My husband says that when we experience the death of a loved one- be they human or animal- it brings all of the grief we have felt previously to the present, because we never completely heal from those past losses. The more loss that I experience, the more I see the truth in his words. The love never goes away, but the next loss to come brings not only that love to the surface, but strong reminders of the sting of death.
Wednesday was challenging on many levels knowing that we would be putting our cat, Kasey, to sleep at 3:30. I had a busy day at work, but remained distracted and on the verge of tears no matter how hard I tried to focus on teaching. I have a very soft heart, as does my husband, and we had been trying to prepare ourselves since we realized that Kasey had deteriorated to the point where it was time to let her go only days before. She had originally been diagnosed with severe renal failure, and we had been prepared to give her infusions for years to keep her going if necessary. She didn’t improve with the fluids or all of the medication- instead, she wasted away to the point where she couldn’t walk anymore by the end. Lymphoma was the culprit that took our healthy and still active fourteen year old cat and in three weeks turned her into a mere shadow of her former self, both physically and mentally.
We are so grateful that we knew there was a problem and had time to say a real goodbye to her. We brought Kasey (an outdoor cat who came to us as feral when she was less than a year old) into the house and another beautiful thing happened- she and the dogs finally made peace. There was no more running and chasing, as the dogs examined her and realized as animals do that she was ill. For the first time ever, our entire little family was able to pile into bed together and to enjoy peaceful time by the fire. As Kasey weakened, she seemed to enjoy having me hold her like a baby in my arms, staring into my eyes. We were able to spoil her more than usual, and keep her extra comfortable when she was no longer able to help herself. Such gifts.
We went home for lunch and had one last meal out on the deck with her, letting her feel the warmth of the sun and allowing the dogs to say goodbye to her. Kasey has always been such a wise and accepting animal- truly an old soul- and she seemed to understand that change was in the air. Animals are always so much better about death and dying than humans are. They accept it, instead of railing against it as we humans do. I couldn’t help but see the parallels to the end of my mother’s life less than three years ago. I felt the same protectiveness, the knowledge that we had entered a sacred time that would pass all too quickly. I would look into Kasey’s eyes and see my mother’s eyes at the end, along with the eyes of my dear dogs who had passed on before. I felt the familiar panic of my lack of control over the situation- there was absolutely nothing that I could do to stop this natural progression of life from happening. A selfish feeling, I have no doubt, as the ones who leave are freed from their pain…we are left behind feeling the sting of their loss.
The hours seem to fly by, and all too soon it was time to pick Kasey up from home and join Dan to take her to Dr. George. I began crying as soon as I picked her up. I brushed her and fed her a last meal, which she ate hungrily- just like my mom did the night before she died. I wrapped her in a blanket and held her close as we loaded into the Mini Cooper. We knew she was mentally changed, as we didn’t need a cat carrier as we always had in the past- she happily lay in my arms and looked with her blind eyes up into the sun as we rode with the top down to the vet’s. Kasey’s last ride.
Once at the vet’s, we had Dr. George examine her to make sure it was truly time to say goodbye. He checked her kidney and showed us that it was three times the size it was supposed to be, indicating a mass had grown inside of her. I knelt down by the table and kissed her head, stroking her and telling her again how much we loved her and how grateful we were to be her humans, and Dan did the same. Dr. George looked into her eyes, rubbed her head, telling her the first shot would sting, but that then she wouldn’t feel a thing anymore and it would be okay. The sedative took effect quickly, and Kasey was obviously out of it. We kissed her again, and then Dr. George administered the final shot. She went almost immediately- her diseased body was just spent. I think I went through twenty tissues as I sobbed. I felt my heart break, adding to all of the cracks that were there from the loss of so many loved ones; my mother and father, my oldest brother and oldest sister, dear aunts and uncles, cousins, my first love, my clarinet mentor, my high school band director, beloved pets…so many jolts to the heart over the years. It is the human experience- if you open your heart to love, you will experience great loss- but the love is worth the pain. Every single time.
When we got home, I felt numb. Everything I saw reminded me of our loss. I sat on the floor with the blanket we had wrapped Kasey in and let the dogs sniff it carefully and lick the tears from my cheeks. I told Dan that I was going to clean my music studio where we had fed Kasey and cared for her- a healing ritual. When I went upstairs, I found a beautiful card sitting on top of Kasey’s food bowl, and in it was the letter below. I am married to perhaps the most kind and compassionate man I have ever known. While he loved Kasey deeply (he is very much a cat person), he recognized the special bond that I had with her. The letter meant the world.
As it always does, life goes on- loss is a part of life. We tuck the grief deep into our hearts, where it waits to surface at the inevitable time when we are touched by loss again. It never truly goes away, but I find that to be a real gift. I don’t ever want to live mired in grief- there is too much beauty to be experienced in life. However, I don’t want to forget those I have lost- human or animal. They helped to shape who I am and will always be a part of me. I keep them in my heart, and move on with the job of living….and that living is so much more rich because of the gift of love from them- a love that never dies.