My cat died yesterday.
More specifically, I had my cat’s life ended for her yesterday. I slept in the guest room the night before last where I’d been camped out for baby duty, and a thump woke me up at 2:00 am. My little orange cat Ipso had tried to jump up on the bed and had missed. Then I watched her try to walk to her litter box and she fell over. This checked a box in the worst decision making tree I’ve ever had to design.
Ipso was diagnosed with kidney failure three and a half years ago. At the time, we were told she had weeks to months. That turned out to be years – three good years, where she felt fine and acted like herself. But she had been fading for the past few weeks, and I’d been trying hard to pretend like it wasn’t happening.
I picked her up and brought her into bed with me. She stretched her chin out over my wrist and started purring while I scratched her head. We talked about it. I made the decision. She curled up next to me and I stayed up with her for the rest of the night.
I woke Chris up and told him I thought we needed to let Ipso go. He called a local mobile vet, who wouldn’t be able to get to our house until noon or so. Ipso hated going to the stationary vet’s office and I couldn’t stand the thought of her last moments being in a place that caused her so much fear and stress. So we waited.
The next five hours were some of the worst in my life. Her illness had been so glacially slow, and yesterday it suddenly, hideously sped up. By mid-morning, she couldn’t stand up anymore. I’d been tearfully trying to respect her animal need for privacy in this final, most solitary moment, but my resolve crumbled when I found her trying to drag herself away from a puddle of her own urine with her front paws. She didn’t have the strength.
I grabbed a soft green towel we’d received as a wedding gift and wrapped her tiny body in it. She’d been losing weight rapidly over the past few weeks, and when I picked her up, she felt like the rest of her had finally melted away.
I took her to the couch and sat down with her and cuddled her in the towel while Chris took care of the baby. I talked to her, murmuring that she was a good girl, that I was looking out the windows she used to love to sit in, watching the trees, and I tried to describe the play of light and shadow for her one last time. This may be something that I need to believe, but I swear I felt her relax.
Just before the vet arrived, she turned her head and looked at me. Her eyes, which were a color that I don’t think has a name – somewhere between green and gold and brown and blue – were clear, and I know she saw me. She slowly blinked at me, and I slowly blinked back. I tried as best I could to enjoy the last time I’d sit on my couch cuddling my little orange girl.
The vet and his assistant arrived and Chris let them in. They spoke in quiet voices. There was no small talk. The vet, a kind-faced man in scrubs, sat down on our ottoman and stroked Ipso’s head. “Hi kitty,” he said. I started crying and babbling about her kidney disease history. “Yeah,” he said with a sigh, and it was clear in that one word that he agreed with my assessment and that it was time.
“Have you had to do this before?” he asked. I shook my head. He then explained the two injection process. The first subcutaneous sedative went smoothly – his assistant scrunched up Ipso’s neck while I held her, and my poor cat was too far gone to even flinch. They told me it would take five to ten minutes to take effect. They both stepped outside to prep the final injection.
The baby had mercifully fallen asleep at this point, and our living room was dark and quiet while I held Ipso and tried to tell her everything I needed to say – mostly I love you, you’re such a good girl, and thank you.
I wasn’t sure what this sedation meant for her state of awareness. Her eyes were open, but she was completely unresponsive. I don’t know if she could hear me or not, but I didn’t want to take chances. When they came back in with the death drug, we laid her out on the ottoman. I stroked her head and continued my monologue, feeling about as focused as I ever have in my entire life. It took several tries to get the needle in her deflated veins, but she didn’t react at all. There was hardly any fluid left in her by then. I kept petting and talking to her, until the vet checked her heart with a stethoscope and gently touched my arm.
At that point I let out a wail that I’d never heard come out of me before and clutched at her tiny limp body. The vets told Chris they’d wait outside and we both cried over her. Chris went out to settle the bill (he told me later that they were very kind during all of this) and then came back in. We cried some more, and I marveled a little bit at how completely unscary her dead body was for me. I hate seeing, touching, and dealing with dead bodies, which is unfortunate when you surround yourself with cats. I’ll shriek and leap on furniture when the inevitable mutilated bird or mouse or squirrel part gets dragged into the house. But I knew this particular furry little body so well.
After a little while, Chris went to get the pillow case we’d picked out for her shroud and lay it next to her. I picked up her body, and the sensation of my beloved little cat’s dead weight just collapsing when lifted broke my heart in two. We wrapped her up and took her outside to the grave Chris had dug for her in a sunny corner of the backyard. I lay her in it, and Chris shoveled dirt back on top of her.
I walked back inside, and I caught a glimpse of Chris standing by her grave crying. Chris took care of scheduling the vet (no small trick), helped our daughter get a nap, dug the hole, and stood back to let me comfort her in her final moments. I think this was the only time during the entire ordeal where he was able to pause and really feel what was happening.
A few minutes later, our daughter woke up from her nap with no idea what had happened (or about death, cats, illness, or vets, for that matter). I’m a big believer in not hiding grief from kids, but four months seemed a bit early for modeling expression of powerful feelings of sadness. So I had to pull it together to greet her the way I always do when she wakes up from her naps. “Good morning sweet pea!” I crooned with a huge smile on my face while tears were still running down it. “Good morning, my good bear!” And she smiled her little gummy wake-up smile back up at me, which always looks as though she is simply astonished and thoroughly tickled to wake up in a world that still has me in it.
I fed her and we ordered delivery sandwiches. I managed to eat a little more than half of mine. Then I went to work, where I spent a couple of hours hunched over in my office blowing my nose and trying to avoid all of my coworkers. I posted a half-hearted social media tribute to her, because it’s what people do.
And now there’s nothing left for me to do but grieve my cat. I went to bed without either of us saying, “let’s shoot up the cat” (house slang for administering the subcutaneous fluids we’d been giving her for the past three and a half years). There was no soft little thump followed by contented claws kneading my shoulder and a steady purring in my ear after I lay down. When I woke up in this morning and made my oatmeal, there was no leap onto the counter followed by inquisitive sniffings of the milky measuring cup or imploring murrrrrs for attention. There was no furry obstruction between the spoon and my mouth, and no weight in my lap as I sat on the bar stool eating.
Before I left for work, I checked on all of our pets. Larry was curled up on the couch. Serif, Richard Parker, and Scout were cuddling in bed with Chris. There was no one on top of the dryer, no one on the highest pedestal of our cat tree, no one curled up on the other end of the couch, no one running around under my feet requesting last minute cuddles.
The whole thing repeated itself when I got home from work.
I cried myself to sleep, and I cried as soon as I woke up this morning. This feels like an amputation.