This week, my eighteen year old cat passed away. I have to admit, I have been a bit of a mess since the event. My Josephine had always been her own cat; she was not a snuggle kitty or sweet natured. She was a curmudgeon all her life, and didn’t like people or other cats. However, she did like me and she was always good company for me when I was writing. She was queen of the house.
In the past few weeks, she had stopped cleaning herself, and so I was brushing her three times a day to keep her ‘neat’. She was still eating, but suddenly the weight was dropping off her and she was thin and frail. Then, she started to develop a wobble in her back legs, which I put down to arthritis. Unfortunately, in the days before her death, those legs started going out from under her. She fell down the front steps (there are only four steps), but that was enough for me. I made an appointment with the vet.
Waylon is a very nice man. He was as gentle as he could be, but in the end he had to give my grumpy old girl a sedative so he could check her hips. She called him some dreadful names, and I was relieved that I’m the only person who speaks fluent ‘Josephine’. Then the vet said, to be honest, he couldn’t really find anything wrong except for her old age. He suspected kidney failure, and our next step would be a bunch of invasive tests to confirm that suspicion. I knew what Josephine would think of all that testing – she would hate it. And, in the end, if it was kidney failure, there was little they could do for a cat her age. If we did nothing, and took her home, in the next few days the vet believed her health would start to fail dreadfully and my darling would start to suffer. Fluid would start filling up her tissues and she would get ill with toxins. Her organs would start to shut down.
The vet was saying everything but those horrible words “It is time to let her go.” So I asked him straight out … would it be selfish to keep her alive.
So, while she was sedated, I held my darling for twenty minutes and told her over and over how much I loved her. Then she was given a final injection to take the pain away forever. As it took hold, her body relaxed. It wasn’t until that point did I realise how ‘clenched’ her body language had become. That she had been in some pain, but unable to tell the stupid human. That I had failed her, in the end, by remaining blind to her suffering. So I felt guilty about that, and at the same time I felt guilty at having her put to sleep. Yeah … and my heart was breaking for the loss of my feline friend. I really, really loved my grumpy girl.
Days later, I’m still half expecting a loud and imperious demand to open the door.
So what to do with all this terrible sadness? I’ve been writing it out. I’m using it to fuel some of the more negative scenes in my narratives. That is what writing is all about. You don’t hide the pain away, you share it. We all suffer from the pain of loss. I’m using mine, and Josephine gets to live on in my work.