â€œHoney,â€ came the IM on that gray, December afternoon. â€œGrim doesn’t look so good.â€
The message was from my boyfriend, and it was about my oldest cat, Grimalkyn, a black cat about 20 years of age.
â€œWell, he’s an old cat, and he’s diabetic. Did you check his blood? Did he eat anything today?â€ I responded, not overly concerned…
Until, that is, he came back with, â€œNo, I mean he’s bright yellow, and he’s having trouble standing up.â€
My boyfriend went on to tell me that Grim had wandered into the kitchen a little bit before. Thinking he was hungry, my boyfriend gave him some food, and that was when he noticed Grim’s unusual color. He said Grim ate a little bit, but then when he walked away from the bowl, he staggered.
Armed with that information, I called my vet immediately. She told me the possible causes and said Grim should be seen as soon as possible. That night when I got home from work, we grabbed Grim and his diabetic supplies and took him to the emergency clinic. As Grim was a very old, sick, cat, I had made peace with the fact that his time would come soon. I knew it was very possible that this night would be his last. (Make no mistake: His quality of life was very good — the best I could give him. He was, however, diabetic, had kidney failure, and was visibly slowing down each day.)
After about an hour’s wait, we were called in to see the doctor, and that’s when she gave us the sad news: Grim’s liver was shutting down. She told us that even with the most aggressive treatment, there would not be much-if any-improvement. â€œHe’s a very sick kitty,â€ she told us sympathetically. The best outcome was clear, but she left us alone a while to mull it over and make our peace with the inevitable.
I took Grim in my arms, and I said, â€œHoney, you can’t go home with us tonight. Mama Bast is taking you home now, and I know She will take very good care of you.â€ I told him he might see some of our recently departed loved ones at the Rainbow Bridge, and I closed by telling him, â€œI love you. I’ll see you on the other side, old boy.â€
Grimalkyn is the first cat I’ve had for his entire life cycle. I got him as a kitten, when some friends found him, and except for a period of about a year and a half, we have been together ever since. He was truly a special kitty, and he was always, always happy and affectionate, even at the end. (Not to mention spoiled, doted on, and generally worshiped!) He purred as I spoke to him and held him.
I have seen my share of death over the course of my life; however, I was not yet ready to stay all the way until the end with a pet. I just could not make myself do it. I think that would have been all right with Grim. He had let me know he was ready, and I stayed a little while after they gave him the anesthetic.
I had him cremated and picked out a very pretty box for him, which now sits on my bookshelf in a very quiet room. I lit a candle for him back at home on that fateful night, and I said some prayers of peace for him. Sometimes, I swear I still see him running around the house. I know he is never far from my side.
Pet loss is a very deep and personal kind of loss. While the death of humans should not be devalued, the pain of the loss of a pet is a very different kind of situation which requires (and often elicits) a very different approach to coping. We pet companions know we are completely responsible for these furry, little creatures. We question if we did enough, if we waited too long to end our pets’ suffering, if we missed something. We feel guilty and sad at their absence.
Death is a sacred time, and everyone — human and animal — deserves to pass with dignity. The difference is that our human family expects of us things our animal companions do not. Regardless, it can be helpful to the bereaved to in some way honor the passing of a beloved pet. Such ceremonies allow us the time and space to remember and to let go. Prolonged and disruptive grief or sadness should be addressed with a professional, whether that is a therapist, a clergy member, or a grief counselor.
(Photo: Damien Moody)