August 9, 2010


Patrick and Melinda seem to be adjusting to life without Shady reasonably well. There's no doubt that they continue to miss her, though, just as I do.

It's awful to have almost perpetually lively and inquisitive creatures suddenly become withdrawn and depressed. Whiskers droop, appetites diminish, and favorite toys elicit little interest. In the last few days, however, Patrick has started to gallop around like his old self, and Melinda is slowly becoming a chatterbox again.

This isn't my introductory brush with death. My first childhood cat, a willful all-white fellow whom I loved more than anything, was injured — presumably by an automobile, though there was no visible external damage — and had to be put to sleep the next day.

I still vividly recall talking to my mother over the office phone at school the next day. She walked me through the reasoning: there wasn't anything the veterinarian could do to help him, and we didn't want him to be in pain.

To her credit, she let me believe that I was making the decision. I was far and away his closest companion. It was only years later that I realized, upon reflection, how unlikely it was that the decision truly rested with a fourth grader. It turns out he'd already been put to a merciful sleep as we had that conversation.

The decision to end Shady's life, on the other hand, actually did rest with me.

That it was undoubtedly the kindest possible thing I could do for her didn't make it any easier. I could've conceivably taken her to Cornell and had her undergo a kidney transplant. I could've subjected her to daily trips to the veterinarian for intravenous fluids.

The most relevant question was clear to me. Would I be keeping her alive for her sake, or for mine? The answer was just as clear.

It's not that I was tempted to put her through hell in service to my own denial. I knew what I had to do. I did hope for more time, though. I originally scheduled her appointment for Monday, thinking I could concentrate on making her last weekend on Earth a great one. I'd serve her all her favorite treats, take her outside to wriggle on the pavement and smell the wind, and give her never-ending tummy rubs.

By Friday afternoon I knew I had to move up the appointment. She was too uncomfortable and too unhappy, and it wouldn't have been fair to make her endure more pain to postpone my own.

I was able to make her final full day as good as possible, though. She had special trips to flop in the sun outside, just me and her. She got heaping helpings of tuna and salmon fillet, and kept it down. I was even able to get her to purr a few more times, and that meant a great deal to me.

I would give absolutely anything to have that wonderful little Abyssinian girl back among the living, back in my arms, but I am thankful that we were able to spend her final moments together.

Melinda, November 2006
One of the most difficult things at the moment, quite apart from learning how to live with Shady's absence, is knowing that Melinda's time is running out as I type this. Shady's kidneys failed with alarming rapidity, as is apparently not uncommon for the breed. Melinda's kidneys are failing in slow motion, and she has somewhere in the neighborhood of a year to a year-and-a-half before it catches up with her.

Currently I give Melinda subcutaneous fluid injections twice a week. I was anything but sure I could handle the procedure at first. (I'm not a big fan of needles, owing, I suspect, to an encounter with one particularly sadistic nurse during my early childhood.) But it's slowly becoming part of our routine. The more comfortable and confident I get doing it, the more Melinda seems to trust that even though it hurts for a moment getting poked with a needle, I've somehow got her best interests at heart.

I suppose you could argue that I knew Shady's time was running out. I don't mean in the "none of us is going to live forever" sense, either. She received daily medication for arthritis, her eyesight was degenerating, and she was on a special diet meant to dissolve a tiny but troublesome bladder stone.

This is different. Melinda is only about 12 years old. She's not making her way slowly through her twilight years; her span's been abbreviated by a problem with which she shouldn't have to contend, at least not at this stage of her life.

But that's not up to me. All I can do is take care of her the best I can, send lots of love pouring in her direction, and try to make her remaining time as happy as possible.

Patrick, December 2009
Luckily, I've got her outsize marmalade brother on hand to help me. And when it comes time for Melinda to go wherever it is that Shady went — whether it's a feline amusement park, a bright light, the outside of time, the cessation of all experience, or something else altogether — we'll have each other to love and comfort as we adjust to her absence.


Ken said...
Thanks for sharing this. I lost my cat Luke to kidney failure a couple years ago - he was only 5. We have no idea what went wrong or how it happened, and we feel his loss to this day. I hope he's welcoming Shady to the feline amusement park in the sky.

Rob said...
I really hope you can make it to my wedding, even if just to meet the 14 little fuzzy monsters that we have. Though some can be unfriendly, most of them are awesome and lovable.

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