All of the posts so far on Grief Stories have been about human grief and loss. Today I have a beautiful piece from one of my former fellow Her View From Home writers about pet loss. I can remember one of the only times I ever saw my dad cry (before Joey got sick, of course) was when our childhood pet, the cutest ugly mutt you ever saw, died when I was 14. My dad and I sat on my bed together and cried. With humans, there are all sorts of complex emotions involved; but with pets, it's just about love. Welcome Kelly!
"Grief is so painfully real, regardless of its origin. The love of, and attachment to, an animal friend can equal that of human relationships. Likewise, the loss of an animal can be just as devastating." -Rev. Joel L. Morgan
My first “baby” was a tiny grey kitten named Bailey. He was far from my first pet and definitely not my last, but he was my first grown up out in the world on my own pet. Bailey was around for my college life moving from place to place. He was there when I got married. He was there through family deaths and the deaths of other pets. He was there for me when friendships faded and new friendships were made. He was there when my husband and I moved out of our college town to our first “real” jobs in a bigger city. He was there when our first two children were born.
Always stoic, he could sense when we needed him and cuddled close. He was a smart cat and used to alert us to “danger”. Like the time the wind blew a screen out of the window while we were at work. He didn’t even try to escape into the real world; he just waited by the garage door for me to come home from work and meowed until I followed him to check out the damage. When there was something wrong once with the wiring in an outlet and he sat under it and meowed off and on until it was replaced. Or anytime I would use the self-cleaning option on the oven and he would meow until it started to cool down, certain we were about to burn down the house. He used to meow to get my attention and then lead me to other things too, like his food bowl if it was empty or his litter box if it needed changed. Even though he acted as if he could live without these tiny humans we brought into his life, when my children were babies he used to sit outside their doors when they would cry at night or naptime until I could get to their rooms and check on them.
He was an unusual cat in so many ways. He used to love going on car rides (probably because of all the times I moved him around when I was in college). Sometimes he would even stick his head out of the window like a dog. We had to keep all fruit except for bananas and apples in the refrigerator because he would jump on to the counter at night or when we were gone and eat them. He especially liked cucumber, cantaloupe, and nectarines. We used to joke that he would tell on himself before doing something naughty. We always knew he was about to jump on the counter because he had a certain meow he would do right before jumping up.
As he aged we used to say he was turning into a grumpy old man cat. Even though he lost his kitten playfulness and moved a little slower, he was still the sweet loving cat he always had been. Then one day his fur starting looking extra scruffy and he wasn’t eating or drinking like he should. I knew something was wrong, something beyond old age. He eventually stopped grooming himself and would hide for most of the day. The kids had become too much for him to deal with. I made an appointment to see the vet and he went downhill quickly. By the time I took him to the vet, he had completely stopped eating and was barely drinking water. For the first time in his twelve years of life he didn’t quite make it to the litter box.
At the time my son was four and my daughter was one. We told our son Bailey may not come home. We also didn’t want him to worry if a human in his life got sick they would go to the doctor and never come back. So we decided at his young age to tell him that sometimes pets get sick and there just aren’t as many treatments for animals as there are for people, which is one of those half-truths. The ones you tell because it’s too much to explain to a four year old that prolonging a pet’s life is expensive and often is done more for the human not the animal. Because it is so hard to say goodbye, even though we always knew we would out live our cat. That most of the time it’s just better to let your pet die, because they can’t tell us how much pain they are in or how much they are suffering. And all the other reason we as adult must consider when making the decision to end a pet’s life.
We said our goodbyes, had a last cuddle, and then I left my family at home and took my fur baby to the vet. He was always a mellow cat and rarely freaked out about car rides or vet trips, but this time he was just lethargic as I took him in. I knew deep down it was the beginning of the end. I knew that if it was something bad I would end his suffering, no matter how much I wanted to keep him around. They did blood work and came back to tell me what I already had guessed, his kidneys were failing. They gave me the options. The treatment plans, the daily medications, or putting him to sleep. I told them my choice was to put him to sleep, and the vet comforted me by saying it was what she would have done too.
Then they left me to say goodbye to my friend. The one who never cast judgment, who was there through tears and laughter, who stayed by my side when I was sick, who slept in my bed almost every night, the one who loved me unconditionally. Even though I knew I had made the right decision I cried as I told him how sorry I was, how much I loved him, and what a good cat he was. I stayed by his side to the end, not wanting him to be alone with strangers for a moment. I wanted him to have a familiar voice and scent to hopefully give him some comfort. The vet gave him the shot and thankfully he went peacefully.
Bailey wasn’t the first pet I have had to say goodbye to, and he won’t be my last. It never gets easier, but the rewards for sharing part of your life with an animal (if it’s the right pet for you and/or your family) are worth the heartache in the end.
|Bailey, courtesy of Kelly Maeser|
Kelly is a stay at home mom to a son (7) and two daughters (4 and 3 months). She mostly writes about movies and books, but also throws in musings on life on her blog Pieces of Me. She is also working on editing her first YA novel and hoping to get it ready for an agent search soon! You can find her movie reviews on Her View From Home. And you can follow Kelly on Facebook and Twitter.