This past Friday, I had to let my sweet boy go. The past month and a half had been rough, and he’d deteriorated rather quickly. After a litany of issues (stage 2 kidney disease, anemia, dehydration not remedied by fluids, IBD, a heart murmur, and possibly lymphoma and pancreatitis), on Friday morning he could not walk or use the restroom unassisted. He didn’t want to eat, seemed the most forlorn I’ve seen him, and kept falling. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
Of the long list of pets I have had in my life, I have never had to make that decision personally. I’ve never had to be there when it happened, but I needed to be. Logically, it was the “right thing to do”, but my heart was, is, broken and I miss my sweet boy.
My sweet boy that didn’t seem to care for anyone else (we’d gone through our share of cat-sitters). My sweet boy that talked, cooed, grunted, yelled, cried, headbutted, loved to be carried everywhere and lay on my chest as I lay on the floor, in our moments of peace and reflection. I’d never had a cat that was this dependent and vocal. Quiet talkers, all.
Mao came to me a stray 5 1/2 years ago. He was an Uptown cat in New Orleans, an obvious former pet with de-clawed front paws and still keen on people (to a limit). The girl who posted the Craigslist was letting him in her house and feeding him. She was moving and afraid no one would care for him. We did a visit. I was accepted. She had named him Jean Valjean. There was no way I was going to be yelling out “Jean Valjean!” (Sorry Les Miz fans.) So, Mao he became (because I could call him The Chairman and if you say it in the third tone in Mandarin, it means “cat”. Double duty.)
The vet had told her that he was five, so I figured I’d peg his age at 10, maybe 11 this year. Turns out, he was at least 12, probably more. He’d never tell me. Sensitive about his age it seems.
Before we left New Orleans in November of last year, he had lost a little bit of weight, nothing terribly alarming, but I could tell he was getting older. More grey on top of grey. It was a stressful trip in the beginning for him, but he seemed to calm down. Laid in my lap nearly the whole way. Logically, I know his downgrade had started before we left, that if we’d stayed, he still would have gotten sick and I wouldn’t have had the help of my family to take care of it. But I still felt/feel guilty, like I never should have taken him from New Orleans. That we shouldn’t have left. Guilty that I couldn’t fix him, that I was/am so broke that treatment had to be debated and spread out a little. With his laundry list of problems, truth be told, all the money in the world could have probably only given him, me, a few more months, but I still feel guilty. It’s terrible watching someone you love deteriorate, human or animal. Helplessness reigns. I would hold him, try and absorb some of the sickness, but it didn’t work.
And then there was the anger. I still had to work. There was no one there to watch him, comfort him. Be there so he could have his space heater on. I got so angry that I had to serve people their stupid fucking kale salad while my sweet boy might be dying. None of it mattered.
By the last week, the steroids, the b-12, the nausea meds, weren’t helping. We went to another vet, a 2nd opinion that turned out much the same. Confirmed the decision I was facing. Weeks of sleeping on the couch so I could hear him if he needed something meant I was there when he fell, stumbled and fell behind the couch at 4:30am. He couldn’t help himself so I had to pull his skinny body out and hold him until whatever was happening passed. The episodes coming closer together. I’d leave for work, the house covered in towels and all cracks and crevices sealed with pillows in case he fell again. He didn’t, there wasn’t time.
So now he’s gone. It was as good as a death at this stage can be. I was there when he went to sleep, holding his head, crying uncontrollably as I am now. I wish I could have told him more, held him more, hoped he would understand. I took him to our family vet, the one where my dear friend(s) work (thank you again, Dana and Talon. thank you). Oddly enough, my poor Mom and Dad had dropped off another cat that had to be put down earlier that day. She’d had AIDS and was pregnant. So we took them both home and my Dad and I dug a double grave in the snow. It was a goddamned terrible and sad day. BUT, it helped to do that. To be together, to do the things you’re supposed to do. To bear the body home, even if it’s covered in fur, tiny and broken.
So my sweet boy is gone. I miss him terribly and keep finding his things and breaking down. I see him sitting in the window, or where his food bowl used to be, or hear a noise and wait for him to come around the corner. But he’s not coming and every day will get a little easier, I hope.
We still have our mornings, our open window or porch sitting mornings, our nights at the computer, our reading sessions on the couch, the favorite chair. Wherever he is, lying in the sun, sniffing the New Orleans breeze, I hope he’s at peace, knows I love him dearly.