Oct 15, 2013 18 Share

Saying Goodbye


Cat sitting on couch by window.
Thinkstock

I get the news moments before my 21-year-old son Mickey gets home. The biopsy is back: Our 14-year-old cat Fudge has lymphoma.

I still manage to greet Mickey cheerfully when he walks through the door. But he knows me too well. “Do you have sad news for me? Is Fudge dead?”

So much for the myth that people with autism have no empathy.

We try a course of chemo. She responds better than we expect. But late one Sunday night, Fudge suddenly pees on the carpet. She has never done this. She staggers, and looks spacey. Something is very, very wrong. When I pick her up, she is limp.

“Is Fudge dying?” Mickey asks.

 “No,” I lie, trying to shield him. “She’s feeling sick. The vet will try to make her better.” Inwardly I cringe; what if I’m wrong? But she may yet pull through. Why alarm him until we must? We call the animal specialty hospital. I place a soft towel in her carrier, and carefully tuck her in. Marc drives her to the pet emergency room, and waits while they run blood work. The vet determines that her kidney values are elevated, and that she is dehydrated and anemic. They admit her to the ICU.

We try to coax Mickey to join us when we visit Fudge the next day, but he’s having none of it, so we leave him with a sitter. As we get out of the car, Marc tells me, “I signed a DNR last night.”

“What?”

“I guess I should have asked you,” he says.

“Yes, you should have.”  

“Would you really want her intubated, or shocked with paddles?”

I shudder. “No.”

How do you visit a pet in the hospital? Are you supposed to show up with flowers? A box of fish-flavored treats? As we enter the facility my heart starts hammering. They take us into the overly bright ICU, and I am assaulted by the sound of so many dogs barking. Fudge is frightened by loud noises; couldn’t they keep the cats in a quieter room? I see technicians in green scrubs. Steel examining tables. Floor-to-ceiling metal cages; Fudge crouches in one of them, connected to a beeping monitor. She looks diminished. Forlorn. Or is she drugged? Her eyes are dilated. “You can’t touch her without gloves,” the tech warns, pointing to a sign. Fudge sniffs my gloved hand but looks away. Please, open the cage so I can hold her, I want to say. I can’t even reach my fingers far enough through the bars to touch her. I will myself not to cry.

“I’m so glad we didn’t bring Mickey,” Marc says. “This would really have freaked him out.”  He’s right. It freaks me out. Mickey would have been terrified.

We bring Fudge home the next day. “Hi, honey,” Mickey says, petting her head. Fudge is a bedraggled version of herself. We set up a makeshift IV pole to administer bags of fluids. We give her injections. Pills. Supplements. Fudge is quiet. She sleeps most of the time and eats little.  But she still purrs. I wonder: is she signaling contentment, or trying to soothe herself? 

Not an hour goes by that Mickey doesn’t ask, “Is she going to die? Is she still dying? Is she weak? Is she still young? Just a little young? Will she come back when she dies? I want her to come back. Why can’t she come back? When Fudge dies you have to put her in a box in the back yard.” 

 “Is that where you think we should bury her?” I ask, thinking that might give all of us some measure of comfort.  

“NO!” he says. “Don’t bury her.” 

His questions exhaust me. I can’t explain the finality of death. I barely understand it myself. 

I watch as he squats on the floor beside Fudge. He croons, “How are you, my pretty girl?” After a while, he looks up and says, "Fudge needs her blessings." 

I’m unsure what he means, but I take her in my arms. She is so emaciated that I can feel the fragile architecture of her rib cage.  

You think you will have a pet forever. You bathe her. Groom her. Feed her treats. Nurse her through surgery. You buy her fishing pole toys and feather ticklers and little bouncy balls with bells in them. You do these things for her, even when she hawks up hairballs on your best rug. You do them because of her sweet squeaks and trills, and the way she always—always—answers to her name by trilling right back. You do them because of the way she snuggles against your hip whenever you sit on the couch. You do them because every night she sleeps on Mickey’s pillow or the foot of Jonathan’s bed, lulling them to sleep with the sound of her motorized purr, and because she has the most gentle disposition in a cat you’ve ever seen. You do all these things because she is family. 

And then you have to let her go. 

What we didn’t realize, when we first fell in love with that delicious caramel and chocolate colored kitten, was that someday we would have to make hard decisions. Fudge has given all of us joy for nearly 15 years. But we know that soon there will come an awful day, after months of suffering, when she will let us know that it is time to go. Marc and I will stay with her in those final moments, just as we did with our two other cats, cradling and whispering and stroking her, until her heart stops beating. We will walk out of that vet’s office without her. 

And then we will have to tell Mickey and Jonathan that our pet is gone. 

There is no “good” way to lose your pet. There isn't. But here’s the thing I return to again and again. Just as it is with people, either we choose to engage, to love, knowing that every relationship is time-limited ... or we choose never to love at all.  

Knowing this from the beginning doesn’t make it hurt any less at the end.



Comment Options

Steve Kieselstein (not verified)

Fudge

So sorry Liane.

Anonymous

This was so beautifully

This was so beautifully wrtitten ... felt my eyes tearing up as I have been thru this exact experience myself.  You are an amazing writer!  So sorry ...Best,Diana Di Carlo 

Anonymous

:(

I'm so so sorry. i wrote a post in April about losing my dog, my well, my dog, after so many years and how my son (almost 4 and ASD) at the time didn't seem to notice. SO I thank you for this. Found you via Love That Max. 

Anonymous

It's Never Easy..Sorry for your loss

Liane,"Just as it is with people, either we choose to engage, to love, knowing that every relationship is time-limited ... or we choose never to love at all."What a powerful and poignant statement, a gift of love for you and your family. We've lost many animals over the years, and it was no easier explaining the death of our pet to our children than it was sharing with them the life and death of an older brother they never had the chance to meet.I have no doubt that you did and continue to help your sixteen-year old understand the delicate balance between life and death. Helping our daughter understand the death of her cat was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. May I share with you something I wrote about that day?http://thefivefacets.blogspot.com/2010/06/olivers-story-retold.html  All my best to you and your family....Yours in healing...     ~AE

Annah, what a painful,

Annah, what a painful, poignant piece about your daughter coming to terms with her grief. Thank you for sharing it. My best to you and your family too.

Anonymous

Liane, this is so beautiful,

Liane, this is so beautiful, both your testimony to your beloved pet and the depth of dialogue you had with your son.  I'm tearing up at both (and remembering losing my dog in college, I need chocolate!).  Lovely piece!

Anonymous

Saying Goodbye

I'm so glad you took her home.  When it was time to let Belle, our dear 14 year old Akita, go, it was on the cold floor of the Vet's office, and I always regretted it, feeling like she deserved better, despite the fact that we were there with her, petting and loving her till the end.  Then last week, when our beloved cat, Simba, came to the end of his life, he did so on his pillow in my bedroom, comfortable, quiet, and peaceful, and surrounded by love and warmth.  While it is painful to say goodbye to a furry family member no matter how it happens, my daughter and I just felt better about having him at home when it was his time to go to the Rainbow Bridge, where I want to believe Belle was waiting for him.  Thank you for your wonderful story!

Anonymous

Saying Goodbye

My husband and I had to put our beloved Bichon "to sleep" in May. The time we had dreaded had come, we could no longer justify her living with obvious signs of illness' which were not going to get better. You will once again know when the time is right and that you cannot justify his/her living to prevent the grief her family will suffer. I hope your son is able to understand...remembering how sick she was and that she is no longer suffering. Personally, I find knowing what we must soon do is almost as bad as doing the deed. We then can mourn and let time take care of the rest. I wish you all well!

Anonymous

Oh, Liane, I'm sitting here

Oh, Liane, I'm sitting here sobbing and totally relate to everything you wrote. It is heartbreaking to lose a beloved pet -- and especially to be the ones to have to make that decision. I'm sending you lots of love and strength. xo

Anonymous

so sorry for you

Liane, I had to put our Cavalier King Charles to sleep several years ago. It was very difficult. My heart goes out to your family. Thanks for sharing your experience so eloquently, as usual.

Anonymous

So beautiful

Our pets are with us such a brief time. What a beautiful explanation of why we allow ourselves the inevitable pain. 

Anonymous

We said goodbye to our own

We said goodbye to our own eighteen-year-old cat this past December. It still hurts to think of her final moments, but she is remembered with so much love. Thank you, Liane, for validating all of our losses with this lovely tribute to Fudge. 

Anonymous

On Saying Goodbye

So very sorry, Liane. It's never easy to lose a furry member of the family, and how painful and confusing for your son to not quite "get it."Still, how much worse to have lived without the love of these wonderful friends. 

Anonymous

poignent and insightful.

poignent and insightful. there is no good way, pets are additional children.but this is the way of all flesh, and a gentler lesson about life than if a human relative went. cant hide from it.Celebrate after, make a toast, show respect, put on a brave face for all concerned.wait till spring, when kittens are born, take mickey to the shelter,and get a new kitten. 

Anonymous

Fudge

Wow. This is so moving. You are such a good writer. You're amazing Liane. 

Anonymous

Losing a pet

We're facing this with our 16 year old dog, or will in the next year. And we've faced it before. You're right: no easy way. Blessings to you, your family and lovely Fudge. If I posted the Rainbow Bridge and had to read it again I wouldn't stop crying, but you know of course you'll all see Fudge again...Sending loveCarol...  www.carolcassara.com

Anonymous

Lovely Tribute to a Beloved Pet

Thanks! I'm remember the joy and sadness of all my lost "loveys".Janeen

Anonymous

Fudge

So painful
Better to have loved deeply than not at all.
Deep love is strengthening, enriching and comforting.
All that love stays in your heart forever.

Xxx
Carole