His name was Yoda.

It was the spring of 2004 and, in what seems like a lifetime ago, I was a teen newlywed setting up my first home — a humble one bedroom in a sleepy city along the Columbia River. My then-step-sister’s cat, Grace, had two kittens but rejected one shortly after birth. As a result, Dory became a satisfyingly obese fathead, while her little brother starved. His eyes were wide and round, his ears slightly too large and pointy.

We named him Yoda.

When it became clear it was a failure-to-thrive situation, I took him from my parents’ house and down to my grandmother, the beautiful, beloved Cat Lady who knew how to save any life no matter how destitute or fragile. Grandma was my hero.

She fed him goat’s milk and nursed him until he was the wild, bouncing flame point Siamese he was born to be. It was then my grandpa, the burly man of steel, fell in love. Grandpa was a hard man. Tough and gritty, he’d never understood Gram’s penchant for cats and merely managed to tolerate her decades of cat ownership and neighborhood reputation for taking in any and all strays.

But with Yoda, he transformed.

Each time we went down to visit my grandparents and check in on little Yoda, Grandpa boasted of the kitten’s adventures. He laughed, telling stories about Yoda using a towel on the arm of the couch as his personal swing and motioned his arms all over the room, animatedly describing Yoda’s antics — hanging from curtains, bolting around the house, climbing onto Grandpa, and sleeping with him. Grandpa was smitten. I was delighted.

Even so, they already had a house of cats,  so once Gram had sufficiently brought the little guy back to health, I took him home as my own, though I still brought him over for Grandpa visits, which made them both very happy.

Yoda was beautiful and intelligent,  but he was a tortured animal. I have always believed his mother’s abandonment hit him hard, and he struggled to connect to humans because of it. Though I tried — so hard — I was never able to replicate the relationship he had with my grandfather, which only served as salt in the wound when Grandpa passed away two-and-a-half years later. Yoda never connected to a human the same way again.

That is … until he met Erin.

When business growth merited a move to the east coast, I realized Yoda was going to struggle to thrive again. I was exchanging my house for a condo, and he would no longer be able to roam the yard, roll in the grass, and be left to his own devices, which he had come to value to an extreme in the wake of Grandpa’s passing. I fretted, realizing he was going to be upset at having to share a small condo with my other cat and dog. I debated, not sure how I was going to make his life on the east coast a happy one.

Then my sister texted me.

“Erin is moving to Texas for grad school, and she wants an adult cat to keep her company. One that is independent and okay when she’s gone, but also a good companion. I thought of Yoda.”

It was an answer to a prayer I’m not quite sure I’d even yet uttered.

I thought about Erin — sweet, smart, capable Erin. Introverted but solid. That same sort of personality young Yoda had loved in my grandfather all those years ago: a person who could patiently love him while he did his thing.

Within a week, it was settled, and I prepared to give my Yoda up for adoption in the midst of listing my home and prepping for a 3,000 mile cross-country move.

The night before she picked him up, I spent nearly three hours with my boy. We curled up on the couch, and I brushed his long, white coat while telling him how much I loved him. I thought about my life and asked myself if I was selfish for giving him to Erin. I cried. I cried a lot.

But even as she lovingly secured him into her small SUV and drove away with him the next day, I knew I’d made the right decision. I thought of Grandpa, I thought of Yoda, I thought of Erin, and I let my boy go.

For the next five years, I watched Yoda transform. Thanks to social media, I was able to keep up with Yoda’s new life via Erin’s Facebook page and watched in wonder as my once-antisocial cat found a love he had not felt since Grandpa died. He sat with her while she knitted. He played with her. He responded to her. He loved her — I saw it in his eyes. And with every photo I looked at, I knew I’d made the right decision. For the first time in many years, Yoda had a person again. The right person. The person he’d needed all along, the one to love him the exact way he needed to be loved.

When I woke up this morning and found out that Yoda died, my heart was broken. Yoda was the first “baby” I had when I became an adult. He was such a weak little kitten that I always felt fiercely protective of him. He was an important connection to my grandpa, which only made my tether to the wide-eyed cat that much stronger. But while my grandfather was Yoda’s first love and I was his first mother, it was Erin who was his last love and meant-to-be mother.

Erin, thank you for loving our boy. Thank you for being his mom. Thank you for being his person. Yoda, baby, I love you. I hope you’re with Grandpa, swinging from the highest curtains and stealing all of the ponytail holders, my sweet baby.