Our friendly, smug, regal, doglike, affectionate, superior, smart, gentle, crooked-eared, beloved cat.
We knew it was inevitable. He was at least 19 years old. It's just not natural for a cat to live that long... he couldn't hear anymore, he creaked when he walked, he was easily startled and he no longer washed his fur or sharpened his claws. His balance was off. He really had become dependent on us (me) to care for him. And he got all the care and love that we could possibly give him, unconditionally.
For the last year, I gently combed his fur, changed the water in all the bowls regularly so he'd want to drink, and I picked the dirty litter out of his paws when he was too uncoordinated to avoid the wet stuff in the box. I'd take a few minutes away from whatever I was doing to curl up on the couch beside him and pet him, slowly, whisper to him uselessly, listen for the creaky purr that I remember being so strong and vigorous. I crushed down my disgust when I found litter critters in my bed. It was all worth it, just to have that cat in my life.
But we knew. As a family we talked about what would come next. Nobody wanted to talk about it but we had to.
Yesterday afternoon it was obvious that his time was running out. He waited for us to come home, but he was done. We held him and cuddled him. His breathing was so shallow. He was weak. The difficult decision was right there in front of us. I had my doubts we'd even get there. I could feel his life drifting out of him, no exaggeration. He was leaving us.
My husband and I took him to the vet, wrapped him a blanket. Nigel curled up against my chest and stayed there. The vet gave him a sedative, then assured us she'd be back in about ten minutes. I know the routine. Sedation, then the euthanization. A very humane and peaceful way for the animal to go.
I refused to set him down until it was all over. He wheezed out his last breaths, and twitched his legs. Under my fingers, I couldn't feel his heartbeat anymore.
The vet came back, quietly, with the needle, but I whispered, "He's already gone." For the last few minutes I wasn't really sure... but I could feel that what I was holding was just what was left. We laid him down on the steel table, and I curled his tail around his hind legs, tucked his paw over his nose the way he'd like it.
It was a tough afternoon.
My kids don't know life without Nigel. He sort of helped me raise them. Even before they were born, he purred for them. His passing has not been a shock at all, but it's still hard to let him go.
Today we tried to get on with it. I washed his food bowls, but I don't know where to put them now. I have a litter box full of basically clean litter in the laundry room. I have a basket full of brushes and a drawer full of canned food. I feel kind of empty and lost.
The kids thought they'd like to save his ashes but I didn't want to do that. I don't need it. I've got pictures of him, and all four of us will remember him forever. Besides, there's a nearly $500 cost to save the ashes, and I couldn't justify the expense. Wouldn't it be better to instead spend some money, some day in the future, to adopt another cat? Wouldn't Nigel want it that way? For another homeless cat to become a part of our family?
It won't happen for quite a while. I can't face it yet. Any cat would fall short compared to Nigel at this point. We all have some grieving to do. I think each of us has a big hollow spot in us now.
But we can't be catless forever. A cat is a necessity for me. Who else will protect us from rodents and evil spirits?
The dog spent a long time at the sliding doors today, in the sunspot that Nigel always took up. Otherwise he seemed slightly agitated all day, either barking or clingy. He'll sleep on my feet, curled up on top of the comforter. But that spot on the pillow will be empty.
That cat was a good friend to me. He got me through the toughest times in my adult life, times when he was the only consistency I had. He was a companion when my young husband was working for days straight; a healer when I was sick; doorman when I had company; entertainment and comedy when I needed cheering up; and a great teacher for my kids. I really loved him.
I have been thankful for every minute of the nearly eighteen years I had with my beautiful black cat.