Today is, as far as I can recall, the first day in my entire life there isn't a cat or dog living in the house I live in.
When Siobhan and I got together we were living in rentals, and it's pretty hard to find rentals that let you have a cat, and even harder to find one that lets you have a dog. So we never got a dog, but we always had at least one cat, usually several. When we finally bought our own house we talked about getting a dog but decided to hold off until the cats we already had, passed on. Because in my experience (we had both dogs and cats my whole childhood) a dog can easily adapt to adding a cat to the family, but a cat has a harder time adjusting to adding a dog. And our cats at the time included a Maine Coon cat (they're very territorial and possessive of their humans) and one fairly old, fairly grumpy and cantankerous cat named Brynna.
Brynna lived a very long time. When she died yesterday she was 18½. No one expected her to be the one to last so long. She was the runt of the litter, and she was grumpy and anti-social from the minute she was born (I actually got to see her being delivered). She was scrawny her whole life. She was never very clever, though she eventually turned out to have what you might call "street smarts." She also spent a lot of time outdoors; in the summer, she'd be gone for days at a time. As many of the cats we've lost were lost to other animals, she was always the most likely candidate, but somehow she survived all that.
The last five years or so, she'd been in the decline of old age. She'd lost more weight and was even more scrawny; we constantly struggled to get her to eat. She had various organs gradually declining, to the point where we were balancing various medications to keep them all working. We also were giving her subcutaneous fluids twice a week. With all that, we knew that she could go at any time, but at the same time, she was healthy, in good spirits, still getting around on her own, still talkative as ever. Though she had become a lot more affectionate once she was an only cat, she was still cantankerous and cranky. Though she had days she was sick, by all accounts she was happy and comfortable, not fading out, not struggling, and not suffering.
So you can't really say her death was "unexpected", but there's nothing about yesterday that made it likely; she was in as good health and as good spirits as any day in the last five years. We took her in for her routine semiannual checkup and blood work; there were no particular concerns and nothing unusual. But while they were taking her urine sample she arrested, and they brought us back, but they couldn't revive her. It was a shock and surprise and happened very fast. So we were as prepared as one could be with a cat that "could go any minute" for more than five years, but you can't be really prepared for that long without the preparedness getting dulled around the edges, so it was still a shock.
We buried her in the woods in front of the house, and marked the grave with a stone from one of the brooks nearby. It's proving quite hard to get used to that she's gone. She's been around for so, so long. Every time I walk down the hall, something in the back of my head is expecting her to be there because she wasn't in the living room so therefore she must be in the bedroom. I keep catching myself starting to talk to her... and I know one day I'm not going to catch myself in time.
Perhaps it may seem too soon to some, but we're going ahead with plans to get a dog right away. In fact, we went to a shelter yesterday and will be going to another one today. Why so soon? Partly it's because there's no reason to wait. Plus the spring is the ideal time to get a dog; we can do all the crate training now while there's plenty of time before the snow makes it trickier, and it's hard to leave the dog outside. And it probably will take a while to get a dog, to find the right one and go through the pre-approval stuff that the shelters require.
Part of it is also a need to fill the gap. I don't imagine that a dog will make me forget about Brynna or stop missing her, and that's not what we're after. But it's still a step to take to feel better, to fill the gap and ease the hurt.
After we have a dog settled in, we'll go back to adding a cat to the family. Not sure how soon that'll be.