As I write this, my sweet orange kitty Eric is dying. He'll be gone sometime between now, and four days from now - either because he's slipped away on his own, or because I have taken the final step and put him to sleep. I feel a little silly calling it "put to sleep" - but don't like the alternative "put him down". I could keep searching for other ways to say it, but think I'll just go with "put to sleep", which is what we called it when I was a kid. I knew then, and know now, that it is an act of mercy, for everyone involved really. Not something to be rushed into, but also not something to put off for too long once the time is nigh.
My husband and I took him to our vet, Dr. S, a couple of weeks ago, because he'd just gotten so skinny, and wasn't eating well. Dr. S is a gruff, no nonsense man, like a thinner Wilfred Brimley, with sad eyes, framed by heavy, dramatically wrinkled lids. If he thinks that what you just said is kind of stupid, he doesn't hesitate to tell you. But he's also given to displays of unexpected sweetness,
saying things like "Cats don't worry or care so much about living here on earth, not
like we do, and soon his little spirit will go off to kitty heaven and he'll be waiting for you when you get there."
An x-ray showed a mass. "It's pretty hard..." Dr. S said, gently probing his belly, "... and that's not a good sign, not good at all." It was sort of near his bladder, from what we could see. Hard to tell exactly without doing a sonogram and/or exploratory surgery, which would cost $300 and $600 respectively. We don't have the money for either of those things right now, not really. I mean REALLY not really. We do not. So lucky for us, Dr. S didn't think either of those things were really worth doing. He winced when I asked about chemo or any kind of treatment, or maybe trying that exploratory surgery, to see if there was any chance of removing it.
"You need to think about how much you want to put this 15 year old kitty through." he said, not unkindly, but not all "comfort and roses" either. It was more like a little shake, to bring me to my senses. He said we could give him subcutaneous fluids to get him re-hydrated and see if that helped his appetite perk up and to call in a few days to let him know how Eric was doing. So, we took him home, did the fluid thing, and he did perk up, a little at least.
But soon he seemed to be losing ground again. When I took Eric in for another check-up, about two weeks later, he'd pretty much stopped eating, barely a tablespoon of food a day, if that, for over a week. He'd lost another pound and a half, a lot for a cat. Dr. S looked at me, sighed a sigh containing all the final sighs of all the animals he'd devoted his life and heart to, and said, "I think it's time we think about ending this for him. Are there people at home who need to say a final goodbye?"
I'm crying by now, of course. "Not really..." I say, "... my husband is out of town. He's on tour, and I'm by myself..."
He felt that I should take Eric home, spend the weekend with him. Then bring him back in on Monday. But then he realized that they wouldn't be in on Monday because of Columbus Day, and that he himself wouldn't be in again until Thursday - so - ugh. What to do? I asked if we should do it "now, right now..." and he drew back, a little horrified, "No!"
He really, truly thought I needed to spend more time with my kitty. He wanted me to say goodbye. And I'm glad, but, it's also been a little torturous. I cried most of the rest of the day on Friday - managed to stop crying and go to work on Saturday, but only by banning all thoughts of Eric entirely. When a co-worker started to tell me about her cat's minor stomach ailment I mostly just nodded, "uh huh..." Another co-worker joined us and chirped, "They're like our children aren't they?"
I extricated myself from the conversation without anyone noticing, and made it through the rest of the job, a cocktail party for 55, in tact. But now here I sit, at my computer, writing this essay about my dying cat, free to cry as much as I want. And because I'm also an actress, I just looked at my crying face in the mirror and thought, quite seriously, "I cry as good as Claire Danes don't I? I think I do." Thank you "Carol's Ego", for making Carol laugh.
Anyway, as sad as I am, which is very, that whole "they're like our children" business kind of bothers me. Because, I'm sorry, but they are not. Losing a pet, as sad as it is, can't possibly be like losing a child. I have nothing to base this on really, since I have no children. But I can do my best to put myself in the place of my friends who are parents. I can see the look in their eyes when they're simply showing me a picture of their child, and I can guess at the incredible pain I know they would feel at the loss of that child. I can't feel it, of course, but surely, the pain of losing a child, on a scale of 1 to 10 has got to be infinity. Beyond any conceivable scale.
The pain of losing a pet is more like losing a friend. I've lost a few friends, sadly, so I know what that's like. And that's what I'm feeling now, with Eric. He's been a good friend. And yes, a bit "child-like" in that he's an innocent little creature that I agreed to take care of. He's always been a snuggler. He's always gazed into my eyes, purring like mad, reaching out his paw to touch my face, like a lover, or yes, more accurately, like a little child, motivated by all that is good and makes life worth living; the pure pleasure of connection. He drinks my bath water for Christ's sake! Hot bath water, even it's got soap or bath oil in it, because it's mine. That's how much he loves me. So I get it, I get it when people say "they're like our children" - I just don't buy it. And I don't need to say that to justify how sad I am, which, as noted, is very. I know that when Eric finally goes, I'll cry some more, and yes, I'm crying now, but I'll stop soon enough. In a day or two at most. I'll always miss him, but it won't be a wound that never heals. Closure is possible with the loss of a pet, and even with the loss of a friend. But with the loss of a child? I don't know if closure ever comes.
What I hope is that Eric will last four more days, until Thursday, so that I can take him back to Dr. S, to have him put to sleep. But I'm not sure he'll last that long. Dr. S wasn't sure either, so he gave me a syringe that I can give Eric myself if I feel the time has arrived before Thursday. He showed me where to inject it, behind the last rib, into his side. Oh my god. Jesus Christ. I don't think I can do that. I don't want to do that. Please tell me that I don't have to do that.
And that's were I am now. Waiting. Waiting to say goodbye to my sweet kitty friend. And looking forward to the closure that I know will come, with time.