Remembering the death of a cat, our cat. How do you deal with the death of a pet? 6-8 minute read.
Luna’s obituary did not appear in The New York Times. Nor could you have found it in The Baltimore Sun or even in The Towson Times despite her long residence in the area. She was not widely known, except to those who loved her. Yet, to paraphrase Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid. . . .Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person,” to such a cat.
Latte Becomes Luna
Latte became Luna almost immediately after we got her from a friend who was moving. She was a 14-year-old cat. My daughter thought she would be the perfect companion for her father (aka Gramps) who had been admitted to assisted living. To put it less delicately, “I’m getting Gramps an old cat who won’t outlive him and leave us stuck with another cat.” We already had Butterfly and Alistair, entrenched opponents in a cold war.
Maybe it was her large luminous eyes, or something else not easily named, but Gramps insisted on calling her Luna from the moment he saw her. My daughter had found the perfect companion for him. A tiny, round, light coffee with extra cream-colored British shorthair, she met Gramps at the door, glad to see him every time he returned to his room. She wasn’t vocal, except for the occasional, tentative, “Meow.” But she had a soft, enormously comforting purr. She curled up on the pillow beside him in bed, seeing Gramps through the long watches of the night when he almost certainly confronted the terrifying reality that his keen intellect was quietly ebbing away.
A Tenuous Relationship
Luna and I had a tenuous relationship at the start. She darted under the bed every time I entered the room and stayed there until I’d cleaned her litter box, washed her water dispenser and food dish, and the door closed behind me. I attribute this to the fact that she had to have a health certificate before she could be admitted as a resident in assisted living. I was the one who took her to the veterinarian. In her cat’s logic, oral surgery and various other less intrusive, but equally unwelcome procedures were squarely on me. That I kept her safely in my bedroom for a week and left my closet door open so she could cloister herself among the shoe boxes and dust bunnies—a hitherto unknown concession to cats— did not register with Luna.
Things didn’t work out the way we’d planned. We were faced with what to do with an aging cat who had outlived her beloved companion. Who wants an old cat? Home she came with us, an unwilling adoptee, and to the basement where she could gradually meet the other two furry members of the family and decide if she wanted to join the border skirmishes that broke out upstairs in those moments when the ongoing cold war between Butterfly and Alistair heated up.
No Welcoming Fanfare
I took her food downstairs twice a day. After a couple of days, I stayed for a while, sitting on the floor with my back propped up against a sofa. It was almost a week before she started coming out to meet me when I brought the food. Then one day she rubbed up against my side and climbed over my legs. She wasn’t a lap kitty, but she was not averse to crawling over my person to dive at a tantalizing string.
When it was time to open the kitchen door to the basement there was no welcoming fanfare. Butterfly announced her carefully groomed hostility with a low, rumbling growl. Alistair was already one too many cats for her. The growl swelled into something fit to paint over the intentional graffiti in the tunnel from the 191st Street subway stop in Washington Heights.
Alistair didn’t comment. He looked at Luna from his perch on a chair and blinked his amber eyes, perhaps contemplating the inherent possibilities in another food dish.
Within the week Luna established order, chasing Butterfly upstairs when she said ugly and obscene things and telling Alistair to mind his manners. Smaller than either of them, her presence dominated both like a little old school marm who never has to raise her voice but has the hooligans at the back of the room cowering in their desks. One evening she jumped Alistair. Surprised at first, he went with it, segueing into a highly choreographed fight sequence with enough stalking pouncing rolling, hissing, and kicking, to satisfy a Marvel Moviegoer. Tiny, nearly round as she was long Luna up against a big yellow tabby Lion King twice her size. When either of them had had enough, they walked away. “No hard feelings. Next time tomorrow.”
There's Never Enough Time
Luna woke me at 3:00 am on a Friday, restlessly pacing between her litter box and the corner in my bedroom where she slept and where she took longer and longer naps every day. There seemed to be no comfort for her as morning broke. I called the vet as soon as his office opened.
“She’s ancient,” he said when he looked at her. He’d seen her so often over the past year I thought she should have “frequent paw points.” We were in agreement. Luna was too old and frail for heroics. Her weight was dropping. “She’s shutting down. Take her home. Keep her comfortable. When she quits eating, bring her back. It will be time.”
There’s never enough time. Now, a day later, a Saturday—“caturday” on social media when I posted pictures of the cats: Luna as Empress Dowager, Luna the philosopher with her paw to her chin in a thinker’s pose, Luna with her paws demurely crossed—Saturday, when our veterinarian’s office was closed, she begin meowing continuously, she who rarely spoke except to growl when she captured and pulled on the string we played with every night before bedtime, except she hadn’t wanted to play for the last week or so.
Such a Cat
Such a cat. So hard to hear her crying. It was nearly 2:00 pm when I could finally get her into a Pet Emergency Room. The triage nurse assessed her. Luna’s crying continued, pausing only when she was picked up. I kept her in her carrier during the in between wait times, keeping my arm around her. She was never one to be picked up, less so as her vision failed.
The veterinarian came, a kind young man. “I don’t think she is in pain,” he said. “She doesn’t flinch when I touch the obvious pressure points.” He suggested two options, ruling out a battery of intrusive tests that I’d already mentally ruled out. I knew what he was going to say. She was closing down. We could try a sedative to calm her, but there was no guarantee it would work and she was in obvious stress.
How the mind works is a curious thing. I thought of “Death of a Pig,” E.B. White’s essay written about how a pig he was raising became more than the prospect of ham and bacon over the winter. The pig fell ill, needed him, and died in spite of his tender mercies. “The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of a pig. He had evidently become precious to me…he had suffered in a suffering world.” Latte, who became Luna, was a companion cat, an annoying little ball of fluff who looked at me like I was a known criminal and cat abuser every time I intruded upon her domain in assisted living, a cat who nevertheless had to be incorporated into our household because she had done us the disservice of living longer than we expected.
The veterinarian gave me time to be with her and decide. I called my daughter and granddaughter in England. We’d been texting. We agreed to what we all knew: it was time to let go.
Her head butted up against the crook of my arm, Luna didn’t flinch as the veterinarian injected a pain killer in the long tube leading from her right front paw. Little Luna, the fighter who always came back like the Energizer Bunny, little Luna who became important to us for her own sake. We dubbed her the Empress Dowager. While she was still able to jump on the sofa, we allowed her the indulgence of reclining there, an amenity only she was granted because it was the only place her arthritic back legs would allow her to reach. From there she ruled the household.
“It will be very quick,” the veterinarian told me as he began the injection. The lethal pink began its path to her paw. She didn’t flinch. Ever since the technician had returned her with her right front paw wrapped in a bright orange bandage to protect the port where death would enter, Luna had been calm. No more crying. It was a moment of calm resignation we both seemed to share. She leaned into the crook of my arm, brow pressed against my flannel jacket. Her brow that seemed to be furrowed so much of the time as if she carried thoughts too heavy to bear was now relaxed.
I thanked Luna. I’d thanked her before, but I thanked her again in those last moments as I held her, waiting to participate in her death. I thanked her for the work she did in making Gramps’s life brighter. I thanked her for the unexpected brightness she brought to our family after Gramps passed. I thanked her for making her way into my heart.
Now as the pink reached the port, the veterinarian checked her heart. “She’s gone,” he said. I knew. I’d seen the instant the light left her. She was at peace.
Tears still streaking down my face, I left for the car. At 4:48 pm I texted my girls, “She’s gone. I’m going home.” Home with an empty cat carrier.
Attention Must be Paid
Attention must be paid to such a cat. In her possessive but completely honest way, Butterfly may rejoice at one less cat. It has been months since Alistair had an evening match with Luna. She quit being able to do it sometime early this summer. He missis the play. But life will go on. Her ashes will arrive. I will choose a spot in the backyard garden where I will dig a four-foot-deep grave as required by Maryland state law. She will be laid to rest under pretty flowers where butterflies play.
Attention must be finally paid to such a cat.