The Loss of a Beloved Pet
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more importantly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen.
I haven't added a new book since the 11th August. This was when my cat, Sol, started getting very ill. He had stopped eating about a week prior but a visit to the vets and some tablets to take away the inflammation in his gums (the vet thought it was a teeth problem), had seemed to clear things up. He had gone back to eating normally.
But then he stopped again. He stopped eating, stopped grooming himself, stopped interacting with his brother, stopped following me around like he used to, and stopped annoying our other female cat. After blood tests and a scan, it turned out he had pancreatitis. The vet didn't know if it was chronic, but it turned out it was. He spent two nights in the vets hospital, on IV fluids, and encouragingly, I had phone calls telling me he was eating a little.
So he came home. But he didn't eat. A day later, back to the vets, where his weight gain was diagnosed as fluid in his stomach. It wasn't good. It was time to put an end to his suffering. To be honest, I had been thinking this for the past week or so. Each morning I would look, first with hope, then with resignation, at Sol's food bowl to see if he had eaten. I even took to counting the pieces at night, so I could tell if he had eaten even one or two. He hadn't though.
He looked sad, he looked tired, and on the last day before that final visit to the vet, he spent most of the day upstairs, sleeping. Every so often, I would go and check on him, trying to tempt him with food.
On that final visit, the vet made an appointment for the following morning to put him to sleep. No, he didn't do home visits, and no, I couldn't have the weekend with him. That was fine. I didn't want him to suffer anymore. That morning, I had woken to find Sol sitting on my desk, hunched over, shaking slightly. When he would come and lay next to me, I would cuddle him, and tell him how I wished he would get better. How I wished I could take the pain away. How I wished - wished - that this part of his story was going to end well.
I got home and contacted my children, letting them know what was happening. My daughter sent me the number of a vet who would do home euthanasia, and I called them. They could come in the evening at 7pm, and then the man from the Crematorium would come at around 8.30 after we had spent some time alone with him. I was glad my daughter pushed this, because I didn't want him to have to go through even one more night of pain and discomfort. A heart-breaking moment when he actually did go to his food bowl, and get a piece in his mouth, only to then just drop it on the floor and walk away - was enough evidence (if there hadn't already been enough) that we needed to do this for him.
That last day was filled with love for him. There were six of us there, and there were tears and sadness and hugs between us, but for Sol there were gentle kisses, strokes, loving words spoke whilst holding his cute, tiny head in our hands. For most of the afternoon, he sat on my chair near my desk, and we took it in turns sitting with him, showing him the love we had for him. After the vet had been, I carried him over to the sofa where we laid him on a soft blanket. My daughter snuggled up beside him, and encouraged me to do the same. I'm glad she did, for now I have that memory of holding his little paws, my face nestling against his head. In life, Sol's ears were always warm, and so it was with fresh tears that my daughter, at some point, looked at us and said - 'his ears aren't warm any more.'
The man from the crematorium came later than expected, but it gave us that extra time to be with him. We wrapped him in the blanket, placed him curled up in his cat bed, and handed him over.
Tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone.
The next morning as I sat at my desk, I was overwhelmed with the most intense feeling that I needed to get his body back from the crematorium. Such an incredibly strong feeling that really felt like it would drive me insane. Eventually the feeling passed and grief and guilt took over with a vengeance. I just missed him so incredibly much and the ache in my heart felt so deep. Trying to keep myself busy with work, but every 20 minutes or so, I was struck with the awful realisation that he wasn't there any more - that I would never see him again. How could that be? How was that even possible? How could it be that I would never see his gorgeous little face again? It wasn't fair.
After talking to my daughter, we found out that we were both experiencing something similar - whilst trying to get on with things, a sudden, creeping, intensifying desire to stop and think of Sol, would begin, until finally we would have to stop and process the thoughts going through our minds. For me, it was replaying, over and over, his final couple of weeks. Did he know that he was ill? Did he wonder why I wasn’t making it better for him? Did he wonder why I kept taking him to a place he didn’t want to go, in a carrier he hated? Did he wonder why the pain wouldn’t go, or why he wasn't enjoying his food anymore? Did he wonder why I left him for two days at the place he hated, and why, when he came home, he still wasn’t feeling well? Which way was he facing when the vet sedated him? I know we turned him over for the final injection, but which way was he facing? I remember cradling his little head in my hand, but was he facing this way, or that? These things, so unimportant in the scheme of things, became the most important things to me - questions I obsessed over - over and over again, until once more I was sobbing my heart out.
The biggest question - did he forgive me for making that awful decision?
That's the one I couldn't get out of my head. Could not make sense of it at all. It's like every so often, my brain would be like - let's try again to make sense of that, and so it would try but it couldn't make sense of it, so the guilt would come back instead. So much guilt. I was aware that I would have felt guilty however things had happened - if I had had him put to sleep sooner, or if I hadn't done anything and just let nature take it's course - I knew that the guilt would have been there regardless, but that knowledge was no comfort.
On the fourth day, I started looking at articles on how to deal with the guilt because I genuinely felt I would never be free from it, and it was hurting so much. I wanted to be able to talk to him, ask him - was he ok with it? Is he ok now? And I found an article that said that we feel guilty because we basically want to know if our pets forgive us. And we can never, of course, get that forgiveness from them. So, the writer concludes, we have to forgive ourselves, because guilt stops us from moving on and processing the rest of our grief. So that night, I spoke to Sol, alone in my room, and told him, as if he were there listening, all the things that had been tumbling around my mind these past few days. And at the end, I 'forgave myself'. I put it in quotes because whilst I said it, and whilst the whole exercise did help, I still feel the guilt. But it's not as present. It's moved to the back of my emotions now, and allowed others to come forward. The pure sadness, but also the knowledge that we had thirteen years with him, and that he was loved every single one of those days.
Sol was an amazing cat. He was my companion and my shadow. He would come running like a little puppy when I called his name, and he would sleep on the bed next to me, his paw resting on my arm. He was incredibly affectionate (all our cats are affectionate to some degree, but Sol was on a different level), he had a super cute snuffling purr, and even though he was the biggest of our cats, he had the lightest sounding meow. You couldn't eat a yoghurt without looking down and seeing him sat waiting patiently, or feeling a paw on your shoulder because he had climbed on the radiator behind your chair and was trying to get your attention. If I went to make a coffee, or to the bathroom, or to another room, he would follow me, and I used to feel bad that he maybe thought he was getting something, but perhaps he just liked following me and knowing where I was.
We got his ashes back yesterday, along with a clay paw print. I had waited for my daughter to come home from work before I opened the box, and when I first saw the ashes, I cried again. My daughter said she was glad he was back home. I like that way of looking at it. Although I personally think - hope - that he left that night, on the 19th; his little pure soul moving from this world into the next. Somewhere where he is healthy again, running around - maybe he met up with our dog who passed away a long time ago.
A friend told me that I should bless him and wish him well on his journey, so I did that last night. I wish I could see him again, just one more time. But I know that's for me. If there's truly nothing after this life, then he remains in our memories regardless. All the things that made Sol - Sol - his behaviours, his love, his affection - it all remains in us, in our memories. But I do believe there is something after this life, and I hope he is enjoying his new journey. And I hope that he understood and took to heart the words I whispered to him on the night he passed away - that I was giving him my love to take with him, and it would always be with him, wherever he is.
Do not stand
By my grave, and weep.
I am not there,
I do not sleep-
I am the thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints in snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle, autumn rain.
As you awake with morning’s hush,
I am the swift up-flinging rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the day transcending soft night.
Do not stand
By my grave, and cry-
I am not there.
I did not die.
- Clare Harner (Immortality)