LossTue 14 November 2023 by R.L. Dane
Content Warning: This post deals with the death of a pet and mourning, and approaches things from a Christian viewpoint.
Content Warning, part 2: This post went into far greater detail about the events leading up to my cat's passing than I initially intended, so if you're mourning a loved one (four-legged or two-legged) or are having a rough day in general, please skip this post.
This post started off as something like "How to Mourn (a Pet) Well," but I found myself going into a lot of detail about Hobbes' last couple days on earth. I might follow up with a post or two about mourning after this.
I really didn't know that Hobbes was nearing the end of his life until two days before he passed. I understood that he was having some health challenges, but thought that with some medical intervention, he'd be fine. The symptoms could have been easily dismissed as nausea caused by some kind of vertigo, and fluid buildup due to the sebaceous cysts on his back. The clearest sign that he was seriously not doing well was one that I didn't know how to interpret: in the past few months, he had developed a habit of hiding himself. He would hide in the cupboard and I'd call him a silly kitty for hiding now after all those years. I had no idea that for a cat, sudden hiding and isolation is a clear indication that they are very ill.
I had less than 48 hours between the time I realized Hobbes was sick until he passed. I took him to his usual vet on Monday, and they had no idea what was going on with him, and recommended me to take him to the large 24-7 veterinary hospital in Dallas.
I took him there that afternoon, and after waiting a while and finally having him examined, the veterinarian basically said, "You have to choose between very expensive and invasive medical procedures just to determine the cause of the illness, or to put Hobbes to sleep."
Given those two choices, I did what any crafty person would do: try to make a third. I asked them to give him a blood transfusion, but not run all of the tests, and hoped against hope that it would be enough for him to recover as he did a year prior after getting two rounds of steroids.
The doctor I saw on Monday night wouldn't give him a blood transfusion without also running an ultrasound, because, well, cat owners aren't exactly lining up around the block to donate their pet's blood. It is apparently very hard to get blood for pets, and they didn't want to give him a transfusion without me agreeing to proceed with at least some initial medical work. I agreed, and said goodnight to Hobbes in his little cell. He did not look very happy to be there.
The next morning, I went to the veterinary hospital with my aunt (who was kind of like his mom—she loved him a ton) and spoke to a different vet. This vet seemed a bit more reasonable (although I hold nothing against the vet from Monday night) and was willing to let Hobbes go with a blood transfusion without having to also get an ultrasound. He also informed me that he performed in-home hospice care, and I took his card. He seemed like a pretty compassionate guy and had great bed-side manner.
I took Hobbes home, hoping that the blood transfusion would be enough to get him over whatever was ailing him. My aunt drove us in her car, and I held him in his little backpack-carrier on my lap while petting him. Along the way, I felt my legs get wet — he urinated in his backpack. He had never urinated or defecated outside of his litter box before, so I figured he was really sick, or possibly just really upset.
I got him home and let him out of his backpack-carrier, and he took a few steps-and promptly flopped on his side.
Reality started settling in pretty hard at that point.
I texted that doctor after spending a couple hours with Hobbes and realizing that he was in really rough shape, and that his quality of life was extremely poor. He couldn't take more than a few steps at once without flopping on his side and resting, and when he would stand up to drink water, I could hear him cough as some of the water went up his nose because he was too weak to stand long enough to drink. The last day, I was giving him water by syringe (no needle, just the plastic tip), which he lapped up eagerly, without lifting his head.
My little lion. The one that wanted to attack a dog so badly that the glass-panel door separating him from the dog shook when he hit it with his paw.
My furson, who squared off with a young Bobcat, and the Bobcat blinked and slunk away. THAT GUY. My little ginger monster. Every bit as much a Puss in Boots as the one voiced by Antonio Banderas - now too weak to walk, too weak to drink, too weak to eat even the Greenies that he loved so much. There was a point early on when I had him home on Tuesday when I was feeding him, and I saw him stand up straight and proudly after eating a little bit of his food. My heart SOARED. I had a glimmer of hope, and I started shouting exultations of praise. Then, he promptly flopped over on his side and lie there.
That was the greatest punch in the gut I've ever felt in my life. My heart crashed onto the floor and didn't even bounce.
I texted the hospice vet soon after that, and asked him if he had any time the next day (Wednesday). He said he did, but that he thought there might also be hope that Hobbes could turn around. He said that he would schedule me, but please text in the morning after I've had a chance to sleep on it and observe him some more with my final decision.
My aunt stayed with me most of the day on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that was a tremendous help. We took turns doting on him, and when I wasn't with him, I would go sit in the living room and take some time just to breathe.
At one point, it was getting all a bit too much and I desperately needed a diversion. I queued up some Red Dwarf, which I had started watching a couple weeks prior. My aunt also came out of the room and wanted to watch as well. At first, she said she wasn't into silly comedy/sci-fi, but she actually stuck around and enjoyed it. After the first episode was over, we went back into the room to look at Hobbes, and he kinda meow-cried at us, like "Why did my humans leave me?" We gave him lots of pets and scritches after that, and tried to stay close to him the whole time so he wouldn't feel lonely.
My aunt stayed until late in the evening, and then I was left all alone with my child. I sat on the bed with him, just stroking him and talking to him. At one point, I lay down on the bed next him, held him and wept bitterly. I remember saying things like, "I just can't let you go!" and "Son, what can I do for you?"
That night, I went to bed with my cat next to me for the last time. I hugged him a lot, but he wasn't feeling especially cuddly - illness is a very lonely matter for cats, by instinct. I woke up the next morning and he had flopped off the bed and was lying on the bath mat. I wish I had realized that was a sign that he was thirsty (because he would hang around me when I was in the shower so he could get a sip from the tub), but I was clueless. I didn't realize he was dehydrated until later, and gave him the better part of a whole cup of water by syringe.
After spending some time with him, I knew that this was it, and I didn't want him to suffer any longer. Unfortunately, there was also an aspect of wanting to shorten my own suffering in that. Every minute I saw him in that state harrowed my soul. I'm not proud of how self-preservation snuck in and reared its ugly head during that time in a few subtle ways, but it was never to the degree of making decisions that would be in any way bad for him. I felt that he really did need to leave that very day, and I truly didn't want him to suffer any longer than necessary. I texted the hospice vet that morning and confirmed the appointment.
My aunt came later that morning and brought my mom. My mom didn't show much emotion, but I'm honestly glad for that. She had been through more than enough in the past couple of years. She got to give him some good scritches, and I'm happy that she got to say goodbye — without saying goodbye. Sometimes, that's the best kind.
The vet came to my house that afternoon, and he showed a lot of kindness by explaining things very thoroughly. I had Hobbes on my bed, and I lay next to him. My aunt sat next to him and was stroking him. The vet gave him a teensy jab of a sedative, to which he took offense, but then settled down. About two seconds after receiving the sedative shot, my lovely furbaby closed his beautiful green eyes for the last time. His eyes didn't even close the whole way - his upper eyelid met with his "third eyelid" (nictitating membrane) instead of his lower eyelid. This helped me understand just how exhausted he was. My little guy had burned his candle down the wick just to stay with me. I was fearing that putting him to sleep would've cut weeks off of his lifespan (still justifiable to ease suffering, though), but seeing how exhausted he was, I think it was days or even just hours. He just didn't physically have anything left. He loved me that much.
After the sedative, we were given some time to be with Hobbes and say whatever we needed to say to him, and the vet stepped out of the room and asked us to let him know when we were ready for the next step. I spent a little time petting him, and gave my aunt some time to be with him, but I really didn't want to delay. I wanted him to pass quickly and painlessly, with dignity and honor.
I stepped out and asked the vet to proceed. He placed a small IV in Hobbes' leg, and administered the anesthetic that allowed his spirit to leave his body. I was lying on my side right next to him. At first, I thought of resting my head against his body like I used to do so many times before, but I heard that wonderful still, small voice of my best Friend say, "Why do you want to torture yourself?" So I didn't listen to his heart. I just lay next to him with my eyes closed.
I knew when he passed before the vet did, although there was no discernible physical or audible change. How I knew, and the things I perceived at that time are, dear reader, not for your knowledge.
A few seconds after that final injection, the vet held a stethoscope to that-which-was-once-Hobbes' side, and pronounced his absence. He asked me if I wanted to carry him out. I said, "Absolutely."
The vet gingerly took Hobbes' body and placed it in a soft blanket-like cloth, and wrapped him in it, such that his head was poking out (something like swaddling an infant), and handed him to me.
I don't quite understand why, but carrying my furson's body out to the vet's car was one of the proudest moments of my life. Perhaps this was what angels felt when carrying the souls of people who had lived and loved well to the next life. Or perhaps I was like Kahless guiding the spirit of a great warrior into Sto'Vo'Kor. I don't know.
I gently put him down in the vet's trunk, and he covered his sweet face with a corner of the cloth, and closed the trunk.
I looked at the trunk for a moment, then looked up at the vet and said,
"So, I guess your car is now officially a 'Furse'." (Fur + Hearse)
He was astonished that I could crack a joke at that moment. But somehow, that was one of the greatest and happiest moments of my life, and I just had to honor my son's passing with a silly joke. I don't know.
I've dealt with heavy mourning before, and I've experienced the mind's flights of fancy and vivid daydreaming as an analgesic against an oncoming wave of emotional trauma. But this was nothing like either of those two. After Hobbes' passing, I felt a euphoria and a sense of connectedness to Hobbes like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. It lasted for several minutes after the vet left, and that feeling has revisited me from time to time during prayer and meditation.
But I have no need to sell others on my own esoteric experiences. They are my own, and the few times I share them, I do in the hope of benefiting others, never for recognition. I'm quite happy if 99% of the people reading this pan me as a kook, in hopes that 1% may feel encouraged or uplifted if they have to deal with a similar season in their life.