I sat with my cat, Faith, in the waiting room of the veterinarian. Faith, a rescue, had been in our family for nearly 11 of her 14 years. And I’d strongly suspected this might be our last trip together.
During her physical, the vet started listing what was wrong. After four years of hyperthyroidism, she now had detached retinas (leading to blindness), renal failure, massive dehydration, and a troubling abdominal issue that might be cancerous.
“There’s a lot going on,” the doctor said, “and while we can do more tests, there’s not many treatments we can really offer …”
My son, 7, understands death. He knew what I meant when I said Faith wasn’t coming home again. He wasn’t there as I held her, or as I looked on when the doctor added a medicine into a syringe. And he wasn’t there as I killed our pet. Yes, it was the humane thing to do, and yes she’d been suffering for months, but I still felt horrible. Like a twisted murderer.
That night, I held my sobbing son in my arms. Grief overrode him, and while I tried to talk to him about the decision, I couldn’t help but wonder about what I’d done. Who am I to play God? At the same time, how will I feel someday if my son has to make the same call about me?
We all live on borrowed time. Eventually, that time runs out. It’s not a pleasant thought, but I couldn’t help but wonder about my final days. Will I deteriorate and my body collapse issue by issue? Will my son, this same sensitive child I’ve raised, determine what to do with his old man’s body? How can I help him understand the nuances and complexities of this decision when I barely understand them myself?
Yes, she was just a cat. She brought joy to our lives before she crossed the so-called “Rainbow Bridge.” Yes, we made the right choice. And yes, in the grand scheme of things, with wars raging, people suffering, a world pummeled by climate change, racism, violence, political uncertainty and more … well, this all seems kind of minor.
Yet, isn’t this minor brush with death the most important reminder of all? If death is the shadow of life we all ignore, maybe it’s good to occasionally recognize that death is there, and not something to be feared. Maybe it’s good to show my son the tears and fears, and hope that within his small, sensitive heart, he has learned that we are all doing the best we can.
I spent the next day setting aside extra time for the kids. We started decorating the house early for Christmas, singing songs and visiting the playground. Not simply to distract, but to remember that in this borrowed time of ours, every moment counts. And as we said goodbye to a pet, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to have such a loving family.
And together, even with the world seeming to succumb to its many ailments around us, we’ll keep focusing on the joys.