Does it seem like I post about death a lot here? Yeah. Me too. I do other things with my life than go through losing loved ones. But with the world death rate still holding at a whopping 100%, the odds are high that death… it’s going to keep coming up.
We had to put our little furry friend Ruaridh (“Rory”) to sleep yesterday. Which, in unminced words, means we had to decide it was time to ask someone to kill him. The euphemisms, putting him to sleep, letting him go, are fairly clear, but, having gone through it a couple of times now… they miss the weight of what “owners” have to bear. The bright harsh-edged skin and soul-burning reality of it.
In the time leading up, we stare at and cuddle our friend, our little fuzzball, and we have to try and figure out if his life is worth living. We can’t ask him how he feels — or we can, but he can’t tell us. Perhaps he can show us. Although with cats, they’ll hide it from you until they can’t. And by the time they can’t, “bad” is well behind them.
On the day it happens, we have to make the decision that today is the last day of their life. And we have to keep making that choice, over and over. We have to choose their last meals and experiences, pack them in their carrier, take them to the vet, sign papers, and choose the “whens” over and over again. Are you ready to move him onto the absorbent pad, are you ready to begin the sedation, are you ready to give him the final injection… are you ready to say goodbye. There is no going back. He will be gone forever, and you have to decide when.
And you want to scream over and over. No of course I’m not ready. No of course I don’t want to do this. Can I just decide not do this? I don’t want him to die. I want him to live. I want him to stay with us. I want him to stay.
Can’t he just stay?
The loss of a pet hits people severely not because they don’t realize their little friend was a little animal and not a person. It hits us so hard because we love so hard. The volume of love creates the volume of grief. If you felt an ocean of love, your grief can drown you.
We chose Ruaridh with great care. It had been so painful to lose our Chelsea so suddenly, so soon after my dad died. Skittish, we waited over three years before getting another cat. We looked for a young cat, with lots of miles in him, so that we’d have many good years before going through saying goodbye again.
The best laid plans.
It was not long before Ruaridh showed signs something was wrong. And we have spent the months since the spring and summer — nearly half of our time with him — trying to make that elusive awful something (cancer, most likely) as easy for him to bear as possible. To give him pain-free days and cuddles and brushing and deep fluffy naps and treats, and, thanks to Neil’s dedicated syringe-feeding, a comfortable belly full of food even once he couldn’t eat without help.
He was a little fighter, but some fights you cannot win.
I wonder, maybe, if December is bizarrely the best month for awful things to happen. Christmas already has so many big emotions in it, that these giant feelings are somewhat less outsized. So much of the world agrees to try and be kinder to each other. There are softer edges than, say, some Thursday in June, when everyone just has their lives to get on with.
But whenever loss happens, even knowing it is coming, it is no less heartbreaking. We are no less shattered. For us, now, we’ve cried ourselves into dehydration and exhaustion, and we can’t put the pain down.
But Ruaridh also helped us to believe and understand that we had so much room still in our hearts and family. That after we lost our Chelsea, there were other wonderful cats in the world who could use a good home with a couple of softies like us. And that they could be completely different from her, and we could grow to love them just as much. And we learned that the absolute worst thing can happen, everything we fear can (and might) come true… and we will handle it. And that, if we knew then everything we know now, we would do it all again. Because we loved him and he loved us, and as much as he was lucky to have us, we were lucky to have him.
Because he was a charming little gentleman with a furry belly and a gentle heart.
Tomorrow, we will go and visit some other cats who could use a better shake at life. I won’t say “new” cats, because that makes it sound like we’re making a replacement. And when you have to say goodbye, that is the last thing you feel. You know, deeply, freshly, and correctly, that you will never replace what has been lost. That is was precious, and now it is gone.
“Love is wonderful in that it can never be wasted or used up. We can never replace the people or animals we have loved, but the love we feel for them can be expanded. I like to think of love as being stretchy. It is easy to feel guilty when you start to love a new pet – like somehow that means you love your old friend less. But when you think of love as being stretchy and able to expand, you can see that there will always be room for everything. You can love as much as you want.”
We will go and we will find another little animal who could use our love. A furry someone who might like to come live with us. And we will grow our family again. Because the only way out is through. Because we loved Ruaridh very much. Because he taught us to keep going and keep living. Because he taught us that we have more love to give.
Because love is stretchy.
ETA: When we put Chelsea down, we did it at the vet’s office. With Ruaridh, in part because he was so sick, and in part because he hated being in a car so very much, we found Midtown Mobile Vets.
I cannot recommend them highly enough. Dr. Karen Stekel was outstanding and went well above and beyond to make a horrible experience as unhorrible as it could be. The care she took, the attention she paid and her thoroughness in going through Ruaridh’s medical condition and the decision we were facing were all exceptional.
We are very grateful to them.