It’s been rather a rough week chez Alice-n-cats. Y’see, my beautiful babygirlcat is sick. And she won’t be getting better.
It’s sad, but not a tragedy. Hildi and I have lived together for 19 years, ever since she came into my life as a two-month-old kitten, runt of her litter and small enough to sit up in the palm of my hand. Most of her adult life she weighed ~15 pounds. She is now down to barely 7.
I have spent the past week trying to get my work done while sitting next to her on the couch, or balancing her (and her soft-for-old-catlady-bones cushion) on my lap. Often she just sleeps; other times I pet her while she sucks her tail, a self-soothing habit from kittenhood.
Sometimes we just hold hands.
Before her body began to fail and she grew so thin that petting her feels like caressing a fur-encased skeleton, Hildi always looked like an average-to-large sized cat–unless standing next to her littermate brother, Eliot, a long-haired, 20-lb behemoth. She and I lost Eli 9 years ago, suddenly, in a way that was tragic. I am so grateful for this time she and I have, each in our own way preparing for her impending departure.
Still, it is not easy. When I am away from her too long, she calls out for me in her loud voice that sounds like a toad being strangled. It’s the closest noise to a meow that she has ever made, but as cat-cries go, this one always sounds like she is angry or in pain (possibly both)–a distressing cry to be awakened by at 2 (or 3, or 4) in the morning, when she wakes up on the couch and misses me. (I am thinking of relocating to sleep in the living room tonight.)
For a week or two before she made her apparently-final decision to live her last days (or perhaps, one hopes, weeks) here on the couch, my periodic middle-of-the-night wakeup sound was her vomiting. Sometimes I woke up in time to help her move off the bedspread before puking; sometimes not. I’m in close contact with her vet, and we have tried a variety of dietary changes to slow down the kidney failure, or keep things moving through a digestive system that is shutting down. We have reached the end of those strategies.
I promised Hildi a long time ago that I would spare her from any intrusive interventions designed to extend her life for my comfort. That we would not spend her final months with me sticking her with needles, or manhandling her into taking pills. (Not that I ever could. She’s quite an adept pill-spitter-outer.)
There has been an air of sickroom throughout my apartment for some time. Puked-on floors and bedspreads (also sheets, and mattress, and occasionally bedframe) to clean. Dishes of food and water in every room, as well as the long hallway, so she never has to travel far from any resting spot to eat. Litterbox accidents, when her old hips can’t maintain a squat. New toys scattered everywhere to distract and entertain Nathan, the younger cat who joined us after Eli’s passing.
This is what it is to love and care for a living thing, though. Human or animal–at the end of our lives, things get gross and physical and we just need someone to sit by us, stroke our head, and make sure we don’t feel alone. I feel lucky and sad and loved, all at once, that just my presence is still enough to make her feel better.
Yesterday I made an appointment with the vet to take Hildi in today and have her put into her final sleep. This morning I called back to cancel. The vet tech whom I spoke with was very kind and understanding. I told her about Hildi’s toad-strangling bellows and summoning me to sit by her, and she agreed with me: today did not have to be the day.
This is the hardest decision you ever make, the vet tech said. But when it’s time, you’ll know.
I think that’s probably true. I trust that when Hildi is ready to go, she’ll find a way to tell me.
And after 19 years, I know she’s trusting me too.
That I will hold on, until it’s time to let go.