The most frequently uttered phrase in the English language has got to be “if only…” Because life is so random, we spend a lot of time wishing we could have a “do-over.” We wish we could go back in time and change something we bungled badly so that we can come out feeling better about ourselves. We wish we had said something different, done something better, made better choices.

On Saturday, February 7, 2004, I got that wish.

My cat died on that cold, gray, miserable, slushy morning. Eliot had been doing well at home, I thought. She was blogging regularly and seemed to be on the road to recovery. But by Friday night she had begun a rapid decline that culminated early Saturday morning when I found her, huddled and trembling, on my living room floor, unable to eat, drink, or even stand up. As I prepared her for what would be her final trip to the vet, I held out some small hope that she might pull through again. She had beaten the odds before; maybe there was a chance. But when she proved to be too weak to even lift her hind legs into her carrier, and I had to stuff her gently into it myself, I knew it was time to let her go.

And I am lucky.

This time, I did everything right. There was none of the uncertainty or ambivalence I felt before. This time, I knew -- absolutely, conclusively, without question -- that this was the right thing to do. And, as her vet explained the procedure with tears in her own eyes, I knew I could trust her advice in a way I wasn’t able to six weeks ago.

And I am lucky.

My memory of her final moments is oddly comforting. Eliot did not die, alone and afraid, in a cramped cage in some anonymous animal hospital where no one knew her. She went to sleep quietly and peacefully on a warm heating cushion, covered by a soft blanket, as I held her paw and stroked her fur and the doctors and staff who took care of her all these years each kissed her goodbye and then cried with me when it was finally over.

And I am lucky.

I am lucky because I got my do-over. I got to fix everything I did wrong the last time. I got to be the tower of strength, of nobility, of unselfishness I had always imagined I would be.

I got to do it right.

Which makes me think that maybe -- maybe -- things aren’t totally random. That the bad things that happen to us may occasionally happen for a reason -- to make us stronger for the next time.

I don’t know that for certain.

But what I do know for certain is that I’ll eventually find out.