Sunday, January 13, 2008

Death of a friend

There is no perfect way to die. There are no perfect births, either. But there are better births and better deaths, and that's all we can hope for, I guess. I am still processing this all.

I had an amazing experience birthing my second daughter and the learning from that kept coming back to me as I watched my beautiful Maine Coon cat fading away. Two years ago, I thought he was going to die. I actually spent many days crying as he slipped away. I'd lost a cat unexpectedly and saw some of the same signs; retreating, not eating, losing weight, lethargy.

Then my daughter insisted we get a kitten. I was just starting to make peace with letting go of my dear friend and it was a difficult decision to risk adding someone new into the mix. In the end, my daughter won out. And miracle of miracles, the kitten sort of won him over. He never actually said as much, but within a few months, he allowed her to sleep next to him, and shortly after that, she was tackling him and we were enjoying shows. He got strong again and put on some weight.

But he still drank an awful lot of water. And a vet friend told me I'd have to have him undergo a lot of tests to get to the bottom of what was wrong. It could be kidney disease or diabetes. The thought of unpleasant car trips, miserable vet visits, and costly medical bills, all to find out that there was either nothing that could be done, or nasty interventions "required" gave me pause. I chose the path of least resistance. I continued to enjoy his company and relish every moment we had together.

About a month before he died, I got a sudden acutely painful shoulder injury which took up a lot of my attention. I gathered him up and put him on my chest, expecting to feel his calming, healing energy. I got nothing and he didn't really stay very long. I guess that should have been a clue but I was in too much pain to realize.

As his weight continued to plummet, it dawned on me that this was pretty much the end. I stayed home just as much as I could and spoke to my aunt a few times because she had done in-home hospice care for my grandmother. I also surfed the Internet a lot, trying to understand my options and make sure I was doing the right thing. Or at least, the best thing I could do for him.

Christmas day fell on a Tuesday. On Saturday, I called my vet friend who gave me the number of a vet who did euthanasia and who made house calls. She said that she couldn't come before Wednesday, and that it would be cruel to wait that long. I was miserable but wasn't quite ready to let go. By Christmas Eve, in the middle of the night, I knew I had to help him end it. He had some kind of spasm or tremor in his whole body. I took him into bed with me and didn't really sleep; his weakly tapping paws against me kept me up.

My girls opened their presents in the morning and he sat on my lap. He didn't really have much choice in the matter as he had lost the ability to walk the day before. I sent everyone outside to play and I got nice and comfortable on the couch with him on my lap. I wanted to have some peaceful time with him before we went to the vet I had found who would perform the euthanasia at their office. He had a few small tremors or spasms, then shakily lifted his head and looked up at me. His face looked more relaxed than it had in days. He gave one strong purr. I hadn't heard him purr in days. I smiled and cried. Then a long tremor started and I thought this might be the one. I held him very gently and told him I released him, he could go, let his soul leave his body, just stop breathing. I had been feeling so strongly up until that moment that there was life after death. The tremor went on and on and finally stopped. I checked to see if his chest was moving but I couldn't see anything. I felt for a pulse and found none. I just stayed like that for a few minutes until I was pretty sure he really was gone.

Since then, I haven't been so very sure about life after death and I feel very uneasy if I think about death and dying, but I think I did okay by him. It pains me to start to examine all the things he might have died of. Starvation? Dehydration? We had not been able to get him to swallow much water at the end. Kidney failure? Who knows. Was I horrible to not put him through the horrors of extreme medical interventions like I had done with my beautiful cat who died anyway when about to undergo another stupid procedure? Is there a sweet way to die? Was he in pain? Did I do right by him?

I know I had finally come to terms with euthanasia and perhaps my willingness to let him go gave him the peace to leave. If there is an afterlife, perhaps we will meet up sometime and he will let me know!

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