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March 12, 2007

Love is watching someone die

Haven't meant to turn this into a once-per-month blog, but on the other hand, have never had a particular intent about how often to post here in the first place. I figure anyone who wants to keep up has got it on RSS, no?


The last couple of weeks have been hard. A little over two weeks ago, Francis and I took Celestine to the vet; only Francis and I came back.

I'm being euphemistic because I've honestly had a really hard time around the language for this. "She died" doesn't seem right; we took her to the vet, who killed her. "We killed her" doesn't seem right; it wasn't *like* that. "We had her put down" just gives me the creeps for some reason; I've never liked that turn of phrase. And I've never been one to use language like "She passed on" or "She's in kitty heaven" or that sort of crap.

But she's gone.

I first met Celestine on the breezeway of my apartment building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I'd been putting in some laundry, and I saw a sweet little tabby cat, a couple of months old, and I stopped to fuzzle it. A crazy lady came out of her apartment and started yelling at me, to get away from her cat. She was a well-known crazy lady in the apartment complex; she and her boyfriend were dopehead troublemakers. The next time I saw the little cat, she was sitting in an empty flowerpot, staring into space, and didn't move much when I walked up to her. I was alarmed about her condition, and smuggled her off to my apartment.

My boyfriend and I coaxed her back to cathood -- she'd clearly been inhaling an enormous amount of pot smoke (her fur stank of it), and she was nervous and unhappy. The vet suggested making a huge box that we could put her food and water in, so she could come out when she felt like it, and that helped a lot.

That was my first apartment, and she and I have been together ever since. She's lived everywhere I have, met every man I've been involved with. We've been all over the country together, and even lived in Canada for a bit (where she got knocked up and had three kittens!). I midwifed her kittens, and helped nurse the one who never got the hang of suckling. She's been with me through depressions and breakups and job changes and school and, well, all of my adulthood.

And for the last year she's been declining, and I've been having to watch and figure out when it was time to let her die. Nothing really dramatic happened the day I realized; she'd thrown up, but cats throw up -- it's one of the things they do. But when I helped clean her up (she hadn't been much good at grooming herself for months and months), she seemed *so* frail, so dependent. And I thought about how much time she'd been spending hiding. And about how she'd lost so much weight. And about how wobbly she was on her paws. And suddenly I knew.

The last few days were filled with tuna and milk and tears. Francis and I took her to the vet that Saturday, and the vet explained our options, but when we asked what the odds were that anything she'd suggested would actually improve Celestine's quality of life, she admitted that not much was likely to. We asked if she thought euthanasia was the right thing, and she was a little mealy-mouthed, but just because she was nervous, too. She told us she wouldn't let anyone put down a healthy cat, and she looked really sad, and we said, okay, this is what we're doing, then.

It all happened really fast. She came in and gave Celestine a muscle relaxant, but that was actually the only bit of the whole exam/procedure that she complained about -- she reared around and gave a little fussy hiss at the vet. And I wanted to say, "Shh, baby, it's okay," but it *wasn't* okay. I stood right close to the table and cradled her head in my right hand, and her body in my left, as she lay on the table. The vet came back in a couple of minutes and gave her the second injection, and she died in my hands. I couldn't tell what the exact moment of death was, but I became aware that she was staring off fixedly, and that she wasn't breathing. She felt floppy and soft and very small, and I bawled. Francis asked if she was dead and I told him she was and he cried with me.

I was going to say I cried like a baby, but that's not at all how I cried. I cried like a grownup who had to make a horrible, painful decision.

I'm still so sad, even though I have no regrets at all. I think I did pretty well at measuring her quality of life, and that I didn't choose euthanasia either too soon or too late. But it sucks. She'd been with me for half my life.

And now she's gone.

Posted by Rose at 12:53 PM | Comments (4)