Purring and No Right Time
On Sunday, I talked to my boyfriend, sisters, the vet, neighbors, and a co-worker for the answer to the hideous question: When is a good time to put my orange tabby cat, Shumba, to sleep?
He was still purring and walking, but his stomach ballooned with fluid, as it had for three months. The vet had drained it twice.
On Tuesday, my friend, Yvette said, “There will never be a good time. That’s not happening.”
Then I called the vet, who gently said, “If he were a human he’d be on morphine in the ICU. He’s definitely in pain but won’t show it. Cats won’t show pain to avoid being prey in the wild. He’s suffering. You can keep him alive, but you have to understand, you are keeping him alive for you, not for him or his quality of life. You’ve done everything right by him.”
On Wednesday, I sat with Shumba on my bed. Jonathan, my boyfriend, sat with us, and I told Shumba everything about how I loved him, and that from the moment I saw him, I wanted to protect and love him and that I had never considered him leaving before me. Because we had been a family for 14 years and he was my beloved, my baby.
All week, I scanned my iPhone for “it’s-time-to-do-what-you-don’t-want-to-do” decision maker app to help me know the right time and abate anguish and guilt.
There are so many things I want to tell you about how much I love Shumba, but for now I’ll tell you this:
From the smooth, short apricot fur on his nose to the eddying orange zigzag on the top of his head, down his neck, spine, and the tip of his tail (with a tiny kink), is what I call a felt prayer. A felt life companion, the one that’s there to listen, hold dreams and snuggle. Billions of times, his magnetic pull of goodness and patience, infused me with comfort, especially at night as he slept under the covers in my arms.
On Saturday, before we left for the vet, Shumba was soaking up the sun, curled on the couch in a fluffy cream blanket I’d gotten for yoga students to feel cozy in savasana. His chin was up in my neighbor, Sue’s hand, while she said, “Lovey, beautiful Shumba.”
He purred and dozed. Majestic.
I read a poem by Roy Croft.
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you…
I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy…
You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
We sat silent. I pet him.
I felt weird reading the poem to Shumba because it had a marriage vow feel but it was perfect because I loved him like that.
Petting and watching him sleep, I wanted to call the whole thing off, not go to the vet appointment. I had cold feet, thinking, Shumba, let’s stay another while in the afternoon sun.
There was no way to make bearable, the unbearable leaving.
At the vet, in the small room, I stood with my arms cradling Shumba. Jonathan was to my right by the door; my coworker, Noelle, my dad and my neighbor, Sue, stood round.
I told the vet I was sorry I’d been grumpy with him for telling me the truth. I thanked Jonathan for being the only man Shumba ever curled up with, and for making sure he was safe under the cars—Shumba’s favorite place to keep neighborhood watch.
The vet said, “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay,” he pulled the catheter open. “I’m going to lay him down.”
I held Shumba, and stroked his head, saying, “Everybody loves you. I love you, Jonathan, Sue, Noelle, Dad, and everybody loves you. You are so beautiful, so magnificent. Everybody loves you.”
In seconds, his tongue hung out of his mouth.
The vet said, “His heart has stopped. His eyes won’t shut.”
“I love you. I will always love you,” I repeated petting him.
He was warm and dead and still.
My kitten sleeps.
Then Jonathan kissed him goodbye.
Afterward in the car, I wrote on my hand:
I will miss the feel of you.
You’re snuggling in bed, in the cherry tree and catnip (even that last morning) licking yourself for a nap, or after a meal. You sat on the windowsill observing moonlit snow and with frog statues in the garden. I studied your calm watching awareness, learning about peace.
For weeks, I listen and reach for you.