This was Kylar, our youngest cat, shortly after we brought him home for the first time...

What most of our friends, most of the people in our life, don't know is how we came across this furry (read: fuzzy) bundle of cuteness in the first place. We brought him home at the end of our trip to Kentucky for my grandmother's funeral.

Things were tense between my parents and I when Nanny died. Less than a week earlier, I was at Nanny's for a visit, the first one I'd been able to make for a long time. The week we spent together was filled with food, laughter, deep theological conversation, hugs, I-love-yous, and more love and intimacy than I can recall in a few short words.

Going back for the funeral, I could barely stand to be in her house. Her scent still fresh in the air, her sheets still on the bed, dishes still in the sink. The night we arrived, I stood out in the driveway several minutes before I was composed enough to go inside. Once I did, it hit me. Hard.

So I did what any sane person in the throws of grief would do: I ran. In this case, it was down the street to a neighbor's, a friend whose daughter shared my birthday, who acted as a caregiver for me in our first months of living in Kentucky. Her nextdoor neighbor, a woman I didn't know all that well, was out front. There with her was Kylar (then named Tom-Tom), his brother, and their mother. Frankie and I immediately fell in love with both kittens. We previously talked about the possibility of getting one. One of Frankie's two cats, Mittens, passed away the previous August, and we thought it might be good for his other baby, Chirpy, to have a... companion. We also knew there would be risks involved in introducing a 14 year old cat to a 2 month old kitten (we were right).

Still, by the end of our time in Kentucky, our minds were made up and we brought Kylar home. Named after a character from a fantasy series Frankie and I both loved, this little ball of fire immediately warmed our hearts.

...For me, Kylar is much more than a pet, even more than a family member. He is a reminder

When I left Kentucky at the end of my visit the previous week, I told Nanny I would call her the next day since I knew I would get home long after her bedtime. I knew she would want to know I made it home safe, and it's mandatory in our family that if you're traveling farther than usual, you call your next of kin to let them know you've arrived.

I didn't call her...

I cannot put into words the depth of pain and remorse I feel from not having done so. I still remember standing outside our friend Gene's car on the streets of Cincinnati where they dropped me off to catch the Megabus. I still remember the feel of her arms around me in what I did not know would be our last embrace. I remember the kiss she left on my cheek.

What I cannot remember is the sound of her voice. Despite having one of her blankets, I cannot remember her smell. I have spent countless nights trying to recall both of these, but to no avail. It's on these nights where I pick Kylar up, sit him in my lap, and hold him.

Kylar is the most tangible piece of Nanny I have left. I don't care about the dishes, the blanket, even the pictures (okay, so I care about the pictures, but you get what I mean). Kylar's breath, the feel of his fur under my fingers, his tongue licking my nose (I call him my little exfoliator), is a reminder of home, a reminder of her. I know it probably sounds crazy, but it's true. Nights when I think about Nanny, nights like tonight, I snatch up my little brat (in cat years, he's somewhere between his late teens and his early twenties... trust me... he's a brat), and cling to him like there's no tomorrow.

Nanny died in a car accident, and despite trying to forget it, I remember that day more vividly than any other in my entire life. I remember where I was, who was with me. I remember the anxious waiting between when I learned of the accident in the early afternoon and when a friend of ours called to inform me of her passing. I remember the sound of the scream I made in the middle of our courtyard. I remember the breathless sobs, the headaches, the tremors. I would not wish that torment on even my worst enemy.

All of this comes up because of a song I heard watching Smash tonight called "The Love I Meant to Say," sung by Jeremy Jordan. Although I'm sure its context is one of a romantic relationship, for some reason its lyrics felt fitting to my relationship with Nanny. I'm including them below.

If you've ever had an experience like mine, you know the pain of which I speak. It can feel unbearable at times, but that pain can teach us something. Never go to bed angry. You can never say "I love you" too many times. There's no knowing when or how someone might leave your life. There's no greater pain than questioning whether or not someone you love knows it. Don't let conflict lessen your love for someone. Don't leave room for regret.

I love Kylar (even when he's pissing me off), but no matter how many times I look into his copper eyes, telling him I love him is not the same as telling Nanny. Tell the people you love what they mean to you, and don't wait to do it. If you have a love you mean to say, say it.

Over, I can't believe it's over I can't believe the love I lived To show some other day

Listen, I hope that you can hear me As I kneel down and pray With the love I meant to say

Shadows, you took away the shadows Before your life was black and white Though tonight the room's gone gray

Golden, all the love you gave was golden Golden, I would gladly pay, To show the love I meant to say

Oh, music you made me hear, such music Without you hear to guide me, I feel as though I'll fly away

Sorry, that's the word I want to sing to you The other word is stay To hear the love I meant to say