The sad truth to sharing your life with anyone is that eventually there will come a time to say good-bye. Last week, two friends of mine dealt with this first-hand when their beloved cats died. Both cats had been sick and the terrible decision of whether or not to euthanize needed to be made. This choice is agonizing even though you don’t want to see your cat suffer, you also aren’t ready to let go. Some people say that you will know when the time is right. I’m not so sure.
When Kiggy was ill, it took me by surprise. She was 16 and was slowing down, but she seemed very healthy. At her regular vet checkup earlier that year, she came through with flying colors. I thought we still had years together, so it was a shock when I took her in for a mild cough only to find that her lungs were filled with fluid. We never knew exactly what was wrong. They initially thought cardiomyopathy, but her heart was fine. Most likely it was cancer. After two weeks of care and hoping she’d get better, we opted for euthanasia. She wasn’t eating and her breathing was increasingly labored. It was the right decision, but it was agonizing.
The following year, Michi started losing weight. She was still eating but you could feel her spine when petting her. We didn’t notice the weight loss at first because she was a long haired cat and her coat was still fluffy and full. She was in liver failure and her lungs were also filling with fluid. This time we opted to euthanize her sooner so she wouldn’t suffer. I thought that this would be easier. It was not.
The way I coped with the loss of my beloved first two cats was to try to remember their long lives and be grateful for the time we shared. They were both shelter cats and lived long lives filled with love. I also chose to celebrate their lives in the following ways:
- Planted a Tree
On the days they died, we went to a nursery and purchased a plant or tree in their honor. I continued to love and care for the plant as a continuation of their spirit. The variegated ficus in our atrium is the Michi tree. I chose it because the leaves reminded me of her two-tone coat.
Both cats were cremated and I kept the ashes. This can be a bit expensive, but it was important for me to keep them. I hope to someday have my ashes spread with theirs. I keep their ashes along with their collars in a carved box with the Buddha and the Boddhi tree.
- Memory Book
I scanned in photos of them. They were born before digital cameras were the norm. I put together a photo book with stories about what made them unique. Things like Kiggy loving peanut butter and Michi loving to lie in uncomfortable spots. I wanted to capture memories of them before I forgot. It also helped me to celebrate their lives and not focus on the loss.
The pain of loss subsides with time, but it is never easy. Some people I know don’t want to go through it again so they decide not have animals anymore. For them, the loss is too painful. For me, after the first rush of loss has abated, I opt to try to find another cat to adopt. I know the new cat will never replace the one I lost. My consolation is knowing that I now have the room to rescue another cat from a shelter and give him or her a better life. In that way too, I honor my friends who have passed on.