I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?' So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe. – M. Cole
I just buried my oldest kitty. Even though I’m an atheist, I wrapped her in white linen and tucked a few toys in with her. One can always indulge in thinking that there is a less than omnipotent goddess Sekhmet looking after my furry companions. What could be better, cats and drinking beer with a feisty cat goddess. 🙂 It’s also a damn shame that I can’t trade in one useless human, or ten, for more years with her.
Love is inextricably linked with sorrow, because we are going to die and lose someone or be lost to them. This is why one should take every moment and make that love worth that coin in sorrow that you are going to pay.
We all make that bargain with our love of our critters and oh, how it hurts when it comes due.
Goodbye, Muffin, my little friend. I found you as a kitten in my backyard a little over 15 years ago, the size of my hand. You are back there again, where I can sit and remember you. Including the scars you gave me repeatedly because you had no interest in going to the vet. She was the most ferocious of all of our kitties, the only one we gave a “cute” name. I used Peaceful Pet Passage, an in-home euthanasia service here in central PA. They were kind as they took care of her.
Again, I ask you to bear with me as I express my grief and memories of a dearly departed pet. This, and working at a grocery store near the US Thanksgiving holiday, explain why I haven’t been around much. Twice this year we have had to say good-bye to one of our cats. This time, it is our dear cat Grendel that has passed into death by our decision for euthanasia. As I stated back in the post about the passing of our cat Mordred, this atheist is still an atheist, no matter how tempting it would be to pray to some imaginary friend for help to save her pet’s life. There is still an atheist in this foxhole.
Grendel was one of three kittens we adopted from my parents’ farm. A momma cat was killed and of course one can’t just adopt one. Grendel introduced himself by climbing up my husband’s pant leg. And during the evening of that day, the discussion wasn’t “should we take them?” but “okay, what are their names?” So we had Grendel and his sisters, Luna and Mystra since 1998. Grendel was a long tall brown tabby with an unusual chevron on his shoulders. We called him Private First Class Grendel.
He was a fantastic jumper, able to jump more than 6 feet (around 2 meters) straight up at a standing start. He had a habit of sitting on the top of doors, and I still have no idea on how he didn’t make the door swing. He also loved to jump to the top of a wood and class curio cabinet and sit up there for hours. My husband would lift him there in these last few months of his life. He also dearly loved catnip. When we left him outside for supervised visits, he would make a beeline to the catnip plants and then for the gate to the alley out back.
About 7 years back, he had terrible trouble with his bladder being blocked with stones. We chose to have a perineal urethrostomy. This means that the penis is removed and the cat is essentially “replumbed”. We were warned that he might have problems of leaking but he did perfectly after it. It was during his first day back from surgery that we found a small kitten in the backyard, who became Muffin, the black and white hellion that we have.
He died of complications from feline diabetes. We could have given him insulin, but the process of getting the right dose is very hard, if it works at all, and I didn’t want him to dread my approach if I had to cause him pain from injections. So we managed it as well as we could by diet. The worst was the neuropathy and he eventually was unable to walk and sit up while he used the litter box. So we made the horrible but humane and necessary decision to have him euthanized. We were lucky those 7 years ago to be able to afford to help him then. So many people can’t and I wish I could change that. But there was no help to be had now. As I said back when our cat Mordred passed away, I have read that one makes an agreement with sorrow as soon as one adopts a pet that will live a shorter life span than you will. You get many years of comfort and companionship from your loving pets but you pay for it later.
We will miss him intensely as we miss all of the cats and ferrets that have gone before.
(if it is too much to read about another person’s grief for the reader, I would suggest you skip this post.)
Today I had to have my one cat euthanized, a polite word for having to have my cat killed because it was the best decision of a lot of bad ones. I’ve read that when one accepts having a pet, one makes an agreement with sorrow. It was our sweet Mordred, who was with us for almost 16 years. He started acting not like himself and that is always a bad thing when it comes to elderly cats. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which one of the hallmark symptoms is refusing to eat or drink. The vet gave him some IV fluids and meds to decrease the disease and increase his appetite. But he still refused to eat and drink, except for a few treats, far too few calories to live on. The last two days, we gave him fluids by mouth with a needle-less syringe to keep him comfortable at home for a few more days.
Now, we could have had a feeding tube installed, given fluids sub-Q (with a needle syringe under the skin) and kept him alive for a while longer, and he would likely have simply slept most of the time. But that isn’t much of a life, not when he would run away from me when he saw me coming with the supposed “help”.
I’ve always been a proponent of euthanasia, that one’s death is just as important as one’s life and life isn’t simply respirating and metabolizing. I’ve believed this as a theist and as an atheist, that life has no innate specialness that should require suffering in its final days. I never accepted that some deity had the only right to kill people, which was probably one of the early signs I wasn’t going to always remain a Christian. But it’s still very hard to let a loved one go, and in my case, it’s much harder to lose my pets than any human that I have cared for. I guess it’s because I’ve chosen to have my pets and they depend on me to take care of them. They understand nothing but that.
It would be easy to say “well, I don’t agree with euthanasia this once when it will hurt me personally.” Taking extreme measures could ease the pain that comes from the dreadful responsibility to care for an animal and friend even if that care means that you make his death gentle and peaceful. But that would only be putting off the terrible day for no better reason than my own selfishness. I miss Mordred terribly, but I know that a gentle death is better than a slow fearful starvation.
Many theists would claim that it is in just such a painful situation as loss of a friend would make everyone believe in the god that they tout, the vile claim of “no atheists in foxholes”. By their claims, I *must* have been praying desperately to these gods for a miracle and seeking solace in claims of some afterlife. But I’m not and their false claims fail again. From all of the evidence we have, there is no afterlife, no heaven or Elysian Fields, or reincarnation or some returning to a vague spiritual force. I will never see my cats again, though I do wish I would. I have only my happy memories of them. Please let me share a few with you:
Mordred was a tiny cat, about 7 pounds, and black with a white locket. He looked much like the “Le Chat Noir” poster, all scruffy and pure attitude. He was adopted from the local Humane Society and he was probably only about 9 months old when we got him. He was always full of piss and vinegar, making it his business to ambush the other cats, most who outweighed him by at least double his weight.
Mordred was quite an acrobat. He once jumped backward from a standing start entirely over a loveseat when he was startled by who knows what. He also made the questionable decision to leap upon a hanging basket (holding plants) that we had just put up in our living room, quickly plummeting to the ground. Needless to say, the hanging basket never was put back up.
Much to his disgust, and our amusement, he became a surrogate mother to three of the other cats we have. They were very small kittens when we got them from my parents’ farm. The momma cat had been killed but they at least could drink on their own. They absolutely loved Mordred, always trying to curl up with him. He would growl, get up, move a foot and then settle down again, and was rejoined by the kittens. One of them, Grendel, still loved to do so, even when he was about three times Mordred’s size.
In the last year or two, he took to lying on top of our microwave so he could keep me company in the kitchen, being my little kitchen goblin. He also learned to get up there just before I got home from work. When I opened the door, he greeted me with a loud squawk, demanding treats. If treats were not forthcoming, then he would do his best to grab anyone who walked by.
Mordred was also often in bed with us, especially during the cooler months. He decided his favorite spot was on my head. For a very small cat, he would take up as much pillow real estate as possible, and then curl around my head. He also had a tendency to sleep with one eye open.
It will be a sad and lonely time for my husband and I. And unfortunately, the “kittens” aren’t so young anymore either so it won’t be the last time we know we will grieve this year or the next. It hurts very much, and it is worth enjoying every moment with that which you love to pay for such pain. Don’t figure on some time “later”, don’t regret not doing something now.