We rescued Isis (a.k.a. Big Black) from the Wisconsin Humane Society in March of 2007. Immediately she came up to me looking for pettings and chin scritches. When I wasn’t touching her, she did figure eights between and around my legs. My girlfriend -- now wife -- and I were completely smitten with this cat. We brought her home that day -- our second major “as a couple” thing we did in a month. (The first was moving out together.) We were instructed to introduce Big Black to the apartment one room at a time if at all possible, which we complied with as best we could. But despite our best efforts, when it came time to go to bed, Big Black busted out of the ramshackle wall we built and made her way into our bedroom. She jumped on the bed and laid down right between us, looking for cuddles and pettings.
Years passed. Big Black got even bigger before developing a thyroid problem, which caused her to lose a lot of weight. Her eyes started discharging a goopy yellow liquid. Both ailments required her to be on medication for the rest of her life. In addition to these things, her advanced age simply slowed her down; she struggled to get up at times and had trouble making the jump on to our bed. Her paw pads became worn and crusty; the black fur that defined her turned grey in spots. The seven-year-old we took home was now an old lady that required more care.
Despite all of this, Big Black was still essentially herself. She still loved her treats. She still came up by you looking for pettings and chin scritches. If you hit the spot just right, she’d kick one of her hind legs out in delight. But the decline came quickly; she started peeing everywhere; her cries in the night (and sometimes the day) became louder and more anguished. In her last days, she stopped eating her beloved wet food and was so frail she could barely stand. I knew it was nearing the end when I tried to feed her treats and she just looked at them and flopped down, leaving them uneaten.
We had to put her down yesterday. She was 18 years old.
It hasn’t been twenty-four hours yet since she passed, and I cannot stop replaying her last hours in my mind. My wife spent hours with her in the bathroom, crying and comforting her as best she could. I came home from work to see a cat barely alive with a cry so soft it broke my heart.
We took her to the hospital to be put to sleep. The time alone with her in the room was excruciating. My wife kept trying to wash her face off to not much avail. I gave her some pettings and a last chin scritch. We both kept saying how sorry we were. Was it for her or for us?
They took her away to put the IV in. I swear, despite knowing that Big Black was pretty out of it already, that she looked me in the eye with abject fear.
Finally, doctor came in to administer the fatal injection. He explained that it would probably be over quickly, and it was. My wife yelped “I’m so sorry!” as we both fought back tears. It was intense. The doctor left, and we were alone again. My wife picked her up in the blanket and hugged her one last time. I kissed her softly on the head, and tried to close her eyes but failed. We decided to leave the blanket we brought her in, not wanting to disturb the body. We left with a plaster casting of her paw prints to remember her by. Only an hour had passed, but I felt like I had aged years by the time I got in the car. Our ride home was mostly silent.
|The iPhone's camera sucked in 2010, but that is Big Black being cute at the sprightly age of 10.|
These words I’m writing are more for me than they are for you. All I can think about is how and why I’m grieving and what it all means.
I know why Isis’ death made us so sad. The 11 years of love we gave her and the companionship she gave us wasn’t for nothing. There was a genuine relationship there, and the loss of her has created a void that won’t be easily, if at all, filled. But it isn’t just about love or companionship. Because whether it’s a pet or a person that is (physically) gone forever, that loss reminds me of my own mortality.
The existential crisis of mortality is paralyzing. I cannot think about it for more than a few minutes without breaking down. Signs of Isis no longer being here are still in the apartment: the two litter boxes in the bathroom; the last cans of wet food we bought her; no longer having to worry about pee puddles in the morning, or being woken up in the middle of the night by cries for food. I look around this shitty apartment and it makes me sad; I look at my parents and my wife’s parents and the way they’re all slowing down now, looking a bit more weathered than before and it makes me sadder still. I look my 6-week-old son in the eyes knowing that one day he might be where I was 24 hours ago, trying to comfort me the best I can before the drugs kick in and I’ve left my body and consciousness behind, and now I’m fucking bawling.
This death thing isn’t going over too well.
My wife had a good thought on the whole thing. She said, “It’s better that she went with us rather than without us.” For us, confronting Isis’ death was probably a good thing. It probably also at least gave us peace of mind that her last minutes were spent with people that love her. The pain of her passing and guilt over letting her hang on maybe too long won’t be leaving any time soon. But that’s what it means to be human. (Felines are lucky in this regard.)
|They didn't really like each other, but I could occasionally capture them together.|
The treats I tried to give to Isis on her last day alive are still scattered in the kitchen. Every time I look at them I know I’m choosing pain over closure. I know I can physically remove these remnants of Isis, but I can never mentally wash them away. Isis the Cat is gone, but Isis the Memory is not and never will be. I’m sure this thought won’t make it any easier when future pets or people go, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?
|Isis, doing what cats do.|
|Just about 17 years old in this picture, but will always be my baby kitty cat to me.|