I can still see the movie in my mind. I don’t think that will ever change. Sixteen years, nearly to the day, since Henry had entered my life, I had made the choice to end his suffering. The appointment had been scheduled. Scheduling the death of someone you love deeply is a very horrific thing. The clock ticked by so slowly on the morning of July 13, 2011.
Henry was gravely ill. Chronic Renal Failure had taken its ultimate course. For three months I had administered IV fluids twice per day to keep him hydrated. He tolerated it perfectly well and it only took a few minutes each day. I woke up every few hours to feed him his special wet food. For three months this hospice care consumed my life. I would have done it for three hundred years if it would have been helpful. Alas, the day came when Henry could not jump up on the bed any longer. He wandered aimlessly around the house, unsure of what room he was in. He walked in a sideways stumble. He drank urine out of the litterbox. It was time. I made the call and the appointment.
Henry didn’t really know me any more on his last day. That is one of the most heartbreaking things about my memories of it. In our house, I gently picked him up and put him in my lap. Tears were streaming down my face as I thought about what was ahead. He weighed a frail four and a half pounds, far from his glory days of sixteen pounds. I pet him and told him how much I loved him. He didn’t want to be there. He got up and stumbled away. Yes, he was gone before he was gone. Many of us have been there.
The ride to the clinic is a blur. We entered exam room one. I sat on the ground and held Henry in my lap. A sedative was administered. His breathing became heavy and intermittent. I had my left arm underneath him with my left hand on his chest. The doctor had trouble finding a vein. He was just so thin and dehydrated from the kidney failure.
I watched as the dark pink liquid began to push through the syringe. One…two…three…I felt Henry’s heart stop. 3 seconds and my life as I knew it would never be the same. The amount of pain I felt was unbearable and entirely overwhelming. I raised my head and let out a primal scream that was so intense that no sound came out of me. I wept, sobbed and wailed for a good while, letting his soul go and desperately trying to hold onto my own.
On that day…I was left holding the lantern…
The gracious numbness of shock got me through the rest of that day. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. Henry was like a son to me. A best friend. We had been through so much. I got him when I was 18. He was part of my entire adult life. I spent more time with him than any living being in all my life.
Now it’s three years later. July 13 has come again. The weight is always there, but this year I can truly say it is not nearly as crippling a feeling. So many wonderful things have happened. Two new souls came to live with me on my birthday 2012. How perfect. I feel strongly that Henry was a part of that. I feel like I can cherish our memories and know that my continued joys are a tribute to our life together. I think of him all the time. I say hello. I smile. I cry. I allow my feelings to come. That is so important to grieving. You never “get over” a loss. You just learn how to survive with it there. Grief is a constant. Longing comes and goes.
“He was just a cat.” I have heard this a few times. Many of us know this feeling. But oh, how wrong that is. He was so much more. He was a companion, a comfort, a presence, a personality. He was Henry. He IS Henry.