He was diagnosed only a short time ago with a cancerous tumour in his upper jaw. He'd been receiving palliative treatment for a few weeks and had enjoyed good quality of life till almost the end. Still, he's gone, and knowing we gave him a pretty good life doesn't really compensate for his loss.
Cupcake was thoughtful on learning he was ill. She didn't want to dwell on the issue though and largely forbade discussion of his illness. That is, apart from the one where we decided where we'd bury him when the time came. It was then that she told me that she wanted to be there when he died,
"I'm his owner mommy, if anyone should be there when an animal dies, it's their owner. It will reassure him. It will comfort him to have me there. Yes mommy, he's my cat and I want to be there."
And she was there for him. She came to all his vet appointments and gave her opinion on things when she could. The one time she wavered at a question about his treatment I rescued her, of course. I hugged her and reassured her and told the vet what we should do. And afterwards she said to me, "Did the vet realise he was my cat mommy?"
In the early hours of Friday morning I'd woken and gone out to the garden. It was 4 a.m. and I was overwhelmed with unidentifiable sadness. I had been through such before, a foreboding awakening, and didn't want to face the possibility it was, once again, my intuition picking up on the forthcoming storm of loss. But when we got up Friday morning it was clear that my instincts were right, Tucker's condition had deteriorated overnight.
We took him straight to the vet on Saturday. Cupcake and her dad were optimistic as the vet gave another injection to Tucker and we took home some high-protein food for him. I let the day unfold certain that we had little time left with Tucker and full of the knowledge we can do nothing to stop Death when he is determined to take you. Cupcake went off to her Pokemon club, played on the computer with her dad that afternoon and watched TV with me till late. She enjoyed herself as usual, everpresent and determined not to discuss what was happening to Tucker. Oh, the wisdom of children!
After Tucker's initial diagnosis she had asked what would happen. I had said to her, "Baby, we let that time take care of itself. Right now, we still have Tucker here and so we enjoy his company while we have him. We show him we love him while he's here. Today is a precious day, as each day is, these moments will never come again so let's not invite in sadness until it arrives and demands entry."
And each time I had wavered in the intervening weeks... each time I had recalled Tucker as a kitten, each time I'd remembered him as the only cat who had time for baby Cupcake (the other two were terrified of her!), each time I though of how I still missed my other cats, long gone... each time she caught me getting tearful, she'd say those words back to me,
"Tucker's still here mommy, so we love him while he's here and we'll deal with him dying when it happens."
A few days before he died she had said, "You know mommy, I will still feel Tucker beside me even when he's died. I mean, it's like he isn't beside me now but I can feel how he rubs against me and I'll always remember how he makes me feel his love. I know his body will go back to nature but I also know a bit of him will always stay with me."
And so she dealt with it all. Even on Sunday morning when it became clear Tucker's discomfort had increased considerably. She knew, when he didn't follow her downstairs that morning, that something was wrong. More than his not eating, or his laboured breathing or his lack of willingness to give his paw (she had taught him to give paw and high five), she knew his not following her was a sign that the end had come.
That's what she told the vet, "He always follows me, he always wants to be where I am, and this morning he didn't even come downstairs when I called him."
I cried, like I do. I'm a messy, emotional sort of person. I had said goodbye, I had thanked him for bringing a special kind of joy into my daughter's life. I had the guilt of a desperate desire to take his pain away knowing also that the only way to do that was to end his life.
Cupcake was calm. She drew a picture for him, proclaiming her love for him. She insisted we put a jacket of hers in the cat basket so he'd be lying on her smell as we transported him to the vets. She put a toy mouse in the basket. She thought and spoke of him with the loving detachment of a Zen master and I let her enjoy that peace as much as I could.
She was dry eyed when he died.
She talked briefly with the vet about becoming a vet herself. She watched everything happen as Tucker was given a lethal injection to relieve him from the painful state he'd clearly entered. She asked me why I cried and I said it was because I had lost lots of pets and people and that I had too much experience of grief.
As we left the vets she said, "Mommy, I don't feel like Tucker's died. It's like my mind is still saying he's alive and I'm just imagining he's dead." I answered her, "Baby, that's good, your mind is protecting you from the things that I feel. You don't need to feel anything but what you feel. It's okay that you aren't crying, that you think the way you do." Then she turned to me, "Mommy, I guess that means your mind is broken." And what could I do but agree? "Yes baby, I guess it kinda is..."
On arriving home she said she wanted a kitten. I explained that a kitten wouldn't replace Tucker. That every cat has a different personality. That our other cats might not be so happy at the addition of a boisterous kitten to their territory. That we needed time to consider her request.
She said she was "on a mission" to convince us to get her a kitten for her birthday and that we should be prepared for her using lots of different tactics to ensure she gets what she wants. How nice of her to warn us!
Yesterday I asked her. Do you miss Tucker? "Of course," she answered, "I love him and I miss seeing him and the way he showed he loved me. It's why I want a kitten now mommy. I know it won't be the same as Tucker but there's a gap now that Tucker's not here. I'm used to having a cat, I've always had one. Just like you said, I became his human as soon as we met. He always wanted to be near me whether I was indoors or out and he let me do anything I wanted when I was a baby. I remember I used to pull at him and he never minded. He gave me a special kind of love. He never got angry at me. He always loved me and I always loved him. Nobody else has never got angry at me."
Unconditional love. That's what she found in her time with him. Total, unquestioning, acceptance.
Thank you Tucker for teaching my daughter not just to love animals but how to love herself. You remain in our hearts and our thoughts and yes, Cupcake was right, you aren't really gone, for I feel you sit on my lap, purring, as I type this...
|The drawing Cupcake insisted we put in Tucker's grave.|