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