My cat Oreo once licked tears off my face, about 4 years before we had to put her to sleep.
In middle school I had an intense crush on a boy named Sam. He was loud and funny and had a mop of brown hair on his head and a sprinkle of freckles across his nose. He was cute in a pretty conventional way, but it was really the confidence and humor that got me. We knew each other casually, had some classes together, and probably had all of 5 conversations throughout 8th grade. But still, when the year ended and he announced he was moving 250 miles away to Houston, I was crushed. Crushed by a crush.
Despite the fact that we clearly didn’t have a close relationship nor were we destined to be together, I woke up on the first day of summer feeling incredibly melancholy. Oreo, at that time a fully grown cat in full possession of her sight, jumped up on my bed as she did every morning, sniffing around my head. On mornings that I was not awake when she arrived, she saw fit to nip at my forehead, right below my hair line. Not real bites, just tiny alarm clock bites. On this morning, she found me fully awake, laying on my side with my face snuggled into my pillow, crying quietly. While a sad girl might deny her siblings the pleasure of seeing her teary eyes, there is no way to ignore a purring, furry cat sniffing so closely that you can feel her whiskers against your cheek.
Sliding my hand along her spine, I told Oreo my tale of woe: a boy I barely knew was moving away, and for some reason that reduced me to weeping. She didn’t judge, just listened and stared into my eyes as though she fully understood my middle school pain. Then she stood up, leaned in, sniffed some more, and whisked her scratchy velcro-y tongue against my face. One, two, three more times, little licks against the apples of my cheeks, which tickled me just enough to break me out of my sadness but not enough to make me fully laugh.
So when, four years later, I held a blind Oreo in my arms wrapped in my baby blanket, and passed her over to a vet for the last time, it’s no surprise that the tears flowed freely, nor did it escape my attention that she could no longer reach in, sniff my face, and lick them away. The realization, of course, only caused more of them to fall.