I’m on a sort of death watch this week. Our 10-year-old buff tabby cat Quincy is undoubtedly dying of lymphoma. While it’s true that I’m grateful to a point that I’m not going through this with a person, it doesn’t lessen the fact that Quincy is still a beloved family member, albeit a furry one.
I’ve warned the kids as much as possible, knowing that any day could bring the difficult decision to the forefront. Unfortunately, this ain’t my first rodeo and I’ve had to make the heart-wrenching determination for many cats before Quincy. It’s the timing that’s the hardest: You don’t want to be left feeling that you either waited too long or not long enough. Death is, after all, a selfish thing. We mourn less for the one who’s gone than we do for ourselves, left behind with utterly wrenching feelings of loss and grief and pain. The decision to euthanize is inherently hard to determine because there is never a perfect moment to die.
People, at least, can sometimes tell you that they’re ready to go. They’ve settled accounts, made their peace, and are ready to be released from pain to whatever is the next beyond, if there is even such a thing. Animals can’t. Instead, we’re forced to guess when the pendulum swings away from good quality of life and over to “I’m in too much pain and I need you to do something about it.”
I look for small signs: the prednisolone doesn’t seem to be having as much of an effect, he’s sleeping in new and strange places, he’s meowing on the other side of the house and not coming when I call. It’s only a matter of days, I think. And even then, I’ll never be sure. It’s a responsibility that none of us wish to have, this control of the Life/Death switch.
Growing up, we had no pets, save for some tanks of fish and the occasional hermit crab culled from Sandy Hook Bay, and two short-lived hamsters that were my oldest sister’s. My dad grew up on a chicken farm and had all sorts of dogs and cats pass through his life. It was the pain of watching a few of his beloved dogs die that made him decide he would save us from having to go through the same thing.
But isn’t pain always an integral part of love? Not one of us is eternal–the price of life is always an eventual death, whether ours or the other’s. And it’s a choice that we repeatedly make. Death is, after all, only one small part of life, even if it looms large at the worst of times.