figuring it out

memorial

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”–Anatole France

I’ve buried two beloved pets in my life. It’s one of the least pleasant parts of living in this world. I buried Callie, my first dog, 15 years ago. A piece of me was buried when I lay her into the ground. Sorry for being so morose.

When Elin and I let our vet inject our cat Lycklig with the drug that would soon stop her heart it brought back in nightmarish fashion the same experience I had with Callie,  my sweet chocolate Labrador with whom I enjoyed years of three-hour walks and long runs and snuggling on the couch in violation of house rules. In that life, when I would come home from work, Callie came to me wagging her entire 90 lb. body and whining with joy. Sometimes she got so excited she peed.

Lycklig was a stray my wife and her ex-husband brought into their home 12 years ago. She hung out on the compost pile in their backyard chowing on waste until Elin’s ex coaxed her into the garage and built a bed with blankets and a cut-up box. Eventually, when it got really cold, Lycklig found her way inside and joined two other cats and became a part of the family.

When Elin and I got together, Lycklig and I took to each other immediately. She used to sleep on my chest every night. Most of the time she was welcome. Other times, not so much.

We love them to death 90 percent of the time. Except for the occasional “gift” they leave on the living room rug or the den floor, we humans adore our pets.

This is the thing I’ve discovered about pets: We love them to death 90 percent of the time. Except for the occasional “gift” they leave on the living room rug or the den floor, we humans adore our pets. They become as much family as our children. Sometimes they even become more important than some family as we love them more than Grandpa. We bestow human qualities on our cats and dogs and even our geckos. I have a colleague who has a tarantula she calls Spin whom she holds and coddles like a baby. Yeah, wtf.

Our pets can make us change our way of life to accommodate their needs. We’ll go far to make special arrangements for babysitters for our cats and dogs when we travel. Elin left detailed instructions for a neighbor’s daughter to take care of Lycklig and her two feline cousins when we left town. Did I say “detailed instructions”? The orange paper which specified how much of which medicine to give Lycklig and in what order and how to mix looked like a Betty Crocker recipe. Okay, I exaggerate but you get the idea.

They become so integrated into the rhythm of our lives that when it becomes time to say good-bye we are sick with sorrow.

And that’s the thing about humans and our pets. They become so integrated into the rhythm of our lives that when it becomes time to say good-bye we are sick with sorrow. Just as with Callie, when we gave the the okay to the vet to start the process of euthanasia for Lycklig the words choked me. Lycklig was 17 or 18 years old. Two years ago her thyroid went awry and she almost died. The question of euthanizing her came up then too, until we discovered what was going on. I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to her then. This time cancer was invading her insides the vet said. She had severe arthritis so that even lying down in a comfortable position was like watching a creaky old woman prepare to drop into her Barcolounger. She was starting to have a lot of trouble breathing, something the vet warned would get worse shortly.

The thyroid issue laid the foundation for Elin and I to prepare for her eventual death. We humans seem to need time to prepare for the deaths of our pets too. Elin and I both knew Lycklig’s thyroid was going to be the start of our long farewell to Lycklig. Doesn’t it seem that once our cats and dogs have one thing go wrong a bunch of other things follow? I guess it’s like us. Our bodies just start giving out.

Our son Soren is so attached to our cat Splinter that when he dies, it will be as if Soren has lost a sibling.

One of life’s greatest tragedies is to be a kid and lose a pet. Our son Soren is so attached to our cat Splinter that when he dies, it will be as if Soren has lost a sibling. As parents, what we fear is pain our children will face. I was thinking that while Elin and I were going through this process of saying good-bye to Lycklig. I jumped ahead to some future time when Splinter’s health is failing beyond reasonable veterinary medicine. It was almost too much to handle.

We have this incredible domain over our pets.

We have this incredible domain over our pets. We get to decide when their health is too poor to carry on and when it’s time for the vet to inject the life-ending drugs. Elin and I were fence-sitting between ensuring that Lycklig didn’t suffer and not inappropriately cutting off a life that still had quality time left. It is the most real unreal philosophical conundrum we could face.

The vet assured us Lycklig would pass peacefully. Elin and I had hoped she would go naturally and we would be spared the crappy-feeling option of making the decision for her. We spoke gently to her that it was okay to leave us, to sleep peacefully. But Lycklig was always a fighter, Elin said, and wouldn’t quit.

I suppose there are parallels here to these decisions for us too. I don’t want to overindulge in too much comparing euthanizing cats to end-of-life decisions we might face with family. I am aware of the magnitude of death for people we love. I held my mom’s hand 35 years ago when she passed through her cancer. But the emotions we feel at our core are similar. The gut check helps us make better decisions I suppose because of the enormity of ending a life, whether it’s allowing our beloved cat or our spouse to die peacefully,

We buried Lycklig in our backyard on a sunny day this past week. The next day it rained heavily and got cold again. The same way it felt in our hearts.

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