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A Different Kind of Journey: Love and Death

March 4, 2015
cat's head and woman's head looking into distance

Little Boy lies on my lap in the warm morning sun. We are surrounded by a gentle breeze that stirs the leaves of the trees, by pollen dancing in shafts of light, by the sound of singing birds. These are our last moments together and I am grateful for them.

orange and white cat on lap

One of the last times Little Boy will sit on my lap.

orange and white cat on lap

Enjoying our last morning sun together.

When I arrived home yesterday, I was surprised that my faithful companion of the last 12-or-so years was not at the door to greet me, as he so often is. “I must have accidentally locked him out on the back deck,” I thought to myself. I went straight to his litter box, my first chore upon arriving home, and since there was nothing to clean out, again assumed that he must be outside.

Then I walked into my bedroom and there he was, a little pile of bones and fur, lying in the middle of the bed, rather than in his usual nest of blue fleece blanket.

As I began talking to him, asking him why he wasn’t on his blanket, he bravely tried climbing to his feet, only to fall back down. Something was terribly wrong.

The next few hours included a call and visit to the emergency pet clinic, texts and calls with friends who’ve lost kitties, lots of tears, and meditation and prayer about doing the next right thing and what on earth that might be.

The veterinarian confirmed that in light of Little Boy’s advanced geriatric state, not to mention his overall unhealthy condition (tumor on the face, tumor in the throat, huge lump on or near his kidney, and now, partial paralysis of his hind legs as well as incontinence), “humane euthanasia” could be considered not only a viable option, but a compassionate one.

The tears flowed. I had thought I was ready for this little bundle of joy to transition from this world but as it turns out, was completely unprepared for the raw grief I would feel when struck with the reality of his imminent departure.

So when the doctor told me that putting him to sleep was an option, I asked her to give me some time to think. She left me in a little office where I sat alone and considered the options.

I could have Little Boy euthanized right then and there, thereby putting an end to the pain and discomfort he was experiencing, but who was I to make a life and death decision and, how on earth could I let him go? On the other hand, I could have diagnostics (radiographs, X-rays, and blood tests, amongst others) conducted, and then treatments, probably chemotherapy and, if the paralysis was indeed caused by a thrombus, injections and then pills taken orally, just to get started, not to mention a couple of days of hospitalization. He would probably have to wear a kitty diaper and be carried from place-to-place within the house at least for the duration of recovery, if not permanently.

This cat has been my love, my solace, my steadfast companion. I have spent more time with him in the past decade than with any one person. We’ve sunbathed, played, eaten, slept-in, and cuddled together.

I couldn’t decide. I needed more time.

And so we came home and slept together on the dining room floor, I in my sleeping bag, Little Boy in his cat bed next to the kitchen since I was nervous about him having an accident in my bed. There was a middle-of-the-night feeding and watering, there was purring, there was crying, there was cuddling. In the morning, I discovered he had, indeed, wet his bed, and a little while later, though he was able to crawl/limp over to his litter box while I was in the other room, he was unable to remain standing long enough to take care of business.

He collapsed in the kitty litter and just lay there.

orange and white cat lying in litter box

Fifteen minutes later I called the veterinarian’s office and made an appointment for 3:30.

3:30.

And thus we came to be spending this last day together on my back deck, where we first met so many years ago when he began sneaking up here to lie in the sun, to find peace, and though neither of us knew it at the time, to discover love. We’ve come so far. Both afraid of commitment, both afraid to trust, and yet here we are still together all these years later.

I’m heartbroken.

And that’s okay. Because it means that I gave my heart fully and how can I regret that?

Now two and a half more hours are all that remain to us. Watching him struggle to stand up only to collapse again is heartbreaking.  But when he is lying all curled up in his bed, it’s difficult to believe that there is anything wrong with him. I find myself hoping that he will stand up, walk to his litter box and do what needs to be done. I find myself second guessing my decision; maybe we can make this work after all. I find myself begging him to get up and start walking. “Come on, Little Boy,” I say, “you can do this.” But he just stares at me, blinks, and closes his eyes.

Strange thoughts float in and out of my mind. It strikes me that there is nothing remotely unusual about losing a loved one. Nothing unusual and yet, completely unique; this experience with Little Boy is mine and mine alone.

The clock keeps ticking. We have two hours left, then one. Finally only minutes remain. And I want to scream and yell and beat my fists against the wall.

But instead, I pick up my darling boy, and hug him close to me in our usual way; his heart against my heart, his head on my shoulder, his arms draped over my back, his feet and legs supported by my hands, tears streaming down my cheeks. He sees his beloved deck one last time from over my shoulder and then we walk downstairs toward the car, where I will settle him in the front seat, turn the key in the ignition, and drive us to goodbye.

Last hour together…

And our final minutes…

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21 Comments

  • Reply Pamela March 4, 2015 at 15:15

    thank you, Elissa, for writing so beautifully about this transition. Evoking, as it did, my own losses of beloved canine & feline companions, it brought me to tears. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing … and so eloquently. You’re doing the right thing. Blessings on you both.

    • Reply Sometimes She Travels March 4, 2015 at 17:03

      Thank you, PB, for your kind words and for reading my little essay. It occurs to me that I owe you an email. I hope that you are well.

  • Reply Rebecca March 4, 2015 at 17:20

    So sorry for your loss. True love is shown in the hearts of our pets. You are a wonderful Mommy and gave that kitty one heck of a life. Love and prayers…Reb

    • Reply Sometimes She Travels March 4, 2015 at 19:01

      Reb…I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your sweet message. xo, Elissa

  • Reply alex March 5, 2015 at 05:49

    I remember putting my sweet Ashley down after 12 amazing years. Very painful but the best decision. Your story shows great love. Thank you.

  • Reply Yvonne Deasy March 5, 2015 at 10:14

    Native American Prayer:
    I give you this one thought to keep- I am with you still- I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the diamond glints on snow,
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
    I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not think of me as gone- I am with you still- in each new dawn.

    We are all part of the web of life; plants, animals, humans. We move on-we become part of the rest.

    • Reply Sometimes She Travels March 14, 2015 at 23:06

      Yvonne, what a lovely prayer. And again, I cannot thank you enough for taking my class at the last minute so that I could spend another sweet day with Little Boy.

  • Reply billie greene March 5, 2015 at 10:56

    Dear E. I loved the beautiful photos of Little Boy, and your heart-rending testimony of what you meant to each other. Your messages are always an inspiration — this one regarding love and loss so personally touching. Thank you for the gift of sharing your feelings with such genuine openness.
    love, mom

  • Reply David French March 8, 2015 at 07:24

    Your touching story brought back memories… Thank you for sharing. I pray that the acute sadness of his passing and your loss soon lifts.

  • Reply Annie O'Neil March 8, 2015 at 07:53

    Oh Elissa, yet another gift you have given the world. Thank you for sharing this story. You have touched the universal here, and your words brought tears to my eyes, to my cheeks, to my dog’s fur as I buried my face in his neck after reading your words. I am sending you extra love and tenderness. I know that Little Boy is free now to accompany you on all your adventures. Step by step, bit by bit, you will find the place in your heart where he has already slipped in, curled up, and is carried along with you as you move ahead. Love you-Annie

    • Reply Sometimes She Travels March 14, 2015 at 23:05

      Annie, thank you for your lovely words here and your messages…I can feel the love and tenderness you are sending my way and I like the idea of Little Boy joining me on my adventures. I hope we can touch base soon on the phone. xoxo

  • Reply Jen Hofmann March 9, 2015 at 15:05

    Sweet Elissa. I can’t stop the tears as I write this response to your beautiful, heartfelt post about Little Boy. My kitty, Sassafras, had kidney-related complications too and, three years ago, I made the same heart-wrenching decision.

    You touched on something I’ve never found good words for—that these friends bear witness to the most intimate part of our lives, the daily come and go as well as the moments that define us. To lose one is to lose of all that history, in a way, along with the familiar companionship.

    I’m sending you so much love and prayers for healing grief. Thank you for sharing this journey so honestly and lovingly with us.

  • Reply Elizabeth Jacox April 2, 2015 at 14:41

    Hi Elissa–What a beautiful essay, and so difficult to write. They are never “just pets”, they are our brave companions. It is always hard to see them go, but I can’t imagine not having known them all. Little Boy looks as if he was a treasure and I am sorry for your loss.

    • Reply Sometimes She Travels April 2, 2015 at 18:57

      Hi Elizabeth-Thank you so much for reading my essay and even more, for your kind and compassionate comment.

  • Reply Leslie May 2, 2015 at 18:02

    Sweet baby. I am so sorry Elissa. What a beautiful tribute you gave him.

  • Reply Candy Wirt June 18, 2015 at 13:21

    Elissa, I just read your story about having to put your cat to sleep. I prompted many thoughts and feelings and memories of our experience with our beloved Gremlin. We’d had him for 22 years, from the time he was a tiny, bony, black of fur until the moment when we had to say good bye to our Gremmie. It was heartbreaking but I realized, after a while, that he was so sick, and our procrastination might have been the worst thing that we could have done at the time. It was hard to part and by the time we actually were able to let him go, it was really six months too late. As hard as it is to resist, it’s the best thing for all when that final decision is made in a timely manner.

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