Lessons From a Dying Cat
She weighs less than a 5-pound bag of sugar. When I stroke her back the vertebral ridges ripple against my hand like a row of rounded buttons. Her breath is strong and repellant. She eats little and drinks less. Her fur, no longer sleek and thick, is still soft. Her petite paws, once sure-footed in high narrow places, now step with measured care across the safety of the floor. She requires 150 mL of injected fluid daily to survive. She’s almost forgotten how to purr.
She’s affectionate and lovable. She is interactive, and seeks out the companionship of her humans. She tolerates the dogs’ rowdy exuberance with good grace. She enjoys an occasional treat, but prefers baby food these days. Her eyes are soulful, intelligent, and green. When I go to bed at night she lies on my chest and tries to purr. She’s lost her motorboat sound and her purring, when it occurs, is subtle. She loves to press the side of her face against my hand, my chin, my cheek.
She is Bailey, the sweetest cat God ever made, and she’s dying.
The progression of her kidney disease affords only two options. We can make her comfortable, or we can euthanize her. Today we’re making her comfortable. I don’t know about tomorrow.
Sometimes, such as now while I’m writing this, she leaps into my lap. In this she is as graceful as she ever was. She pushes her little gray nose against my arm, a silent plea for affection, and I oblige. My home office is a tad chilly today, and Bailey’s deteriorating body shivers against my thighs until our mutual nearness warms her. She makes a noise that might be a purr. I lean close and listen. It is. I rub my nose over the downy fur between her ears. She responds and presses back. I tell her I love her, that she’s made our lives better. She lifts her narrow face and those green, green eyes look into mine, and I wonder, what is she trying to say? Thank you for taking care of me in my old age, or Please, please . . . if you love me, let me go.
God help me, I don’t know which it is.
So I promise to love her, and to keep my heart open. That’s all I can do.
That’s all any of us can ever do.