Spirit, Free

cat giving kisses

One week ago tonight, we said goodbye to Spirit. It’s been a devastating time, to deal with this loss, after 18 years of our cat being such a sweet companion.

I wrote about Spirit and his coming into our lives, and his story is quite the Happening.

Now I need to write about how he left…because it is the way I deal with things that are on my mind, and in my heart.

It wasn’t unexpected. Since December, he was showing that something was wrong. At first, we thought it was an ingrown nail (which was a reality), so Josh and I took him to Mondou pet store to have his nails clipped. He was so good, the two young ladies who did the clipping told us how sweet he was, and how he wasn’t typical of so many cats who give them problems.

But he kept showing that something was wrong. We moved the litter box upstairs from the basement, because we saw that he was having trouble doing the stairs.

One day, we couldn’t find him – and he was hiding behind our washing machine. I coaxed him out, but he went back there. He kept eating, and the use of the washing machine didn’t bother him.

But it was, as we know now, a sign that he was isolating himself.

The day after New Year, we took him to the vet. She diagnosed him with arthritis, and gave us pills for him. We gave him the pills, but one day he flat out refused the cheese, the cookies, wouldn’t take the pill.

He got steadily worse; we knew his front left paw was giving him big problems, from the way he would hold it, but he was also losing weight.

We took him back to the vet, and this time we all went, because I told the boys we may not return with him; he was showing signs of being in pain, unhappy, and we needed to know if this was the end.

The appointment was a sad one – the doctor said she wanted to X-ray him because of that paw, and even thought it might be cancer. While he was in the back being X-rayed, I voiced my thoughts that I almost wished they would find cancer, because the decision would be made for us.

Dr. Allen came back and showed us the results and it showed no cancer, but lots of arthritis. She said there seemed to be fluid in his abdomen, but without further tests, we couldn’t know what it was.

We decided – as a family – to try stronger meds, and see if that would give him more time. We left, meds in hand, and tried that for some time.

But it wasn’t to be. He got worse, not better. And we had to talk, as a family.

I made the appointment for last Wednesday night – February 6 – as it was an evening we were all available.

That wasn’t to be either.

On Tuesday afternoon, home because he skipped his first class in order to study for the exam in his second that evening, Sam came into the den, urging me to take Spirit immediately. Spirit was in pain, and Sam said he witnessed something he wished he could forget.

I called the vet, and changed the appointment. She heard the tears in my voice and told me to come in whenever we were ready.

But first, I had to drive Sam to the train for his exam. I stifled tears – as much as I could – because he had this exam and I didn’t want to distract him. He was already upset. He had spent time on the floor in the kitchen with Spirit, brushing and stroking his fur, and saying his goodbyes. My heart broke when I saw him take photos with his phone.

Of course, that day, the train was delayed by 20 minutes. But I got home, and geared up for what was to come.

Josh refused to carry the crate; he had carried it the other times, but – I understand why – this time he did not want to. Perry carried Spirit out to the car, and we drove to the vet.

When I checked in, my emotions got the better of me. The receptionist was deeply compassionate and took us all into a room immediately.

sofa with a heart shaped pillow
room with sofa, heart pillow
table with photos of pets
picture of a rope bridge in the mist
photos of pets on a wall

I played classical music on my phone; Spirit used to seek out the music when I played it at home. I just wanted him to have lovely music to play him out. The receptionist knocked on the door, and came in with a portable credit-card machine. Business had to be taken care of, and she had us do it right then, to get it out of the way. We also signed the form that specified we did not want a private cremation, and she left us again.

After a little while, Josh opened the door to the carrier in case Spirit wanted to roam. But he was in pain, and didn’t venture out. A technician came in, told us that they would take him into the back to sedate him and put the catheter in his paw, before bringing him back to spend time with us.

But when she tried to lift him, he yowled in pain, and my heart broke. She decided to take him in the carrier, and when she did, we were left alone with our thoughts.

When she came back with him, he was wrapped in a blanket and very much sedated. She told us he was sedated, but very much with us. And he was. He was still conscious, but he was clearly out of it. (Later, Josh would tell me that bothered him a great deal. And while I can understand that, I told him I saw a cat who was no longer in pain – because I had to look on the positive side)

She put him on the sofa, and told us to take as much time as we wished. She showed us a button to push, explaining that when we were ready for the doctor to come in, it would ring, and she then left us alone.

I sat on one side of him, while Josh sat on the floor facing Spirit. We stroked his ears, his chin – he always loved that – and his head. I talked to him. I told him we all loved him very much, and we didn’t want him to be scared. I told him we loved him for almost 18 years and he will always be our special boy.

I thanked him for being our first cat. I thanked him for giving us so much love and so much laughter. I thanked him for putting up with our crazy family, and I told him we will never forget him.

I tried not to cry because I didn’t want him to be frightened, but it was impossible to keep the tears back.

I placed gentle kisses on his little head, and whispered that he would not have pain anymore.

The doctor came in.  She explained that the injection she would administer was just an overdose of anesthesia, and he would simply drift away. She explained it in soft tones, and though I dreaded it, I knew it was time.

Again, I kissed my cat, and whispered for him not to be afraid. Josh held his paw, and we kept stroking his fur as he was injected.

It took seconds. When the doctor took out her stethoscope and listened to his heart, I knew. She nodded and softly said, “He’s gone.”

She left us alone because it was then that our tears came with abandon. She told us to stay as long as we wished, and then she slipped out.

I kept stroking his fur. Josh tried to pull at some of it, and I asked if he wanted to keep some. He nodded. At that moment, another technician came in to do an imprint of Spirit’s paws. I asked her for a scissors so we could cut some fur to keep, and she brought three small ziplock bags and envelopes for that.

I cut fur for me, Sam, and Josh, and kept apologizing to Spirit who felt nothing anymore. The paw prints were made, and we were left alone again.

cat paw prints pressed into clay

We cried, I kept talking to him, and we grieved this monumental loss. I took a photo of him; I don’t know why, and he looked like he was sleeping. But I didn’t want to return home with regrets that I hadn’t taken the photo.I haven’t deleted it. But I’m keeping it private.

After a while, Josh’s tears fell anew and he said, “his paw is cold.”

I asked if he was ready to let him go, and he nodded. So he pushed the button, and the technician came back. She gently lifted Spirit and held him cradled in her arms. I kissed his head once more, and we watched him leave our sight forever.

That’s when Josh and I really broke down. I approached my son, and we held each other, crying. Perry joined the embrace, and we stayed like that for (I don’t know how long).

Then we made the decision to leave. Walking out, I couldn’t hold my emotions, and I burst into new tears. I cried all the way home, and coming into the house, I tried to calm myself because Theo was already sensing something. He’d never had a day without Spirit in his life, and I knew he was going to feel the loss.

I held my dog, explained that Spirit was not going to be coming home and that he was over the Rainbow Bridge.

I posted on Facebook when I was calm and able to see through tears, and the influx of condolences helped – but reminded me of how fresh the loss was and would be for quite some time.

I half-heartedly watched the Habs game.

Sam texted after he got out of school: “Is Spirit gone?”

I texted back that he went with my kiss on his head, and his paw in Josh’s hand.

Sam didn’t call me for a lift from the train. I know now it’s because he didn’t want to hear the details of the evening. He came home close to 11 p.m. and when I asked if he wanted me to tell him what happened, he said no.

I respect that. I know how hard it was to leave, to write an exam, and to not be a part of those moments. But if he chooses to read this account, or ask me about it, I will tell him then.

It’s been a week. I have moments that hit me out of the blue. I got into the car after school the next day, and my phone played Pachelbel’s Canon, from the night before. I lost it.

I miss his little meow. I miss those big green eyes. I miss the way he used to come for chin rubs, and ear scratchies. I miss his presence.

But I know that 18 years is a beautiful life, and we did the last thing we could for him: we gave him peace.

Maureen sent me this prayer, and I must share it here:

Dear G-d, Creator of all life, You have blessed us with life in so many forms, – from the smallest insects to the largest animals that roam the earth. To human beings, You gave the power to think and to remember, the power to love and to nurture that love. To others of Your living creatures, You gave them the power to give us love in many forms. Our pets give us the gift of unqualified and unconditional love. They love us and love us and love us some more, and there is always more love where that came from. When they become a part of our lives, they become a very special part of our family life and all that we share. We thank You, O G-d, for all that they gave to us. We speak of them as pets, but truly they are loving companions, special members of our family, who enjoy our love and give to us without measure. Compared to the number of years that we humans live, their lives are brief. And when their lives come to an end, we feel the pain of our loss because a beloved member of our family has died. With pain, sadness, hurt and grief, we mourn the loss of our beloved pet, who brought so much sunshine into our lives. May we always treasure the love and joy that our pet brought to us, and may we always remember the lessons of love that he taught us so well. AMEN.

So beautiful. So moving, and so very true.

Maureen also sent me an article, a letter from a rabbi about his loss too. One sentence was strikingly powerful:

“I savor this grief as the way the gift of unconditional love is painfully but properly repaid.”

As painful as this loss is, it does honor Spirit’s memory to grieve him this deeply.

It will take time but the grief will become less sharp, the pain more distant, and the memories will bring smiles not tears.

For now, though, it is still very fresh, and still very deep. And my moments are still very frequent.

Run free, Spirit. You were a beautiful and aptly named gift in our lives.

Edit: About 10 days after this, we received the most beautiful card in the mail. I share it here. The handwritten personal touch was beyond classy. The gesture itself enhanced our gratitude to the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital, the knowledge that the doctors, technicians, and all who took care of our Spirit, and us too truly do care. They are wonderful, and all are well suited to work with animals and the people who entrust our animals to them.

photo of a card with the message from the veterinarians

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