“We’re going to the vet”, I breathed without missing a stride heading to the house.
His light little body hung limply in my arms, his nose covered in blood.
He smells like death. I thought to myself. I know the smell of death and I am not so happy to be reacquainted with it so soon after my mother’s death. She was a twin, he is a twin – this is too much.
I walk to the back window in the kitchen and stand in a ray of strong sunlight letting it warm us both. It’s quiet now…the panic of my mind slowed to a dull hum of just watching. I look down at him and hear his purr begin – his strong reliable purr. I could feel his breath and slowing and his heart tentative, but the purr was reliable as ever.
A rushing of keys boots, stomping, jackets rustle. The truck with half missing tail pipe begins and my husband shows up behind me;
“Ok let’s go”, He says.
I don’t want to.
I think somewhere my mind is still working it out.
He was fine yesterday. Should I be seeking treatment?
I lift the towel I have him wrapped in and look at the motionless old body. Apparently at nearly 20 Ranger has outlived us at with over 95 people years under his belt.
I climb into the truck and focus on his purr – the same one I have been listening to since I was in my 20’s. I see a flash memory of my son, small and chubby legged. He learned how to walk very young – maybe at 9 months old. It was Ranger the cat that kept him busy and chasing. As he grew, Ranger was his cat, claimed by him, loved and cherished.
He came with us when I divorced my first husband. He was there when I bought my first house, met my second husband, raised my seven kids and then finally, he was my most reliable barn cat – ensuring that no mouse ever got a taste of grain.
We are rushing to the vet, but I tell him to slow down. I hold the cat and feel his life leaving.
“He’s going to die before we even get there”, I said softly.
John looks at me quizzically. Maybe I see death differently, but gauging by my experience with my mother, which has still not allowed me a full night’s reprieve from nightmares and sadness, this somehow feels gentle and calm and good.
We arrive; he goes in to check with the desk, yes there is room.
We come in and begin doing the registration process. I am ushered into an examination room. The Vet tech with the sunny smile and the bright hopeful eyes indicates to me to put him on the scale.
“No”, I say simply and shortly. “He is 20. There will be no poking prodding weighing opening of the mouth or stretching of his limbs. His body is finished.” I smile at her hoping she doesn’t think I am cruel.
“Let’s go into another room then”, she says with an understanding smile.
We go down a white hallway to the last door to the left to the room meant for euthanasia.
“It’s just like the palliative care place for people”, I gasp as we walk in. I wasn’t ready for that. Luckily I don’t think she understands that I am nearly angry about how adorably furnished this “euthanasia room” is. I feel my heart tighten. I have been here or at least in a place like this much too recently to be in a place like this again this soon. It is small and cozy with two beautiful chairs, a couple of nice credenza’s and a sweet looking little table on which to do the job that room is meant for. Why do all rooms for comforting people who are about to experience death look like this? Why the nice chairs? I almost feel a sense of anger at the chairs…stupid chairs.
She leaves me alone to consider whether or not I want a vet to poke at him or not. I hold him in my arms, he feels like one of my children when they were just newborn. I begin to panic – second thoughts. What am I doing? Shouldn’t we try and hydrate him, put him on special food. Maybe we can save him.
The tech returns covering the table in a comfy green cloth.
He lays in my arms, purring, not moving. Not arguing, not meowing- just happy. My questions melt away and I am filled with sureness about what the most loving action is.
I tell them to get the vet and go ahead. Some more time passes to just be with him. I think about all the things I didn’t do, all the time I should have spent with him. All the normal pre-death regrets I am becoming too familiar with. I feel the shade of calm numb fall over me and we rise to complete the task that lay before us.
We are doing “the next right thing”.
She fails to find a vein in his back leg. He makes a small protesting noise, but not much. He is happy, purring drooling like old cats do.
She finds the vein and says something about going to a place with butterflies. I could tell she used this line often and with good intention to console the humans letting their animals friends go. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he would be enjoying any poor butterflies that entered his purview as this was his favourite snack food.
There is a stillness that is distinctly a feeling of death. It is like a leaving of life energy. You don’t have to be psychic or believe in anything to feel the difference of when something is alive and when its aliveness has left the body. As his body became still I took a moment to feel the difference between the aliveness and the emptiness that accompanies death and then I took a breath.
A deep alive breath filled with gratitude and deep sadness. I missed all of my dead loved ones at once. My dogs, cats, horses, parents, grandparents. Mostly I missed my mother because she would be on the receiving end to help him, but selfishly I could have really used her here with me today, and yesterday…and the day before.
I say a prayer in the hopes that everyone I love is somehow together somewhere just waiting for me laughing and happy around a giant picnic table a red and white checkered print table cloth and delicious food in a field with apple trees and delicious green grass. All our animals since forever in the field grazing, running, playing – happy and free…with one funny little grey cat busy eating up all of heaven’s butterflies.