Early in the morning. I’m sitting on the couch. Raven, the cat, is prowling around, hoping for space in my lap. She’s an old girl—she was 10 when I adopted her from the shelter in January 2011. So far she’s been healthy but recent bloodwork indicates her kidneys are starting to deteriorate. She’s lost some weight, seems to be drinking more water. Other than that, she’s her usual self.
But I know what might be coming—I’ve been here before with other cats, most recently my cat Sam who died in 2009. When the vet called to tell me the results of Raven’s blood tests, I told her about my experience with Sam—the nine month passage from mildly elevated blood values to a very sick cat and euthanasia. She reassured me that not all cats go that route; some live comfortable lives with chronic disease. Perhaps.
This is the bargain we make when we adopt these animals—that we will love them, care for them—and usher them through their last days, leaving us with cat- and dog-sized holes in our lives.
Raven has been sitting on the dining table, gazing out at the backyard, which is slowly getting light on this next-to-last day of daylight savings time. She now makes the leap from the table to the arm of the couch and bulldozes her way onto my lap—I’m typing now at a slant with the laptop off to one side. Ergonomics be damned when a cat wants to rent space in your lap.
Bringing animals into our lives, opening our hearts to them, forces us to confront the duality of loving well and letting go. We rehearse this over and over, with each furry death. I know I’ll have difficult decisions ahead—when to treat and to what extent, whether to administer sub Q fluids, when to end it. Cats are stoic creatures; by the time they let us see their pain, they’re usually suffering.
In 2009-2010 I had to make that decision for 3 cats. Albert was first—acute kidney failure and a trip to the emergency vet hospital that resulted in his euthanasia. Then a few months later, I had Sam put to sleep after his chronic kidney disease grew severe. Indigo, the oldest of the three, lived for another year of declining abilities, aching joints, and a wonky heart. Each death taught me something about what to look for, when to treat, when to let go, how to keep the animal’s needs foremost, put their welfare above my own need to hold on.
Raven has abandoned my lap—this is often the routine, she nestles in for a time and then leaves for more important feline business—a daily ritual of attachment and letting go. The sky is light now. and I need to start my day.