My cat is dying today. In the midst of so much other craziness—in my little world and the great wide one—the death of this dear friend of 17 years is suddenly all that matters. He and his demise have my full attention. I say that, yet I sit inside writing while he lies outside, where I cannot see him from here. On this most perfect July Sunday, I check on him, I touch him, I weep. Then I come inside to tell his story, while he expires, muddy and unable to arise or clean himself, at the damp grassy edge of our backyard stream. I am here and he is there, drawing what must be his last, very gentle several hundred breaths. He wants to be alone. It is how it needs to be.
I understand very well today why people have their dying pets euthanized, as we have done. Sitting even a distanced deathwatch is painful. We are doing it because Arba is patiently showing us it’s the right thing to do this time. He does not appear to be suffering any more than my mother suffered on her hospital deathbed three summers ago; she who, like Arba, looked only slightly pained, and quite distanced, as if she too might have preferred to have been left alone.
Mother’s death seemed natural as an ICU demise can be. But from what I can tell, Arba is dying the most natural old-age death I have been privileged to witness. Like Mother, who really wanted to go home to die, he knows where he wants his life to end—in a natural setting all by himself .
Unlike Mother’s, his has been a slow, steady and fairly painless demise. No obvious symptoms like those that sent her to the hospital in agony one awful August midnight. As recently as last week, Arba was eating a bit and covetously lapping the rain water that gathers in our fire pit cover. He was jumping up on the patio chaise and settling in with me to survey the grassy terrain.
It was just the day before yesterday when I realized we hadn’t seen him for a day or two. It’s summer, and both our cats spend a lot of time outside, with acres of fields and woods for the roaming. So I didn’t think much of it until I noticed the dual food bowl in the back hall was suspiciously full. And now that I thought about it, our other cat, Cider, had been acting strangely for several days, not wanting to go outside much and meowing a lot. Uh oh.
The first of many searches began. Trond and I set off, together, then splitting up to survey the large overgrown perimeter of the property. We scoured the barn and outbuildings, flashlights in hand. Hot and tired, we finally gave up, unable to think of anywhere else he could be. Then we found him, near the stream, exactly where we’d started our search but where he had definitely not been then. Thank God! Except that the moment we sat down to be with and comfort him, he lumbered onto his feet and made his way unsteadily to a shady spot in the garden on the other side of the stream. Okay. At least we’d know where to find him, alive or dead, in the morning.
But yesterday morning there was no sign of Arba, again. After another big search, I had to go out. That’s when Trond went down to the far end of the pond, a badly overgrown area with a steep hillside leading to a muddy ditch where the pond water flows out through a pipe. In 40 years here I’d never been there. Trond wouldn’t haven’t been there either, except that after several years of contemplating it, yesterday was the day he decided to begin draining the pond.
When I returned, Trond was waiting to tell me. Arba had somehow made it all the way to the far end of the pond and—judging from how muddy he was—down into the deep gulch. He had crawled part way back up the steep hillside and stopped. We’d never have thought to look there!
The two of us rushed to the gulch and came upon Arba still lying in the hillside thicket. What to do? We couldn’t bear to leave him, uncertain as we were he hadn’t gotten stuck on his way back up. Adding to our discomfort, and possibly his, his muddy hind quarters had become a fly magnet. We deliberated and then moved him, slowly, gently, via a cardboard box with an escape hatch cut out and his cat bed cushion to lie on. We set the the box down with him in it on the back porch, against the stone wall of the house where he used to like to sit and take in the sun.
Arba would have none of it. In a move that was painful to watch, he got himself up, pushed himself out of the escape hatch and stumbled deliberately toward the garden next to the stream that he’d repaired to before. He settled in again among the tall hostas, seeming to know much better than we did where he belonged. It was time to let him be, and so we have ever since.
To our surprise earlier today, we found that he had moved for what I knew had to be one last time, from the garden down closer to the stream again. I am going to go check on him now and do not expect to find him alive…. I went, I checked and I found Arba, somehow moved again, flat out under the hostas. He is barely breathing and looks peaceful as my mother did in her last hours. Mother loved our gardens, and she loved Arba. I wish she could have died here with him.
Categories: Letting Go
Tags: death, dying, mother, pet, writing