We debate the following to no end at Tabby’s Place:
Is it easier to say goodbye when we’ve had a long time to prepare?
Or does the suddenness of loss spare us a searing season of grief?
There’s no black-and-white answer here, no single solution that applies across all souls. If there’s a universal truism about losing a cat, it’s this: nothing makes it okay. There’s no real “preparing” for the reality of goodbye. We’re attached after five minutes, and fifty eons would fail to be enough.
Death never feels right, because, simply, it isn’t.
All of this came crashingly into view this week, as we were battered with two losses.
First came a whiplash turn in tuxedo Lil. Despite her age and cloudy eye, everything about Lil shouted vibrancy. Chattering around Suite B, trotting after your feet in the hunt for red-hot affection, Lil was a woman in love with life and in charge of her destiny. Equally strong and sweet, Lil had been at Tabby’s Place only six months, but she felt like a lifelong companion we’d always loved.
Tuesday morning, a volunteer raced in to tell our staff that a cat was lying down in a weird, worrisome way. Despite our hopes that this was a well-intentioned overreaction, Lil was indeed flat as a broken pancake. Quick work by Denise revealed that Lil’s veins nearly coursed with syrup. Although Lil was not previously diabetic, her blood glucose (BG) level was now too high for the meter to read, and her kidneys were groaning to go on.
Each hour, Denise dosed Lil with fast-acting insulin. This should have eased her BG back into the realm of life. It didn’t. Dr. C feared that Lil had developed an exceedingly rare form of hyperglycemia (elevated BG) with a perilously low survival rate. Combined with her suddenly-failing kidneys, this did not bode well for Lil. Still, we clutched at hope, and Denise began the trek to Dr. Fantastic with our fading girl in tow.
A mere 15 minutes into the ride, Lil’s eyes pleaded: please let me go. Courage mustered and broken heart in her throat, Denise turned around and brought brave, beautiful Lil home so we could all embrace her as she gently left this world.
I wasn’t ready. None of us were ready. Would it have been different if we’d known for months that Lil had her course set for heaven? Was it easier for us to know that she didn’t suffer until her final hours on earth? I don’t know.
It’s never easy, because death is never okay.
That was punctuated when, within hours of Lil’s passing, we received the following email from Amy D. Long time Tabbyphiles will remember Amy’s adoptee Vinny, the alumnus with the eminent distinction of looking exactly like Jack Nicholson. Amy wrote:
“It is with a broken heart that I write you all to let you know that sweet Vinny passed away surrounded by loved ones last night. This has to be the hardest email I’ve had to write.
“It was January 2012 when Vinny was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he had the growth removed at that time. Vinny had a seizure this past January, almost two years after his brain surgery to the day, and it lasted a minute and all was well. When the second seizure came a week later, I took him to the specialist for a diagnosis.
“An MRI last month confirmed that another brain tumor had begun growing. I struggled with the choice about brain surgery again, and I decided to go with steroids to just ease the swelling of the tumor, and make Vinny as happy and comfortable as possible.
“Seizures continued, once a week, always for a minute, and Vinny would regain his full happy personality afterwards, exhibiting no fear and no lasting problems.
“Last night’s seizure ended up lasting from 7:30 until he was put down at 9pm, and it was an awful time. I knew it was the right time to let him go, that’s all I knew. He went peacefully, and he was surrounded by as much love as he gave to this world.
“I’m not sure how to put into words the gratefulness I feel towards Tabby’s Place, because you entrusted Vinny to me for the past WONDERFUL 4 years and 9 months, and my life has been forever changed for the better thanks to that loving, sweet, happy little boy. You gave Vinny a second chance at a good life, and I worked to give him more chances as well, especially with the brain surgery two years ago. That bought some precious memories and precious time. The boy deserved nothing but the best.
“I loved that little boy with all my heart and being, and it’s so sad and strange that he’s not here anymore. It feels like longer than almost 5 years with him.
“My prayers of thankfulness for Vinny are owed to you all – you are angels on earth – and I hope you will always continue to do what you do for the sweet lives you save and love so much.
“Thank you, thank you, for sweet Vinny, my thankfulness is beyond words.”
We are the grateful ones, Amy.
I suppose “grateful” is the place we find peace this side of the veil.
Love makes time expand and contract, such that six months or 4 years and 9 months feel like a blessed lifetime, and all we can do is breathe thank you. As we do, may we believe that the One we thank holds Lil and Vinny and Webster and all our lost loves safe and secure and fully alive. May we breathe gratitude up through the day we meet again, when “never okay” is made right at last.
Photo credits from de top: AT, Mark, Jess B, Amy, AT.