Seven minus two


Northport, Alabama

Five years after we met, we said goodbye.

The stray I named Grandpa Kitty — I never thought he’d stick around long enough for a “real name” — died in my arms yesterday morning under the gentle hands of my longtime veterinarian, Dr. Jimmy Canant. Grandpa had lost over half his body weight, ravaged by a tumor in his stomach estimated to be the size of a large orange. I spent two hours hashing over the options. There were none.

And though I don’t believe in euthanasia, Boogie’s death last October taught me one thing — there is no dignity in a natural death. It’s a screaming, clawing, fight-to-the-end struggle. The body tries so very hard to hang on. Sometimes it’s time to let go.

He rammed his head against my chest, rubbed his face on me, and purred as I tried to make the decision. When I think about this, I think I made the wrong decision. To take a life — a living, breathing, loving life … I am conflicted. I didn’t want him to suffer for my own selfishness. I didn’t know what to do.

The vet told me he had lost so much weight because the tumor filled his stomach and kept him from wanting to eat. That even if I force-fed him, his body wouldn’t be unable to absorb the nutrients. He would still starve. Surgery was out of the question because even if he could survive the anesthesia, which the vet doubted in his weakened state, the tumor was tied to other major organs and would be difficult, if impossible, to sever. Even if that hurdle was leaped, such an advanced cancer was likely to have spread to lymph nodes and other areas in his body.

Very gently, my vet told me that if I was considering surgery to assauge my own guilt, that I shouldn’t do it. That I should take myself out of the equation for a moment and do what was truly best for him. I’ve never believed I had the right to play God. I still don’t. But as Grandpa rubbed against my hands, my vet softly said, “He’s enjoying every minute of that. It’s never going to be better than at this moment. It’s going to get so much worse.”

And I knew he was right.

I saved him from the streets to offer him a dignified life. To spare him the gasping, screaming death of being hit by a car, mauled by dogs. I didn’t save him to watch him starve. To watch his organs fail one by one. To watch him go into convulsions as the kidneys shut down, to vomit uncontrollably as the liver devoured itself, to watch him lapse into a coma, unresponsive to my touch.

He died purring, my arms wrapped around him.

I carried him home and washed him gently, then laid him in his newly laundered bed, placed his mouse between his paws, and covered him with a piece of the forest green Vellux blanket that used to be on my bed but has since been sliced up to make beds for all the kitties. A piece of the same blanket covers Boogie’s body. I sprinkled rose petals over his body and taped two photographs on the container of his box — photos of Aslan the great lion from The Chronicles of Narnia.

My friend Kevin, always there when I need him, was kind enough to come dig a hole beneath the fig tree, beside Boogie. I sprinked one more set of rose petals over the top of the box and then he and Nicholas scraped the dirt over the top. I placed a vase of roses (the ones from the airport) on top. It was done.

Today’s photograph is a composite of seven individual images taken about three years ago when our family was whole. Grandpa is in the front, so fat it’s almost absurd. On the bench, from left to right are: Zolby, Rusty, Lily, Cookie, Alexander, and my beloved Boogie. Our life was perfect when this photo was taken. We lived in a very nice apartment. Our cats were in the prime of their health.

Things change. Life changes. The circle continues.

Music: Kitty by Presidents of the United States of America (lyrics)

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