growinghumans


The Curious Death of Joey the Cat
November 17, 2016, 7:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

One of my cats –Joey–died last week.

I want to talk about it.


 

Last year Joey suffered from a stroke; a pretty bad one. He went to jump up onto our bed and missed and fell onto the floor, with no use of his legs whatsoever. He couldn’t get to the food bowl, he couldn’t get to the litter box, he couldn’t get anywhere.

We packed him with soft blankets and pillows in any room we were in at the time and waited for his inevitable death. 4 days later, he was up and walking around. He was a little off balance,  a little scattered, but 100% not dead.

He maintained this sort of mentality for maybe 9 months, then this year–a few months ago–he started having terrible seizures. They started off as just happening in the middle of the night and at first we didn’t even realize they were seizures. We would hear him yowling downstairs and turn on the light and he would be sitting in a puddle of pee. When we finally witnessed him seizing–spinning around, stumbling, moving into the corners of rooms and then yowling uncontrollably after–we thought, again, that death was fast approaching. Our Tiny Human, who we had already prepped for pet death during the stroke, was shockingly level headed through the whole thing. She would sit with him, pet and love on him, and told us it would be okay for him to go because then he wouldn’t feel so sick.

Again, this cat didn’t die. One day he just stopped having seizures. Like it never happened.

When I was growing up, we had a cat named Smokey who had graves disease and hated basically everything except for my mom and dad. He died when I was a teenager and I remember my parents being so prepared for the moment. My dad moved him into the kitchen when he could no longer walk, and placed him on some blankets and towels and my sister and I sat beside him and watched with morbid curiosity what death looked like. We stroked his still soft and shiny fur up until the end. As his little cat heart stopped and he was fading from us, he stretched out his entire body–like he was leaping towards something. We all gasped watching him move in such a strong manner when moments before he couldn’t even move his tail. When he was as stretched as he could go, he took his last breath. He died in his house, warm and safe, with his family next to him.

Last week, we noticed Joey was missing from the house. Cats are a weird pet to have in which you can never really pin point the last time you saw them. Mia was the first to notice that night, when feeding the animals, Joey did not come down to eat–and he was not one to miss a meal. I also thought this was weird and we searched all over the house. Closets, under beds, in the garage, by the hot water heater, the crawl space. We shoot the food bag which made my other cat go mildly crazy, but there was no sight of Joey.

We then went to search outside. It was dark and cold out at this point. Oscar, the other cat, is the one who likes to escape outside and hide under our porch from the other cats, pretending he is a wild animal in his natural habitat. Joey very rarely would venture out of the house. He knew where the food was. He wasn’t a moron. When he did sneak out, he would be pawing at the door about 12 minutes later, having had his fill of nature.

None of us could recall him getting out that day, which was concerning but nothing that we panicked over. I stood in the middle of my culdesac, shaking the food bag as Tiny Human and my husband patrolled the back yard, shaking a bowl of food.

As I mentioned in another blog, a skeptical and possibly magical cat appeared at the sounds…but no Joey.

It got very cold that night and dread started to sink in.

I started asking my neighbors the next day if they had seen him. Our elderly neighbor, who feeds all of the cats in the neighborhood had also not seem him but said he would keep an eye out. Everyone says that. Everyone says they will keep an eye out do whatever they can to help.

My neighbor wasn’t lying about it. The next day, in the afternoon as I was leaving to go pick up Tiny Human from school, he stopped me in my driveway. “I was asking some of the people who live behind us if they had seen your cat. The woman who lives directly behind me said that she had seen him on her porch a few days ago,” he started telling me, giving me hope. “I started looking around the wooded area between our houses. There is a storm drain tunnel back there…I found a dark grey cat in there…” he started to drift off for a moment, searching for the words to tell his neighbor that he had found her dead cat. “I don’t know if he’s your Joey, he certainly looks like him. He wasn’t alive…I have him over here, covered up. I’ll lift it up so you can see his face, but I won’t show you the rest of his body.”

I followed him up his driveway, feeling numb. A grey cat. There are plenty of grey cats. I was sure this wasn’t going to be our cat. As promised, he lifted up the black garbage bag covering the body. The face was Joey. Tiny black nose, impossibly small, sharp teeth, yellow eyes. It was like getting kicked in the stomach and I immediately burst into tears, kneeling down next to him. “Can I see the rest of him to make sure? He had a pouch under his tummy…” My neighbor cut me off there. “I won’t let you see the rest of him. It will upset you more. There is a pouch, I can tell you that.” I nodded and remained down next to him, sobbing for a few more seconds. His name came  pouring out of my mouth, begging an explanation. “Why were you out here? Why did you die alone? Did you leave knowing that we loved you?”

My neighbor, single and no kids,  grew kindly awkward and kept saying ,”I’m so sorry.” I eventually stood up and got myself together. I thanked him and gave him a hug, which was even more kindly awkward in it’s blatant surprise of affection. “Do you want me to bury him? I have two cats already buried back there. He can rest with them, if you want.” I said yes that would be lovely.

I went and got my Tiny Human from school and of course the first question out of her mouth was “Did you find Joey yet?” I tried to lay it off, with my voice slightly quivering, “We will talk about that when we get home.”

When we pulled into the driveway, my neighbor was digging the hole for Joey on the side of his house. Well. I guess we are doing this now.

I turned around and took Tiny Human’s hand. “We did find Joey,” I squeezed her hand, perhaps more for my benefit than her’s. “He was not alive anymore.”

She looked back at me with her wide brown eyes, unflinching for now.

“Not alive?” She asked quietly.

Shit.

“No, he was hiding in a tunnel and had died, love.”

She nodded and started blinking quickly. She was trying not to cry. This-of course-made me burst into tears, which then moved her tears along, as well. We sat in my car, hands clutched and crying for a few minutes.

“Can I see him?” she asked.

Shit.

“Let’s go ask if we can see him one last time,” I answered, praying that she wouldn’t need much therapy after this.

We walked over to where he was digging the little grave. The body was already in there, the first layer of dirt outlining his body. I told my neighbor that my Tiny Human wanted to say goodbye to Joey. He nodded but didn’t seem to know what to do for a moment. Then, he knelt down and brushed away some of the dirt. Not a lot–not enough to show his face or really anything, but he brushed off enough to see the dark grey fur of our cat. Tiny Human teared up again and nodded. “Goodbye, Joey. I’ll go tell Oscar that you are gone. I’ll give him a hug.”

 

That night was emotional, to say the least. Watching a 6 year old come to terms with death in that sort of horrifying way made my heart feel like it was full of pebbles; little cairns stacked inside of my rib cage.

We sat on the couch and ate some popcorn as a family, which was Joey’s favorite treat, and tried to come to terms with the lack of closure we were given with our well loved pet. I kept lamenting on how he was cold and wet and alone when he died. I couldn’t rationalize that. He never went outside. He certainly never got lost. I couldn’t make sense of it. Pets, loved ones, anyone, should never die alone. They should pass peacefully holding someones hand and hearing reassuring voices.

My Tiny Human, the old soul that she is, slowly spoke up. “Mommy, you know how you tell me you need privacy when you are in the bathtub?” Yes. I sure do. “Well,” she continued, “maybe Joey just needed privacy.”

 

Maybe Joey just needed privacy.

I knew it was a thing. My mother had warned me to look out for such a thing. She told me that when cats die, they will go into hiding. They will get into little places with no intent of getting out. Certainly at the time we thought this mostly was contained to an in the house death, nothing with the grandeur of leaving your property and getting just far enough away from us so it was impossible to find, at first.

I realized it. It all clicked. He knew he was going to die. He somehow got out of the house–a planned escape–and found the best place he could to give up his precious life.

The idea horrified me. How could anyone want to die alone? But, then I started thinking about my own mentality when I am in the deepest depths of depression; how I feel when the madness of suicide is nipping at my heels.

I isolate myself.

I don’t answer calls.

I shy away from any sort of physical affection.

Maybe, deep down, we are all like cats. When faced with life’s hard–and perhaps final–challenges and decisions, we would all decide to hunker down and not be a bother to anyone else. No pomp. No circumstance. Just the sound of your own heart slowing down and then whatever it is that happens as soon as it stops.

Maybe, though,  it’s not that we don’t want to be alone–it’s that other people cannot conceive leaving US alone. I know that day when I saw Joey’s limp body in the driveway, all I could wail on about was not being there for him in his last moments.

Not being alone has less to do with what the person wants themselves and more to do with how everyone else around us copes.

It is those people who insist on you not being alone, those people who will drag you from your bed kicking and screaming, who will text you every hour on the house, who will email you loving inquiries, those are the people who are really doing the hard work. Laying still and fading alone is easy. Convincing me to not do that is hard.

Life is hard.

Depression is hard.

Admitting you need help is hard.

But once you get past all of that, being alone suddenly becomes hard. Feeling hopeless and beyond help becomes hard. Giving up feels hard.

Life is hard. Love is easy.

Thank you for the lesson, Joey.

 

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