Okay. I’m using that title to shock you.
Doesn’t mean I didn’t do it, but the preferred term is “euthanize“. Sounds much nicer, right?
Bo was my cat, but before he was mine he was my mother’s. He was a 24-toed (normal cats have 18), black-and-white puppy-like cat who was the charismatic and goofy reminder to me, daily, of my sweet, complicated, and sometimes troubled mother.
Shortly after Mom was diagnosed with the lung cancer that would eventually kill her she and I had a chat about chats… they were great company, and therapeutic. I lived a 4 hour drive away and worried about her through the week – lonely, ill, alone. I told her they could help lower one’s blood pressure, etc. It was a short conversation, nothing really meaningful.
The next weekend when I arrived at her house, there they were: two kitties. Oh I wish I could find their kitty pictures; they were so very cute. Bo was awkward – how many awkward kittens do you know? From the start he was such a character.
She was delighted with her tiny charges (too young to be away from their mother, I always thought). She bought them in Perth, maybe Smith’s Falls (?) – towns I for some reason always get confused. Whatever. She got them from a pet store (kitten farm, I always figured) in one of those places, anyway. I guess it doesn’t matter much, though not having that small detail bothers me, a bit.
Mr. Bojangles (because he’s polydactyl and tap danced when he walked) and his sister Shirley Temple brought a lot of delight to my mother. Shirley was the brains of the operation, you could see her try to herd Bo towards the food when it was time to eat (otherwise, we weren’t sure he’d find it, to be honest). They were delightful and sweet and really a completely ill-conceived purchase, but who cares, right?
Three too-short/too-long months later my mother was dead, and we were exhausted. It was a hard death, and a painful three months leading up to it.
I was so out of it that the day we were supposed to finalize things with the funeral home I parked my car downtown and locked the keys in it – still running – and I didn’t notice. It ran out of gas in downtown Brockville while we tried to kill time before my long-suffering big sister had to go take care of business. That’s one of those stories that you never actually look back on and laugh at (I’m sorry again, Nancy, I really am).
It’s just kind of sad.
I can barely remember anything because of the weird white-noise in my head at that time, the hyper-surreality of it all. To this day, there are things I am not sure I’m remembering correctly; I just can’t get a grasp on them entirely.
It wasn’t easy, and it never is, losing someone.
What it is though, is weird. It’s weird getting used to someone taking medicine, or being in hospital not to get better but to fight death, to prolong the time before the inevitable. It’s weird feeling some relief when your loved one dies, but it’s better than watching them suffer.
That was an awful time. A time of confusing emotions and fear and pre-emptive loss. We had a complicated relationship, my mother and I, so it follows that her death was not simple for me. I loved her fiercely, but was often just confused by her otherness to me. I think she felt the same way. She once told me that I was too much like my father, perhaps that’s it.
She was in a lot of pain, and drugged, and often loopy; she was angry and vindictive and scared and sweet and confused and funny. She got paranoid, and plain nasty sometimes – I remember after a particularly obnoxious statement to me I hissed to her that I hoped it wasn’t the last thing she ever said to me, because she’d regret it. For both of us, I am thankful that it wasn’t.
Oh, the pain we cause those we love, right?
Don’t worry, there was sweetness too – many goodbyes and late night talks beside her bed – not about anything important, just talking and trying to be normal in a decidedly abnormal twilit hospital room. We talked a lot about her lost babies – too many, miscarried and lost, so many babies and so many lost dreams. We talked about whether she would see her babies in heaven, whether they would be grown or not. We decided that heaven is whatever you want it to be. I hope she met them there, and is having coffee and figuring crossword puzzles with them all right now.
But by then end of it, I was wrung out, and had stepped back from it a bit. You can’t sustain the emotional rollercoaster that someone’s death creates without stepping back, sometimes. I couldn’t anyway.
So, she died. It wasn’t like on tv, people – it’s hard work to die, to take that last breath, to allow yourself to give up your ghost. She laboured at it, and it was awful, even with the help of (a lot of) morphine to ease her way.
And yesterday, a coddled and comfortable fifteen years and 5 months later, Mr. Bojangles was stroked and whispered-to while our lovely vet Bruce reverently and gently sent him to sleep in my arms.
I’m not going to belabour the point here – you know what I’m getting at, right? I will be able to remember Bo’s death in a way that I cannot do my mother’s, and it’s not only because well, he’s just a cat. Those last too-short months of my mother’s life were so crazy, so full of fear and anger and love and loss and confusion over her care, her pain, her struggle. We did what we could, but it’s hard to have meaningful, pure memories of a time so full of conflicting emotions. With Bo, I had time to prepare, to love him extra-hard, to let him go before it all got too hard and it was muddied with pain and fear.
The choice to euthanize Bo was not one I took lightly, and it caused me pain. I cried about it – I’m not ashamed to say. He was senile, and still didn’t always know where his food was; he meowed and mewled and howled and caterwauled through the night; he was becoming incontinent. He’d lost weight, and his heart murmur was getting worse…. He still had some quality of life: quiet moments, sleeping on the guest bed, cuddling on my lap at night, playing sometimes with the other cat.
The arithmetic of it was that Bo’s quality of life was declining and there were more bad times than good. He was not going to get better.
So I did what I needed to do, for him and for me. We will all miss him very much; he was one of our family. I am easeful, though, in my mind that he had a good life, and a good death.
Rest in Peace, my Boo Boo Kitty, and say hi to Mom for me, okay?