I’ve found the hardest part is the empty bowl. Mealtime is so important to companion animals. It’s something they are utterly dependent on us for; but more than a means to nutrients needed to survive, mealtime represents trust, a familiar routine, a family culture, and, of course, a full belly, which is sheer comfort to the body and mind. And for me, the guardian, it’s more than an obligation – it’s a comforting routine, a way to check in on everybody, a measure to make sure that all are accounted for and doing well.
Do something hundreds of times, and it becomes autopilot. So, when you’re suddenly short a family member, it’s hard for the brain to catch up with the hands, which are already grabbing for the bowl. Earlier this year there were six stainless steel kitty bowls to locate, arrange, and scoop into. Then there were five after in February I lost my oldest friend in the world, Connecticut. Can’t tell you how many times I scooped into the sixth bowl before the habit was broken. All too soon there were only four bowls when we had to put our long time foster turned permanent family member Big Kitty to sleep. And now, today, one big dog bowl and one little one – not three. Deimos‘s grubby bowl is still there, in his spot, and it will be for a while. Maybe I’ll wash it and put it back. Ease into it. His downstairs bed is still there too – but so far neither Ruby nor Bubba has had any interest in abandoning their own beds for it. I bet you Isis is the first to take advantage of the freed-up territory.
Last night was not good to Deimos – he couldn’t get comfortable and I kept waking up to him standing there, staring at me. I recognized that vacant look of misery and I did my best to comfort him. Thursday, we’d decided we were going to try to make it through the weekend, but when I fed him this morning, he didn’t finish and started vomiting shortly thereafter. And he was clearly in pain trying to go the bathroom, and when trying to vomit. Prior to today, I didn’t know how I’d know it was time, but this morning I realized that if there was a time, this was it – I couldn’t imagine him going through that all weekend, just so we could have him with us a few more days.
It has become clear to me that my issues with loss and death sometimes cloud my judgement. I lost my mom at age 20 and I have a harder time than some accepting death and letting somebody go when they need to go. Or so I’ve been told. And although I loved my cat Connecticut fiercely, and I truly made the best decisions I could for her at the time, I regret that I might have made her go through more pain than she needed to in letting her die a natural death at home. I don’t like to play the grim reaper – to be the one who decides life or death – to be the one who gives up. I play too many “What Ifs?” in my head. I lost several cats around 2001-2003 to sudden tragedies, rare illnesses, and post surgical infections. But those situations decided themselves, for the most part. When we euthanized Big Kitty in April, it was actually the first time that I’d chosen to have a vet put a companion animal to sleep.
There will always be things to regret, to second guess. The news we got back this week after Deimos’s ultrasound-guided biopsy was frustrating. The biopsy was negative for cancer cells, with a big qualifier. The lab couldn’t guarantee that it was a good sample (even though the vet was certain he’d gotten right into the tumor). What we had really been hoping for, it turns out, is to have a positive result. If it had been positive, we could have matched our guts with science – and the decision would have been clear. But since it was not, we were left with a difficult decision: to operate on the chance that it really was not an aggressive cancer, in spite of all other signs to the contrary: his rapid deterioration in just over one week, his very low protein levels, how fast the tumor changed in size and shape within a few days, and the look of the tumor itself during the ultrasound; or to not operate and to help him die. It was agonizing not to just go in there and rip the offending mass out! But I feel we did the best thing for him with the information we had, and we had not only our gut feelings, but the analyses and advice of two very experienced and trusted vets to rely on. And yet, a part of me will always wonder, “What If?”
Now that the worry is over, I feel relieved. Relieved that Deimos is no longer miserable, relieved that we no longer have to decide. Now we can fully let go, fully grieve, fully celebrate what we had. Last summer and even into this warm fall, I would sometimes take my yoga mat into the back yard with the dogs and do strength training exercises in the morning sun. Most days my laying down in the yard would trigger Play! to the dogs. Deimos would come up to me, stand over me with that wild goofy look in his eyes, beak me with his long snout, play bow, speak that deep one-syllable Woof!, then run a short way away – trying to engage me. If I ignored him, he’d become even more insistent. Inevitably, I’d give up whatever pose or exercise I was in the middle of, giggling, and just be a goof for a few minutes with the dogs. That’s what I hope to remember when I’m missing him. R.I.P sweet boy.