Our cat died this week. She was 16, so this wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it was still one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. Our veterinarian is Irish, so when she said things to us like, “Your cat likely has cancer” and “We need to think about euthanasia,” the words, spoken in her lovely accent, sounded almost pleasant. The reality was anything but.
Bill, my son, and I went to the vet to say our good-byes (Posey had been there overnight receiving IV fluids, a treatment we sought when we still had hope that she might recover). My daughter didn’t want to go. We held our sweet old lady kitty, loving on her and listening to her purr feebly. The vet told us to let her know when we were ready. I’m never going to be ready, I thought, wondering if there would be some zen-like moment when I would just know. There wasn’t. We just had to get on with it. The vet tech gave her a shot of muscle relaxer, and afterwards I held her on a blanket on my lap. She went limp, like a kitty protestor being arrested at a pro-catnip rally. The vet sat beside me and administered the anesthesia. Within just a few moments, she was gone. I expected there to be some sort of different energy in the room, some sort of change in the atmosphere, but I didn’t even realize she was dead until the vet checked her heartbeat and told me there wasn’t one. The vet put her arm around me and gave me a hug. “You can stay with her as long as you like. Just put her on the exam table when you’re ready to leave.” The idea of “putting” my baby somewhere—like she was a bag of groceries or a gift at a birthday party—made me feel angry. I know the vet didn’t mean it that way; if Posey was still alive and she had said that, I would have thought nothing of it.
Although no one told me that this would happen, I expected that when she passed, her eyes would close, but they didn’t. This disturbed me. How could she be gone if her eyes were still open? I tried to close them, but they wouldn’t shut, which disturbed me even more. By the time I laid her on the table, they had turned from their vivid, clear green to a dark, murky shade, like the color that develops in the water you use to rinse out a paintbrush between watercolors. It was awful and sad and final.
Afterwards, as we walked up the stairs to our house, a monarch butterfly fluttered by, swooping and gliding around us before flying away. I hadn’t seen one in years, and while I don’t believe that this butterfly was somehow embodying Posey’s spirit or that it was a sign from her that she’d crossed the Rainbow Bridge, it was somehow reassuring. I don’t believe that she’s in heaven or that she’s watching over us or that she was reunited with our other cat, Abby, who died almost exactly a year ago. In fact, seeing as they barely tolerated each other’s presence here on earth, they would both be really pissed if they had to spend eternity together.
I keep telling myself we did the right thing. On Cheers, Sam Malone once said something like, “You know you’re doing the right thing if it sucks really bad.” Oh, how this sucks.
Today I am missing my girl, but trying to be positive by thinking of all the things I can do now that I haven’t been able to during the 16 years we had a cat in the house. I can finally put houseplants anywhere I want and not worry that she will munch on them. I can hold the front door open without fear that she will run out into the street. I can use my laptop without her trying to sit on it. There are no more litter boxes to scoop, no more cat puke to clean up, no more cat hair to vacuum up. Somehow, though, these are cold comforts.