The Hardest Goodbye
I’ve been putting off writing this because I wanted some time to privately grieve, but also I knew if I got even a single kind word or condolence from you, I wouldn’t be able to handle all that has been going on. But now it’s time to write this down, as so many of you loved this cat over these long pamie.com years.
Sweet Cal is gone.
I try to convince myself that there’s comfort in the fact that he was fine and happy and silly, and then he was a little sick, and within three short months his body shut down. That until then he lived a big, long life of sixteen years filled with people who loved him. That if he had to go away forever, he went in the most peaceful, loving way possible.
But it’s hard to find comfort when all you want is your loved one back.
I joked throughout my first trimester that the cat and I were bonding on a whole new level. We’d sleep together all night, then get up, eat a little something, pee, and then curl up again for a nap. One Saturday we did this eight times. Eat, pee, nap. Eat, pee, nap. Finding new spots in each room that were comfy and warm and peaceful. Cal preferred sleeping in my arms, having me spoon him. This became more difficult during the second trimester, as his butt was getting bumped out by my stomach. He actually glared at me once, like, “Lady. Hit the treadmill. I’m gonna fall off the bed.”
This was before I knew he was sick. I’d soon learn we both had abdominal masses that were slowly growing, taxing our bodies, causing problems with our sleep, our digestion, our balance. The major difference was mine came with a diagnosis that brought life at the end of this struggle, while Cal’s result would be the opposite.
He was a very good companion throughout the night. Every time I got up to pee, he’d follow me to the bathroom. He’d rub my ankles in the dark with his head, and after I was done, he’d follow me into the bedroom, sometimes making a game of it where I’d lean down with my arms outstretched and he’d run right into my hands with a gleeful chirrup. Then I’d pick him up, carry him back to the bed, and he’d drop his head next to mine on my pillow. Every time I got up, he’d keep me company, every night. If he wasn’t already in the bed, I’d find him just outside the bathroom door when I got there.
And then recently, he wasn’t meeting me for bathroom breaks anymore. It started getting to where every time he peed, he’d need to immediately sit down and rest for a spell. Occasionally the resting spell turned into a small panting spell. He’d sit next to his water fountain and look wiped out. The vet said this was probably due to his anemia, but it could also be that the cancer was making him tired, his kidneys were making him tired, or his heart was weakening and needed to rest. “When a cat has one of these things, you can usually treat it and keep him around longer. But he’s got three at once. Treating one harms the other. The heart pills tax the kidneys; the fluids for his kidneys put strain on his heart. And then you’ve got that unknown tumor, right in the middle, causing even further complications.”
So in the middle of the night, when he wasn’t in his usual spots, I’d go to find him. He’d begin purring as soon as I touched him, so I’d pick him up, take him to bed, and he’d sleep in my arms until the morning.
His appetite dwindled as his weight kept dropping (appetite stimulants weren’t an option, as many of them would cause low blood pressure and he was already on beta blockers). He was sleeping more and more, but he kept to his routines. Porch in the morning to monitor stroller traffic before a nap on one of the chairs, soaking up sunbeams on the back couch or the window ledge in the afternoon while looking for squirrels or the neighbor’s cat, then evenings in the living room with us until bedtime at our feet or in my arms. As long as he seemed to be enjoying his days, even if they were a little slower, we knew we were doing the best we could for Cal, and he seemed to be happy about it. We built a small “apartment” for him in the back room near his water and litter so he didn’t have to walk all the way to the living room if he wanted to. We made a bed out of a heating pad, one of Jason’s t-shirts, and Cal’s favorite toy — one he’d taken to licking after every time he ate something. I’m not sure if that was the anemia or his upset stomach, but it became a security item for Cal. And yes, there were times when I was feeding him off my fingers, or helping him drink water from my own mug, when I thought, “We don’t have much longer together, sweet buddy.” Nights when I could feel how weak he was growing by the way he’d tuck his head into my chest and sigh. I knew we were down to weeks, not months, and I told him we wouldn’t keep him around any longer than he wanted to.
Then, quite abruptly, he refused to eat any food at all. He started spending long hours under the back room couch, which wouldn’t be too unusual except he didn’t come out to see us when we walked into the room, or when we came home after being gone for an hour or two. He stopped playing, stopped mewing, stopped his little chirpy sounds at birds or the songs we’d sing to him. He had grown very tired, and no longer wanted to take his medication, or even one lick of his food.
The next night he jumped off my lap and immediately fell to the side, panting, gasping for breath, hissing occasionally, as if he was frustrated and confused. It was clear he didn’t know what was going on, and wasn’t sure what to do. He’d walk toward me, then walk away, drop to his side again and pant. And we weren’t sure if we should touch him or leave him alone. A few minutes later he’d sit up, staying very still until he leaned over to lap water from the palm of my hand. He wouldn’t drink from the bowl; only my hand. Then he jumped into a chair and sat there quietly, not quite asleep, until he was having problems breathing again. He put his arms out flat in front of him and made sad little moans. We gave him some fluids, waited until the spell passed and he looked like he was feeling more like himself, and set him up with everything he might need through the night, as we didn’t want to move him or disturb him.
I checked on him every hour, and he remained in the chair, quietly perched, waiting. He’d look at me every time, and I’d sit with him for a few minutes before letting him rest again.
At four in the morning when I got up to check on him, I found him sitting on the floor of the bedroom, right by the door. When he saw me, he started walking toward me, trying to meow, but then dropped to his side again, tired, panting, hissing. This time we went to him and pet him, which instantly calmed him down. Jason grabbed some blankets and pillows, and we set ourselves up on either side of him, in the dark. We told him that we were here now, that we’d stay like this all night with him, and promised him that he’d never have another night like this one. Cal then took a few steps into my arms, dropped himself into my chest, and went to sleep against me. One last time we slept like that, together. This time all of us on the floor, letting Cal know he would never be alone again.
In the morning I called our vet who makes home euthanasia visits, and scheduled an appointment. I never thought I’d be able to do that for any animal. I just didn’t think I’d be strong enough, nor feel like it was ultimately the right thing. But I couldn’t let Cal go through any more struggle and I knew he needed me to help him find peace.
We made a spot for him in his favorite place in the living room, where he could see both out the front porch and through the side windows while still being in the center of all foot traffic, and beside the coffee table where he sometimes liked to stretch out. He sat very still, very quietly. He didn’t want to eat, drink, nor visit the litter box. Sometimes he’d drop his nose to the floor, like his weary head was done. Cal was an active, chirpy, curious cat who liked patrolling the house, especially in the morning. The fact that he didn’t even try to leave that spot let us know that Cal was no longer going to be any kind of okay.
When there was less than two hours left before the appointment, I sat down with him, my legs on either side, and as I pet him I told him what was going to happen. I explained that a nice, tall, redheaded lady from the vet was coming over at four, and she was going to help us let him go. That he wouldn’t be in pain anymore, and that he’d been a very good kitty to us, the best kitty he could’ve been. That he was loved by more people than he’d ever know, and that we were so lucky to have him in our lives. “You can go find Taylor if you want,” I said. “But I understand if you don’t. I’ll be looking for you one day, so don’t forget me. We have to start saying our goodbyes now.”
I’m not one who really believes that cats understand people on a speaking-conversational-words level, and I’m not someone who claims to be spiritual, but there are moments in your life when you realize you just can’t know what’s going on; your only job is to be paying attention. And right at this moment, right after I said all of that to Cal, he stood up, took a few steps closer to me, and curled himself into me. He tucked his head into my leg and purred. I pet him and kissed him and brushed him, and he stretched and offered his belly up for rubs (something he hadn’t done in a couple weeks) and we cuddled like old times. When Jason pet his stomach he remarked, “Oh, no. He’s all wet. Did he pee?” “No,” I had to admit. “Those are my tears.”
We sat like that for a while, petting Cal and telling him how wonderful he is, all the things we’d miss, all the parts of him that are so perfect. And at four on the dot, Cal stood up again, walked a couple feet away from me until he was under the coffee table, and sat like he was waiting for the front door to open.
And the nice, tall, redheaded doctor showed up soon after, and Cal came out when she called him, and she got down on her knees in the same place where we were, in Cal’s favorite spot in the living room, and she helped us let him go. He had his head in my hand, looking at us, as we told him how much we loved him, as we told him goodbye and that he was a good boy and that we’d miss him forever. And then he was gone.
It is hard being in this house without him. The space where he isn’t is so much bigger than the space where he was. Grief comes in these giant waves that knock me back, take my feet out from under me and make me feel sick. He is missing whenever I go to sleep, whenever I wake up, when I sit down to work, when I enter a room. He is missing. He is missed.
“This hurts so much worse than when Taylor went,” I said to Jason. “I guess because Taylor took so long and was pissed off every day he woke up that he was still alive. Even when he wasn’t sick. Maybe it hurts more because Taylor really wanted to go.”
“No,” Jason said. “That’s not why. It’s because Cal was better.”
He really was just the best. Everyone who met Cal thought he was awesome, and I can’t imagine a single person telling me that these tears are unnecessary because Cal was “just a cat.” He wasn’t. He was a giant, cuddly, curious, loving, loyal, wonderful friend, and I’m never going to stop wishing he were still here.
Goodbye, sweet Cal. I miss you everywhere.