I have fed the cat butter and cream before he dies.
Dairy is terrible for a cat’s gastrointestinal tract, but then again, so is abnormal dilation of the colon.
I’ll take the blame for the dairy. God can take the blame for the rest.
For the hundredth time in a week, the cat valiantly tries to poop in his box and cannot. This puzzles him as he hasn’t been sick one day in his whole 15 years of life.
What happens when things that have always worked suddenly don’t?
The cat tries to defecate again, carefully scratching through the Fresh Step kitty litter as if it were a sand mandala.
He teaches me tenacity. Surely if he tries again, all will be well?
But the blockage in his system prevents him from excreting.
The cat now teaches me that being tenacious at a fruitless task can quickly become a fool’s errand. Frustrated, he leaves the litter box and jumps up onto his favorite chair.
He looks at me and meows, but this meow does not sound like his typical sort of vocalization. His meows now come in a much lower register. They sound less like a complaint and more like a stoic acceptance of a hard truth. The cat knows he’s gotten a raw deal.
“I agree, my love,” I say, scratching him under his chin, tears running down my cheeks. “It’s not fair and I’m so, so sorry.”
He replies with an even deeper meow.
It’s an embarrassing way to go out, he says.
We have three hours together before his last veterinarian appointment.
“How about some butter?”
The cat likes butter. He has always liked butter. He has stolen pancakes off my breakfast plate, just to get in a lick or two.
I smile at the memory and cut three paper-thin slices from a cold stick of butter.
He watches me.
When I put the plate in front of him, he gives me a sly smile, then licks the yellow squares into oblivion.
“How about some cream?” I suggest.
The cat’s eyes light up like they did when he was a kitten, when the world was green and new and full of promise.
He laps at the bowl of cream a time or two before returning to his chair.
I feel vindicated.
If God can give cats megacolon, then I can give them butter and cream.
Over the past week, the cat teaches me how to sleep like him, an hour or two at a time, with one eye open.
I have lain wide awake, becoming good friends with the ceiling, the cat nestled close by my side. I watch the cat breathe in and out, the little cat snores telling me he still lives.
I cry. I rage at God. I bargain with God. I pray to God, more fervently than I have in half a century.
“C’mon,” I say. “Would it really throw the cosmos out of whack if you sent some archangels to manually extract feces?”
The cat puts his gray paw across my chest. Leave God out of this. This is how things go.
I am too old to cry over a pet, I think. But then again, I’ve never had a pet before the cat. I briefly wonder if losing a pet is like having chicken pox. Is it worse when you’re older?
I stare out the window, seeing the first glimmers of the day. I stroke the cat’s back, hoping that the cat’s spinal column will send nerve impulses to contract the walls of his colon while I’m at work.
Since the cat’s diagnosis, I’ve spent most of my time researching enough cat-related medical information to qualify as a first-year veterinary resident.
How nice it would be to come home from work to a litter box full of cat shit.
My adult children flood the family group chat with memories and photos. The cat dressed up for Halloween. The cat sitting in his chair at the dining room table. The cat laying across each of their beds, on their chests, on their feet, on their heads.
The cat has witnessed their growing up like a third parent.
There are videos, too. The cat willfully knocking things off tables. The cat “hunting” water off of dewy car windshields. The cat dragging home the things he’s killed. Mice, snakes, birds—some even larger than himself.
My adult children talk about how the neighbor put him out since he was a bad kitty, tearing up their drapes and peeing on their furniture.
It was soon after that the cat relentlessly adopted us.
My husband was adamant. “No cats.”
My youngest child and I were even more so. “We’re keeping this cat. Forever.”
Like the cat, we learned how to be stubborn.
I scroll through my own camera roll, reliving all the moments with family and friends, the cat often prominently in the photo.
“How can I let you go?” I whisper.
But he’s trying to sleep.
The cat teaches me when enough is enough.
Procedures have been performed. Medicines have been ordered. Special medications have been compounded. Savings accounts have been decimated.
The cat meows again. Your grief is becoming self-indulgent, he warns.
“I am going to miss you.” I sob into his neck.
It’s time to leave to take the cat in for his last procedure—so I’ve fed the cat butter and cream before he dies.
With one last futile prayer, I ask God if another day would make a difference. Maybe we could increase the dosage of another medication? Maybe another enema might help? Maybe he isn’t too old for surgery after all?
But the cat teaches another lesson. Sometimes it’s time to say goodbye.
I gather him up in a fuzzy pink blanket with flamingos on it. It’s his favorite. He likes it almost as much as butter and cream.
I pray to God thanking him for the privilege of knowing one of his finest creations.
That’s the last lesson the cat teaches me: gratitude.
I will miss Van, but apparently, someone misses the cat even more than I do—because today, God wants him to come home.
In Memoriam Van Halen the Cat
May 18, 2023