Lancer, I am so sorry for your loss. The gentle presence of pets in our lives (and I am very much a "cat" person, too) keeps us in touch with the things that really matter - simple and unconditional love (as much a cliche as that has become, it is so very true).
I lost my 22 year old cat not too long ago, and realized that she was the living connection to my history, my emergence into adulthood. Relationships have come and gone, jobs and schooling have altered my professional role in society, old friends have disappeared and new ones have filled the void, and I have moved all around this country. In a world full of variables and uncertainty, she was a constant. In the midst of changes all around and within me, she never did. She was the presence that kept me emotionally grounded, and no matter how my day went, when I walked in the door coming home, the only thing that mattered to her was that I came back to her.
And in my toughest times, just allowing for the briefest moment to exchange my priorities with hers - to look in her big, glassy eyes and lose myself in her little world - gave me peace and the strength to return to my own.
She WAS home, I suppose.
The goodbyes in life are so tough. I've lost my father to a sudden, unexpected death. I may be losing my mother to Alzheimer's - a slow and difficult goodbye. I lost my best friend to suicide. And I lost my cat. And if you asked me to quantify each as if I could apportion the grief, I honestly could not tell you how those scales would balance. My mother, my father, my best friend, my cat - perhaps the heart just doesn't measure things like our minds think it should.
If it helps, it does get better. The emotional wounds heal, we learn to accept. I am sure you know that, but I think it still helps to hear it. Ricky is gone. The pain you feel is just the love that remains - the love you built over almost 17 years. In my experience, that love mellows into a true and gentle part of us. A part of Ricky stays with you as long as you open your heart and keep him there.