This past Saturday, a vet came to our home and ended the life on our cat by humane euthanasia. She had been struggling to breathe for three weeks, some days better than others, but on the morning she died, she was struggling so much that she could do little more than follow us into the living room after we got up and lie back down in her bed, pumping her sides quietly.
Her passing was, we believe, painless, and was a welcome cessation of the suffering she was enduring as she fought to get enough oxygen. She didn't struggle or flinch when the vet administered the first sedative, and she zoned out with her eyes open as it took effect. We whispered to her that everything would be okay, that we loved her, and that we were so sorry we could not save her from this disease that was slowly suffocating her from the inside. Sobbing painfully, we stepped back to let the vet administer the euthanizing drug, and cried as our cat left her body and all that remained was the body of a cat, no longer our cat, just her form. We tucked her into a blanket, and my wife carried her to the vet's car and placed her in a circle of pillows.
How unfair it was, that this beautiful, sweet, quiet cat, whom we had wanted to adopt since we first met her years ago, should contract a terminal disease after a single year with us. We threw everything we could at the disease. Money was no object, and we defied the advice of family to save her, but the prognosis was never very good. When her heart nearly failed under anesthesia for a diagnostic scan, we realized surgery was not a viable option. We elected to stop the merry-go-round of emergency and specialty vet visits, stressing her out in ways I cannot fathom as a human who always knew on some level that doctors were healers. We brought her home, to be around people and things she loved for a few days, praying that the previous good week has given her the chance to say goodbye to the things she couldn't experience in her last days: sunning herself on the window ledge, climbing her cat tree, hopping into our laps, eating her crunchy kibble, swatting at her toys, chattering at birds. She did all of these things the week before it all fell apart, but not after we brought her home for the last time.
She said goodbye to her friends, even pulling herself together enough to walk and nuzzle them when they came by. She heard the voice of her first mom, who adopted her as a kitten and has kept in touch after we adopted her. She slept in our bed, snuggling with us under the blankets, just enjoying our heat and our scent. And she managed to put down three of her favorite treats before the effort sent her back to her hiding place under the bed.
And on the morning she died, she gave us no doubt that death would be a mercy. Even then, we worried we had waited too long, and maybe we had, out of a selfish desire to get just a few more minutes or hours with her. I hope she understood. One year was just not enough. No amount of hours or minutes would make up for that, but...we were heartbroken to let her go.
But we did let her go. Our little trilling cat, who would show her love by bonking things with her head, who spoke in quiet imitation of birdsong. And when she went, we did everything we could to ensure she felt surrounded by love and compassion.
Her ghost haunts the apartment. An unexplained shuffle turns our heads as we look for her. Her trill catches our ear before we realize it was something else. I still check around the bed before stepping down in the morning to make sure I don't step on her. I say goodnight to her shadow, snoozing in her favorite chair. She was herself a shadow at times, so it doesn't always feel that different, saying goodnight to the darkest patch of the room.
She was only here a year, but it feels like she was always a part of our lives here. I almost feel like I remember her with us in our previous homes.
But she is gone. I imagine she has found something to attract her attention wherever it is that cats go after they leave their people. She could always make friends, could always find a comfortable spot and make herself at home. I believe that she isn't afraid or lonely, because in life she knew how to make a connection with whomever was nearby. She had three families after all.
But before she went after her new adventures following new friends, maybe she looked back at us to give us one last trill in acknowledgment, the way she did when you would look at her across the room: I am here. I see you there.
Slow blink. Head bonk.