for himself.

He also taught me #adoptdonotshop. He is why I now have my Chassy girl and Sharkie boy. She was a stray I brought home in 2014 and Sharkie I adopted from Cat’s Cradle in January 2019.

Soon after I brought Chassy home, I knew she would need a brother. I thought I would eventually adopt an older cat, because they are often overlooked. But then I saw Sharkie’s photo on Facebook. It’s not coincidence his name also begins with an S and he also came to me in January.

Sharkie also has an imperfection: when he was four months old, he was involved in an accident. I suspect he was hit by a car. His lower jaw was degloved and surgery was necessary. As a result, he has some challenges with eating and makes a lot of noises, and his lower lip is crooked.

But I got over imperfections years ago.

Sharkie is also a Maine Coon. He is a blue Maine Coon, which is very rare.

A lot can happen in 15 years. During 15 years with Scrappy, I graduated high school and college, my parents divorced, my brother got married and I changed jobs several times.

Now, tomorrow it’s been 15 years since I lost Scrappy to cancer. In 2008, I thought about today and how my life might be. But I could not imagine it, because it would mean a life without Scrappy.

Wonderful things have happened in the last 15 years: my journey in journalism, moving to southern Maryland and finding my Chassy, then moving to Staunton and finding my Sharkie.

Yet, I hesitated to write this column today, because of what tomorrow means. I once heard someone say that you shouldn’t grieve the loss of someone for more than the duration of time they were in your life. The grief has subsided over the years, but some days it comes back as if it never left. Days like today. Because Scrappy is gone, but the memories and the love will never be gone.

When my family found out Scrappy had cancer, I called my dad crying and he apologized for the pain I was going through. I told him I wasn’t sorry, because that would be like wishing I had never had 15 and a half years with Scrappy.

I still would never trade those years for anything else.

So, I ask again: What does 15 years mean to you?

I hope you make it mean something to yourself and to someone else.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.