I was going to write this entry a few days ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I simultaneously wanted to write it and didn’t want to write it. I knew it would make me blubber like a baby.
Our cat, YinYang, died Thursday. We were going to give him another day of fluids and meds to see if we could turn his health around, but he just got worse and was obviously miserable and possibly in pain. So we made the decision late Wednesday night that it would be our last night with him. We gave him some pain meds to make him more comfortable and got him to stay on our bed for a while, but he kept going back to a quiet and secluded spot under a table in our yoga room. It was one of the things that told me it was time for him to go: he was holing up to die. He was also having extraordinary trouble walking. It killed me to see him lurching around the house like a drunken sailor. It had just gotten worse and worse over the week.
Thursday morning I called the vet to arrange an appointment to have him put to sleep. It was hard not to sob as I spoke to the receptionist, who was very sympathetic. We spent the morning with YinYang, petting him and telling him how much we loved him and that we would be with him to the end. I could tell he really wanted to be with us. I put some blankets on the floor so I could lay down with him, and despite his discomfort, he came over to lay down with me. Still, he was no longer purring or lifting his bum when I petted his back to scratch the base of his tail. He still wanted me to scratch his nose and face, though, always his favorite way to be petted.
Then I had to wake up our daughter, who we had let stay home from school so she could also say goodbye to him. I had to tell her that these were our last few hours with YinYang and that she needed to go spend some time with him while she could. There was great sadness: this cat had been in her life since the day she was born and it was the first time that she had to deal with something she loved dying. It broke my heart to tell her that we had to put him to sleep.
It was also the first time in a great while that I had had to deal with losing a pet. Since the people in my early life were so dysfunctional, I came to love animals more than I loved people. Even though my life now is much more functional than my parents’ were and is filled with wonderful friends whom I adore, there is still a special place in my heart for animals and I have a love for them that is singular and very different from the love I have for people. Animals were my friends when I had no human friends. As such, I have always taken it very hard when I have lost a pet.
The last time I had a pet die was when I was 14. Sam was his name, and for a month, he was super affectionate with us. Then one day he disappeared. I’ve never been sure if he knew he was going to die and so was spending time with us before he wandered off to do so, or if he was just taken by a raccoon or a possum. We were all devastated, but I was particularly upset. Sam had come with us from Michigan when we moved from Detroit and he was a source of great comfort to me in those first months away from our home. I have had other cats in between Sam and my current cat family, but they were given away to friends, so their parting was not as difficult.
Our last hour with YinYang arrived, and my husband and daughter went outside to dig a grave for him. We had already picked a spot in the back of the yard underneath an elderberry tree where he used to like to lay in the shade. I stayed inside with him. We never left him alone during those last few hours, not once. Then they were done and I got ready to take him to the vet. My husband and daughter gave him hugs and kisses and said goobye to him. He put up no protest at being put into the carrier and didn’t make a sound on the way there.
At the vet’s office, they signed me in without the usual countertop formalities: they all knew why I was there. All of the staff at the vet clinic had gotten used to seeing me last week. We were at the vet every day Monday through Thursday and they knew what we were trying to do to save him. They were very sad for me and were very kind, taking care of paperwork and payment beforehand so I wouldn’t have to deal with it afterwards. They took me to a room with comfortable chairs. I sat down and took him out of the carrier, but he wanted to stay in it. The vet came in to talk about his condition and agreed that he had taken a serious downturn. She left for a bit and came back with a sedative. I picked him up in my arms and they gave him the shot. Within two minutes he was limp. I put him on my lap and petted him, telling him I was there with him. He took a jagged breath every minute or so but was clearly between worlds at that point. The vet would tell me later that he also had heart disease and that treating the kidney disease had made it worse. Hence the jagged breathing.
Then the vet came in with the drug that would let him pass on. He was gone within a minute. She took him away for a few minutes to take the catheter out of his leg and clean him up a little bit. A tech returned with him wrapped up in a towel, and she placed him in his carrier. I sat in the room alone with him for a few minutes, then left to return home. I changed my clothes and then cut out a large piece of white cotton from my supply of fabric. I laid it out on the floor and brought in YinYang, gently laying him down on the cloth. We had one last sobbing fit over him. Then I gently wrapped him in the cloth and pinned it closed. I picked him up and we all went outside to bury him. I gently laid him in his grave, and we all smudged ourselves and him with sage smoke. Then I read a passage from the Gnostic Mass of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica:
Unto them from whose eyes the veil of life hath fallen may there be granted the accomplishment of their true Wills; whether they will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with their chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto them may there be granted the accomplishment of their wills; yea, the accomplishment of their wills. Aum, Aum, Aum.
We sat in silence for a moment, then using our hands, we pushed the dirt over him. Our daughter went inside while my husband and I used shovels to finish his burial mound. Then I reluctantly went inside. It was hard to leave him. Later that day, I placed my cat garden statue next to his mound to keep watch over him. The next day, I noticed that tiny white elderflowers had sprinkled over his mound. I felt a little more sure that he had gone on to a better place.
I have been through an astounding range of emotions since last Tuesday when it became apparent that there was a high probability that we were going to lose YinYang. I spent a couple of days feeling guilty and wondering if there was something I could have done sooner that would have prevented his getting so ill. But there wasn’t. His illness was hidden so well beneath his healthy-looking exterior and beneath my impressions that his slowing down was a result of his old age. A month and a half ago, when he was starting to look sickly, I though it was because of the massive flea attack all of the cats were dealing with, because they all looked a bit ill. When he didn’t improve after having flea medicine applied to him, I thought it was because the medicine had made him feel ill. Two or so weeks ago, I decided he needed to see the vet, but it would have to wait until payday because I had to pay the deposits for my daughter’s summer camps. By the time payday came, it was too late.
I am trying to absorb the lessons of YinYang’s illness without making myself feel guilty. Future cats will immediately be taken to the vet upon my observing that they have lost even an iota of weight, that they are eating less, or have a drop in energy level, no matter how young or old they are. Cats over ten years old will get annual blood tests to check their kidney, liver, and heart values. I will also pay more attention to how much water they drink. Cats in kidney failure will drink tons of water. I noticed just this morning that I haven’t had to fill the water bowl nearly as much as I did when YinYang was still alive. He was plainly consuming huge amounts of water, and I didn’t notice.
None of this is my fault. I’ve never had cats this old. I didn’t know what to look for. But it doesn’t make his absence hurt any less keenly.
Little things keep making me sad, like walking by my daughter’s bedroom where he liked to sleep on her purple rugs. Or seeing the three blue glass bowls we use to feed the cats. The third bowl seems lonely now. Just this morning, I walked by my daughter’s room and stopped at the door, thinking a pile of clothes was the cat. I imagine that’s going to happen a lot for a few months.
I will miss YinYang so much. He was so unique and had so much personality. We called him the DogCat. He came when he was called and was very protective of us and his home. When he was younger, he had a regular patrol that covered our house, our neighbors, and the three houses across the street. He was king of the street at 16 pounds, and every cat on the block knew it. They would come into the yard, take one look at YinYang, and go right back the way they came. Which was funny to me, because he was such a sweetheart. He’d beat the crap out of any cat that came too close, though. And if you were a large dog, your ass was grass. YinYang attacked no fewer than three dogs during his life that outweighed him by at least a factor of three, if not bigger. Two of them belonged to friends, which embarrassed me terribly. Dogs were the only thing that changed YinYang from loverboy to asskicker.
He was the most affectionate cat I have ever owned. He could actually be annoyingly pushy about getting his pets. My husband and I sit in the yoga room every afternoon after he gets home from work, and we talk about our day. YinYang would always come and push the door open a few seconds after we had sat down, making one of us get back up again. Then he’d bump his head into whatever set of hands happened to be closest and free. If that didn’t work, he’d climb into the lap of whoever was in the armchair. Let me tell you, when a 16 pound cat gets in your lap to demand pets, he is unignorable. And we seldom did. We adored that cat, and he adored us back. I will miss running my hands over his giant, incredibly soft body. He is the most awesome cat who has ever lived, and I seriously doubt that I will ever have a cat that will match his personality and depth of emotion. People who say animals can’t feel, can’t feel themselves, and if such people could have spent any time with YinYang, their minds would have been changed.
You will be sorely missed, YinYang. I hope that you are frolicking happily with your sister, Daisy, in the Great Catnip Field in the Sky in the Land of Slow Mice.