Print Edition: February 27, 2013
Her name is Casper. She is 14-years-old and her kidneys are failing.
For this last trip, she’s swaddled in a blanket like an infant. As long as she doesn’t squirm, this method lets her get a view of the world, unlike the box of the cat carrier we’ve used on other occasions. She cranes her next to watch the trees race by.
“You’ve never seen anything move so fast before, have you?” I say. I wonder if she remembers other car rides, and what car rides mean.
It’s a beautiful day. I’m having trouble keeping it together.
She’s been in the pet hospital for three days while the vet tried to figure out why she wouldn’t really eat any more. She’s fine when hooked up to fluids, the vet says, but if they take her off the IV, her condition deteriorates. She can’t drink fast enough to keep herself hydrated, the vet says. Without the IV, she’d dehydrate and die in three, maybe four days.
My parents texted me an update. All I saw was the phrase “kidney failure” and “hard choices ahead” before I started bawling. A knee-jerk reaction. I hadn’t even really processed it yet, but some part of me had figured it out. Knew what I was losing. I couldn’t stop crying for the next four hours.
“Dumb old cat,” I whisper to her, so my voice doesn’t crack. “Don’t you know you go to the hospital to get better?”
We brought her home for one last morning, to give her one last sense of home. None of us wanted her to spend her last days among strangers.
She grew infinitely more fragile while she was away. Her paws now slip on almost every surface, as though the coffee table and the floors have suddenly turned to ice. She drinks from her bowl like it’s her first time seeing water, dipping her nose in too far and sneezing it out, leaning over and getting her whole chest wet.
I take her out to the deck. Her last time feeling what outside looks like. She’s wrapped in that same old blanket in my arms, and her whole body perks up as she catches a sniff of the grass, the trees, the birds, the whole world.
The sun is shining. The wind is blowing. How do you tell a cat it’s for the last time?
“Don’t forget us,” I whispered to her, even though she wasn’t paying attention. “We won’t forget you. Okay? That’s the deal.”
We spend four hours with her, swapping her from lap to lap, showing her as much love as we can before it’s time to head back to the vet. And now, here we are: one last car ride.
This is my second time losing a cat in six months. The first one we rescued over the summer, when she showed up on our doorstep with a chirp of a meow and her ribs showing. We fed her, , and finally let her inside. We put up posters and a Craigslist ad to tell the world where she was, in case someone was missing her, and heard nothing back.
But four months later, her owner showed up and took her away again.
It’s a different level of loss, but I had the same reaction: crying for hours, feeling like she might come home again at any second and curl up in the crook of my knee. Knowing she won’t. Feeling like the world stole something from me. Wrongfully.
We get to the pet hospital. The receptionist asks us in a hushed tone if we want her ashes after … she trails off. We numbly shake our heads, trying to think of anything but that.
I pass my bundle of cat and blanket to the vet, as gently as possible. I want to tell the vet to take care of her, but that’s not right. I pet the tip of my cat’s nose for the last time and have an urge to tell her to be good, and that’s not right either. What do you say?
We might have one of the most complex languages on the planet but there are no phrases built for this.
I cried, and I cried and my eyes are still red in the corners.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if I believe they’re going to a better place … neither of my cats are coming back. There’s a space where they used to be that maybe nothing can ever fill. Is the idea that they’ve gone somewhere better really supposed to be a comfort? Some stranger took you away from me, and I did nothing to prevent it. Maybe it’s better this way, but I’m sorry.
I am so, so sorry.