Grief is a strange phenomena. It’s more than strange, it’s insidious. It lies in wait and pounces when you least expect it. And sometimes it refuses to come out no matter how much you demand it to.
The grieving process is exceptionally singular. No one can do it for you. No one can tell you how to do it properly. There’s no training for it, it’s simply a core emotion. It would be hard to say grief is instinctual, since it’s closer to an expression of our individual personality.
So indulge me for a short while as I try to work through some of this difficulty and achieve some closure. As much as I would love to write the tribute first and deal with the messy circumstances afterwards, where they could be reviewed sans emotion, I feel that ignoring the details of the experience might be akin to letting a wound remain sealed up to fester, instead of opening it up and airing it out to heal.
The grief I am processing is the loss of my cat of 13 years, Rump. Her actual age is unknown, but she was an aged cat and had been showing signs of slowing down. But with each of my three cats I’ve had in my life, the end is always brought about by a sudden physical disability that requires euthanasia.
Rump’s first sign of trouble was a few weeks ago when I noticed she was becoming very picky about what wet food she wanted to eat. Around the same time, I noticed she wasn’t eating as much, or any, of her dry food. She lost weight rapidly and her sides became sunken in. She also became less social. These symptoms also happened with my first cat, Mess, and although I’d never had it diagnosed, I assumed it was kidney trouble.
Very soon afterwards, Rump could not stand up on her hind legs and her right rear leg seemed weak. Thinking the end was near, I started the golden treatment. She was fed tuna fish twice a day, which she enjoyed immensely. The fresh intake of food started filling her out and her leg strength came back. This inspired hope, so I scheduled a vet appointment to see if her current condition was treatable.
The vet said that the hind leg issue was simply arthritis and the lack of eating was due to pain from an abcessed tooth. They would need to extract the tooth, which was a fairly routine procedure and cats typically bounce right back after 12 hours. So the surgery was scheduled and performed. Along with the tooth extraction, Rump was caught up on all her shots.
When I picked Rump up from the vet, I was told she shouldn’t eat or drink for a few more hours, and that she was probably still a little dopey from the pain meds and anesthetic. I followed their directions for that night. Later that night, she got a little food, which she devoured. I was a little concerned about the unsteadiness she was exhibiting. She walked very unbalanced and was very distant.
Before bed, I checked up on Rump again, since she wasn’t coming to me, still being anti-social. I was told the meds should wear off by 11 or so and it was around that time. But when I comforted her and gave her attention, she just had a distant gaze. One moment she turned sharply and stared down the hall, like she saw something. Then she walked away from me and sat in front of the sliding glass door, staring at her reflection. It was the most foreboding behavior I’d ever seen from her. It was when I started to worry.
Rump did not come to visit me that night in bed. When I woke up, she was sitting in the bedroom doorway, guarding the room. Before leaving for work, I gave her a full portion of wet food, which she cleaned up in a hurry. Her gait was still unstable, her back legs were weak. I was happy to see her eat enthusiastically, but was concerned about her legs.
When I came home from work, Rump did not meet me at the door. I called for her and she didn’t come. Remembering how Mess began hiding when his legs started giving out, I started searching the house, dreading what I would find. I found that Rump had been in the bean bag, because there was a puddle of urine in it. Incontinence is a death knell, so my worry started settling into emotional preparation for what was to come. I looked under the bed, I looked in the closet, then I noticed that Rump was curled in her bed in the bedroom, right behind me. She didn’t make any sound of acknowledgement.
She had also urinated in that bed and had no interest in climbing out for me. I picked her up, which brought out a pained meow and stood her up on the floor. Her front right leg was paralyzed and her back legs were extremely weak. Rump immediately went back into her bed and curled up. So, this is it.
I called the vet, who told me to call a 24-hr vet hospital since their doctor had already left for the day. I called the vet hospital and briefly explained that I needed put my cat down. They set me up with an appointment in an hour. It would take me about that long to drive there, too.
Rump was loaded up in the cat carrier because she proved mobile enough to jump – jump – out of her bed as I was carrying her in her bed to the car. A stubborn bitch to the end. The drive was long and somber. Rump was quiet the whole way and rubbed against my fingers that were poked through the cage door. At one stop light, I thought I could open the cage door and get my whole hand in there to pet her. Nope, as soon as the door opened, Rump started pushing her way out. Stubborn!
In the exam room at the hospital, I opened the carrier. Rump charged out and I explained to the assistant that Rump just had surgery yesterday. The assistant said, “And this is the result?” It’s something I will probably never forget because of its (probably unintended) insensitivity. I never intended to blame anyone for this. Rump is an old cat and there are certainly risks with surgery, plus getting a heavy load of booster shots. You can only hope for the best.
Rump and I waited for the vet to come in seated on the bench seat. At times she was docile, other times, she wanted to roam. I kept her by my side and tried to keep her calm. The vet came in, checked Rump out and confirmed what we were going to do. Then he took Rump back for weighing and installing an IV catheter to administer the drugs.
She was brought back to the room and I continued holding her on the seat. The vet came back with a wee pad and a large pink towel that I could wrap Rump in. He explained that they would be taking care of the billing soon, which is something I felt down about. The last couple of times I’ve put my cats down, they perform the procedure, give you your time, then you leave and you get a bill in the mail, after a respectable period. This paying in advance stuff was slightly hurtful for me.
At this time, Rump was alternating between sitting at my side against me and lying on her side on the bench. I leaned down and listened to her chest. No purring and a quick, light heartbeat. She didn’t exactly seem “with it”, just dazed and staring. On some level she was probably happy for me to be there, but I don’t think she was able to be interactive. Rump then decided she wanted to be on the table, so I hoisted her up to the table onto the towel and she laid down right away. I wrapped her up in the towel, to which she did not protest. It’s not something she would ever have allowed before.
Once on the table and wrapped up in the towel, Rump fairly surrendered. She stayed motionless and occasionally, I would check her heartbeat. It seemed to be fading quickly. I thought if the doctor doesn’t hurry up and get in here, Rump is going to go all on her own. Then it struck me. Maybe I had misheard everything. Maybe this was the euthanization and Rump was going to fade off to sleep slowly. That’s radically different than anything I’d been a part of before. I stepped out of the room and asked if that’s what was going on. A vet tech came back and clarified that no drugs had been administered yet.
When I went back into the room, Rump had her head raised, but put it right back down when I came back to her side. She stayed still as the doctor eventually came in to clarify once more the procedure and the choices I had made. And we went forward with it, what’s more to say?
The procedure itself was quite peaceful, since Rump was already so close to the end. There was no struggle, gasp, or sigh. And of course the immediate mourning came on, but it was relatively brief. I headed home with an empty carrier and waves of tears.
Which brings me back to the grieving process. In this case, I never really have had a total breakdown. I will get a wave of sorrow, which brings on the sobbing, but then I straighten back up again and continue on. Relating to current events, it’s more like the Kilauea volcano and less like the St. Helens volcano. And until the pressure subsides, there will be unexpected lava flows.
Something I’ve been trying to keep in mind is a concept explained in Theosophy. The phrase I use for the concept is slightly crass, but is meant to reduce the seriousness of death: “back to the bucket.” To impossibly simplify the lessons of Theosophy, there are two things to consider. First, humans have a soul that evolves over many lifetimes through reincarnation. Souls are unique personalities, shown that every human on earth is unique. Second, animals are still evolving into unique personalities and until they reach that point, have a “shared soul”. The analogy is that animals are born and a portion of a single soul is instilled in them from a “bucket”. The animal lives its life and when it dies, all that it has learned and experienced is returned to the bucket for all future incarnations to learn from.
So, when you comment that your pet “has personality” and you notice how your pet forms relationships with humans and seems to genuinely care for humans, you are witnessing the evolution of an animal soul. If you have participated in that growth, by showing care and compassion and demonstrating trust and forging that relationship, you are contributing positive experiences to your pet’s next incarnation, when they go “back to the bucket.”
Considering that Rump found and chose me 13 years ago, which was about a year and a half after losing Mess, it’s not unfathomable that she chose me based on experiences from the same bucket as Mess. It’s also not unfathomable that I will see her again in her next life.