Mondays are a day for happy, so I thought I’d save my sadness for Tuesday.
Four years ago yesterday, I said goodbye far too soon. My cat, Charles Bukowski Jr., died of Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It’s an autoimmune disease that is always fatal and has only palliative treatment. If you choose not to euthanize when it first happens, you have a long and difficult road ahead of you and you’ll watch your once-strong cat slowly fade away before your eyes. A lot of people choose to say goodbye right away, but some of them choose to keep them comfortable as long as possible. I’m sure you can guess which I chose.
Bucky, as we called him, didn’t start out a very friendly kitten.
He came to me by accident in Wisconsin after being dropped off at a pet shop choking on soaked dog food that was stuck in his esophagus. We treated him for that, then for the pneumonia that occurred, and finally I was able to take him home where he was loved, spoiled and given the best and most wonderful life possible in spite of developing asthma and living in a house with four other cats.
He was a very tolerant little cat. This wasn’t his favorite thing to wear but every time I squeezed it onto him he was calm and compliant, even when I dressed him in it so we could have his picture taken with Santa. Twice. In the same year. At one point I also put reindeer antlers on him and the effect was nothing short of adorable.
One day, while I lived in Chicago, he started vomiting and having diarrhea. He spent weeks at a time in the hospital and finally underwent surgery to biopsy his colon that ended up in the removal of the distal third of his colon. It also resulted in his being diagnosed with FIP. Biopsy is the only 100% reliable means of diagnosis; there is a blood test but all it tells you is that they’ve been exposed to the disease, not that they actually have it. I had people tell me “oh, he’ll be fine, my cat had FIP for years and was just fine.” No. No he did not.
I gave him handfuls of pills every day. I gave him injections. I gave him his steroids in pill form and inhaler form. I gave him subcutaneous fluids. In the end, none of the steroids, diuretics, anti-vomiting/nausea medication, or pills to remove the blood clots in his eyes were able to save him. All I could do was treat every new problem that popped up until one by one his systems started to fail.
I took this picture of him the last night we were together.
He was so weak that the sedative itself almost put him to sleep but I was grateful that he was able to drift off first so he wasn’t scared. After a little while, the doctor came in and gave him what my black sense of humor likes to refer to as “a ride on the Pink Line.” It was over in a few seconds.
I couldn’t let go. I held his little body, nothing but skin and bones, in my arms long past his last breath. I couldn’t let go of him while he was still warm. Only when a friend came into the room and told me that the only reason he was still warm was because I was still holding him did I let her take him away. Every moment is still crystal clear.
I’m crying as I write this, like I do every year he’s gone and every time I think about him. I’ve written about this twice already and I keep hoping that someday I’ll be able to remember him with a smile but it’s still not happening. There’s still a jagged hole in my heart where he should be and I wonder if it’ll ever close.
I have a permanent reminder of him now. Someone told me “always wait at least a year before you get a memorial tattoo” so that you make sure your feelings are still the same. It took me almost three years to save up the money to get my piece but it was worth it. I love my artist.
I had a cat for not even a year. His life lasted just over that. Yet I can’t get his life or his death out of my heart. I still love him as much as the first day I held him. Hug your cats tightly tonight, all. Love them. For me, for Bucky, and especially for yourself.