As my regular readers already know, Arthur the cat was diagnosed with incurable cancer last Thursday. By this Monday, it was clear that the medications intended to keep him out of pain were not working. After watching him decline steadily each day after his grim diagnosis, I knew that euthanizing him was unambiguously the right thing to do. When J and I took Arthur to the vet on Monday afternoon, I felt that we all three were ready for Arthur's suffering to end. I also felt that the knowledge that we were doing what was best would somehow make it easy to carry out our decision.
Well, it was not easy. I stayed with Arthur while the vet administered the drugs, first Valium to calm him a bit and then an overdose of anesthesia to permanently end his pain. I gave him one last kiss on the head, thanked him for 11 fine years, and wished him well on his journey while the vet did her thing, and by the time she finished the second injection he was gone. She checked with the stethoscope to make sure, but I knew he was gone. It is hard to explain how or why, but I was aware of the exact moment of his death. I just knew.
Although I have had a couple of experiences with pets and humans who clearly were in the process of dying, this was the first time that I was present at the moment when a soul actually crossed over. It was such a strange sensation to be in the presence of a creature who was alive one second and dead the next. After the vet hugged me and left the room, I finally allowed myself to cry freely as I kept uncontrollably stroking Arthur's body, which looked so much smaller without his animating spirit there any more. I wondered if his soul was still hanging around and watching from above, and maybe understanding the full depth of my love for him.
My grief for Arthur began the instant I knew he was gone, and it has not yet stopped. Although it seems silly in retrospect, I was somehow thinking that I would get to skip the grieving process because I knew that Arthur's death was for the best, but it does not work that way, does it? I found myself totally unable to intellectualize my way out of feeling depressed. One of the best things I did for myself this week -- on Tuesday morning when I woke up and realized that I was a hopeless wreck, all for the love of a dead cat -- was to stop trying to feel any differently and just be with the grief for a while. I know that these feelings will pass, as do all people, things, thoughts, and emotions, but while they want to be here I will not try to suppress them or make them go away.
I know I've said this more than once before, but I think that we humans really do ourselves a great disservice when we fear and seek to avoid death and when we try to escape from or otherwise deny the more difficult and painful human emotions that can be associated with it. It is an inescapable truth that everything that lives will one day die. In my experience at least, it also is an inescapable truth that suppressed emotions don't really go away, but rather in their unresolved states keep finding new and creative ways to torment us. In what must be the greatest of all paradoxes, it is in seeking to avoid death and pain that we bring ourselves greater pain and prevent ourselves from living fully while we are here.
It seems to me that acknowledging death and difficult emotions as an integral part of our human experience is a more honest and ultimately more peaceful approach to them, so I am going to grieve for Arthur the cat until I'm all grieved out. Right now I still miss my kitty, sometimes so much that I cry, but I know that it is OK (actually better than OK) to feel this way. Thank you, Arthur -- you taught me a lot, both in life and in death.