Two weeks ago I had to put my cat to sleep. I say my cat, even though he was our family cat, because Reese was in my life longer than my husband or either one of my daughters. He was a loyal, sweet, loving friend who will always be in my thoughts.
The week after Christmas I saw Reese jump off our bed and land in a funny position, something about his gait looked wrong. When I picked him up I noticed that he felt lighter. He was acting and eating the same, his behaviors had not changed, but he was losing significant amounts of weight. I took him to the vet, where after several tests they determined that he had stage 5-B lymphoma. He was dying. The veterinarian sent us home with some medication and told us to prepare for the worst.
That weekend I had to explain to my daughters what dying was. Really, the discussion was for my three year old, as my twenty-month old is too young to understand such concepts. I told my three year old that Reese was sick and the doctor explained that he would not be getting better and that sometime soon Reese was going to go to heaven. My three year old was very focused on why Reese couldn’t get better. She had tough questions that were not easy to answer: “He went to the doctor, they make people better, don’t they?” “If he is on medicine why won’t he get better?” “Why can’t they give him medicine to get better?” It was a difficult discussion to have.
Our family spent the next month keeping Reese comfortable. We moved his litter box and food into the living room, fed him his favorite foods; fresh shrimp cocktail, tuna fish, milk and ice cream, which were served to him by my daughters. We carried him wherever he needed to go and made sure he always had his snuggly blanket.
Two weeks ago I came home from work, the girls were playing in their toy room, I was making dinner, it was a normal night. Right before dinner I noticed that Reese was in the dining room. I looked at him and he meowed this horrible sounding meow to me. He tried to get up, but he couldn’t walk. He was in pain and he was letting me know. As soon as I saw him I knew that it was the end. I made a promise the day we found out he was sick that I would not let him suffer. Seeing him pulling himself toward me with his front paws and crying out in pain, put me over the edge. I began sobbing. The girls came into the living room. I told them Reese was hurting and we needed to get him to the doctor. I went and got his snuggly blanket and laid him on it. My youngest daughter laid down on the blanket next to him, she put her head on the floor next to his and stroked his fur, saying her goodbyes. My three year old was bothered that I was crying, and I explained to her how sad I was that it was time for Reese to go to heaven, but that it was important for us to bring him the the doctor because we did not want him to be in pain. She told Reese that she loved him and that she would take good care of Abby (our other cat).
Growing up I always had pets, and I experienced the loss of several wonderful friends. However, I have never had to bring a pet to the veterinarian to be put to sleep. My husband stayed with the girls and I brought Reese. The doctor saw us, examined Reese, and explained that the cancer had taken over most of his organs and that he was on the verge of going into cardiac arrest. The doctor said the he believed Reese was staying alive for me, and that it was time to let him go. He told me that if we let Reese pass naturally it would be traumatic and more painful for Reese. The decision was clear, Reese needed to be put to sleep.
Making the decision was not as hard I thought it would be. I refused to let him be in pain, and I wanted him to have a painless, peaceful goodbye. What was harder, was staying with him, and trying to be present and in the moment, to give him the support and love that he deserved.
As I sat with him I thanked him for being a great friend, and for providing me with twelve wonderful years of memories. I thanked him for loving my girls, for letting them pile wash cloths on his back and for letting them grab his tail. I reminded him of the many nights he would lay between me and their bassinet, which was next to my bed, watching over them as they slept, waiting for them to wake up crying. Most importantly, I thanked him for loving me so completely, and expecting so little in return. My relationship with Reese ended the way in began, just the two of us, cuddled up in a blanket.
Losing a pet is difficult for anyone, but as a parent of two young children, it’s even harder. Looking back I keep asking myself, “did I explain death in a relatable way?”, “should I have kept my emotions more controlled, and should I have been stronger for the girls?” “Did I handle the situation well?”. Grieving the loss of a pet is also more difficult with small children. Today, my youngest daughter was walking around calling “Reese-y, Reese-y.” My three year old asked me recently, “Does Reese have a Mom and Dad in heaven?”
It’s a really tough situation. I miss Reese, we all miss Reese. We will always keep the good memories of him with us.