On the Loss of a Pet
Our cat Walden passed away last night. We had him for just over 2 years – it was only a few days earlier that Facebook reminded me of the first picture of him I shared the day after we got him, the same one I included here to the right. Like any pet, he could be annoying sometimes, but there was no question our lives were better with him. He was a gorgeous cat, very soft, and had a very loud purr when he was happy – which was often. He was energetic and social, often the life of the party whenever people came to our apartment.
Before I continue, I want to make sure it is clear I know that losing a pet is not the same as losing a human loved one. We talk about Walden as having been part of the family or as our “fur baby”, and that is true in many ways. I neither want to trivialize the loss of a pet by saying it is irrelevant compared to loss of a human nor do I want to trivialize the loss of a human by suggesting that they’re basically the same.
In only about 10 hours since, I’ve run through the stages of grief (I acknowledge the whole stages of grief thing is not a perfect concept, but it is a helpful filter for me right now)
After hearing his final groans of pain, which only lasted about 10 seconds, I found where he was under the bed and pulled the bed out of the way to get a look. I fully expected to see lying down as normal, and probably even jump up to move to a new spot once I moved the bed. He was very playful, and it was in play that it seemed the fatal injury happened, so maybe he was just hiding as part of his game. Instead, I saw a couple of very deep ragged breaths, and that was it. Still I hoped that he had just fallen asleep unusually quickly so I watched for another few seconds before starting to pull him out. There was no response. His whole body was limp. I pulled him out and put him on the bed, beginning to consider the worst as a real possibility but still partially expecting him to turn and give me a groggy unimpressed look. He always had an unimpressed look, sort of a “resting bitch face“. I miss that unimpressed look.
As I frantically called vets and tried to get a hold of Emily, I kept staring for any signs of life. It was probably half an hour before I could put a towel over him, and that was only so Emily wouldn’t have to see, not because I actually was able to admit it yet. That half an hour felt like a day and the image of his face is burned into my head. I got a hold of the emergency clinic on the phone and she did not even entertain the idea that they could do something other than start the cremation process. Still, I heard myself saying things like “my cat seems to be dead” to the taxi driver taking me there when he asked what was wrong.
As I stared at what I was now believing was his dead body, I prayed out loud. I didn’t bargain anything in particular, but I pleaded for a miracle. I still continued to silently plead all the way until I saw “DOA” on the emergency clinic forms.
I am not angry at Walden, just angry that it happened. He was only 2 years old. By all accounts he was very healthy and high energy. We fed him the best food we could get, bought him a nice water fountain with a filter, took care of his regular check-ups as needed, and always had an eye on him to notice if anything went wrong. He barely even had a cold in 2 years. Then in 2 minutes he went from normal energetic playing while I unpacked to dead. He should have had another 10 years at least. This doesn’t feel fair.
I tried to analyze any way this was my fault. Was he playing extra hard because he wanted our attention after being gone for the weekend (we had a cat-sitter checking in twice a day)? If we hadn’t gone away, would this have happened? What if we had immediately started playing or cuddling with him when we got home, instead of going to the bathroom and unpacking? I was going to sit on the couch and hope he would join me in about 3 more minutes. Maybe if I had just done that first, it wouldn’t have happened, or at least I would have had one more memory.
Or maybe it was a long-term problem that just happened to be triggered at that moment? Did we miss important signs?
There’s nothing really we could have known to do differently. We know that objectively. No signs of any other health issues, no reason to believe this time playing by himself would end any differently than any other day. It’s not our fault – it’s not anybody’s fault – but I still somehow wish we could have been better and stopped this.
It feels so strange being home without him right now. He usually left me alone during weekday work hours, but I knew he was just napping in the living room or on the dining room chair. I suspect this one will hit me more in the next week while I am home – now by myself during the day – before a new job.
Walden did not follow me around as I brushed my teeth last night, demanding his food that he knew was coming soon, and won’t ever again. That was one of those things that could sometimes be annoying but I also loved every minute of it. He was not meowing this morning as our bedroom light went on, again to make sure we knew to feed him. He won’t be ready to cuddle on the couch as soon as I’m done work. He won’t greet us at the door when we get home, after doing so almost every time in 2 years. He won’t bring me his Cat Dancer toy tonight to play before bed. Walden was my daily companion, after Emily of course, and now he is gone. He and the steady stream of simple joy he brought to our lives will be deeply missed.
A friend shared this quote in a comment on Facebook. It is from Walden Pond, the book by Henry David Thoreau where Walden got his name. It is quite suitable for Walden the cat as well.
Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.