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Sunday December 11, 2005: Euthanasia

        I had to put down a cat last week. She was an old cat. Two years ago, I’d spent close to a thousand dollars on vet bills, surgery, and medication. It had bought her another two years, but now it was time. She no longer restricted herself to using just the litter box, and I came home never knowing if I might discover some spot on carpet or bedding where she’d relieved herself. The two male cats had begun to pick on her and she’d withdrawn further and further from their company and from any human contact.

        What I’m trying to say is that I had no reservations about putting her down. I knew she would never make the move to Randy’s house. He insisted the cats be shut in the basement at night and during the day when we were not home, at least until they could be trained to keep off tables and counter tops. She would be miserable with the changes in her living arrangements.

          Therefore, I was surprised at the tears welling up in my eyes after I had filled out the euthanasia papers. It was not the grief of losing a dear companion. This cat had never been a people cat. None of the boys had bonded with her. She had few interactions with the other cats, other than to hiss her objection when they pounced or chased her, when they grew bored with their own activities and devised some way to get her riled up. She wanted to be left alone, to bask in the sun, to sleep over the heating vents. She came to me when it was feeding time, then moved away to be by herself. She had not provided companionship, yet neither had she given any real problems (until recently). She’d lived up to the terms of being a cat.

         I think the emotional pain was knowing that I was making the decision for her. She had no say in the issue; she had no way of knowing what was about to happen. She had been happy living her quiet life; she was certainly not in pain or suffering. She trusted me and I could not explain or prepare her for this office visit. I went through lots of tissues, waiting for the vet to appear. And while I know that tears always come easy to me, the vet’s assistant responded by offering comfort geared for someone losing an irreplaceable, life-long companion. I smiled and said I'd be fine if she had other things that needed her attention.

          As I sat there, waiting for the vet to appear, I thought of my father and of Randy. Both had expressed strong views that they did not want to be stuck languishing in a nursing home, or hooked up to tubes and life-support systems in some hospital bed. My father had named me in his Living Will as the child who would decide to "pull the plug" because he was afraid my siblings would be unable or unwilling to let him die.

          Randy had watched his mother’s and his first wife’s ordeals, as their health declined. Both had gone through long, drawn-out months and years of agony. He insisted that he was never to be put in a nursing home.

          "When I get to that point," he said, "put a bullet in my head." I’d rolled my eyes, and he’d come back with a more reasonable suggestion.

           "No feeding tubes, " he’d said. "It seems so easy to put in a feeding tube and then no one in the family can bring themselves to have it removed. That’s when life gets dragged out into something you can’t call living."

            I thought about their requests as I stroked the cat.  I knew to follow my father's or Randy's wishes would be painfully hard for me. There would be tears. I would probably wait longer than either of them wanted, to give other family members time to come to terms with the inevitable. In the end, would it help my pain of separation to know that I was carrying out their final wish, honoring my commitment to their decision?

          Randy and I have talked about it because we are an older couple and prefer to face these issues up front. It will not be enough that we have clearly expressed our wishes to each other and made the necessary legal arrangements to transfer medical authorization, in the case we are no longer able to make our own decisions. After the infamous Florida court case, we appreciate the need to make those same wishes clear to our children and siblings, to prevent any family squabbles over how we want things handled.

           It seems strange to start a marriage worrying so much about death and dying, but Randy wanted to get legal work in order so I would be taken care of, on the off-chance he might die soon after we marry.  It seems strange to face the holidays focused on Living Wills and Power of Attorney.  Yet, for some reason, it does not seem morbid to me.

         This is part of Life: it has its own seasons, its own cycles. Even in the dead of winter, are buried the seeds of a new spring.  Perhaps that's how I choose to see the Christian holiday. I find myself thinking of the promise of natural laws: nothing is lost in the universe; it changes form.  Even that which looks dead and barren carries within it the hope of a new beginning.

          Safe and warm in my home today, looking out on the start of a cold and snowy Michigan winter, I am wrapped in my thoughts about beginnings and ends. We cannot help but participate in these cycles of life and death, we are carried along by time and events.  We have only the power to chose with how much responsibility and dignity we live our particular cycle of life, and how often we extend a hand to support those who travel beside us. 

       Here I am again, back at the holidays, in the same frame of mind as when I wrote Christmas and Cancer. Is it not wise to make the most of time spent with loved ones, so there are no regrets later, no words left unspoken?  If I could keep that commitment year round, I might not do much to extend the season of good will and peace on earth, but I would succeed in opening my heart a bit wider.  Perhaps that would be enough of a holiday miracle.

Posted on Sunday, December 11, 2005 at 01:18PM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

really is a touching story
June 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergerovital h3

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