In the six hours between when I had last checked on my cat, Meg, and when I came home for the evening, she had started to die.
I shouldn’t have been startled and surprised, but I was. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye – not like this. Meg was 20 years old; she had a heart murmur, liver and kidney issues, thyroid disease, and dementia, but early that afternoon when I left her, she was still happy and affectionate. She had chased a fly, given me head bumps, and eaten some food.
I wasn’t totally unprepared for her death, but I don’t think one is ever fully ready. I’d discussed an end-of-life plan with AHELP Project and with Compassion 4 Paws. A few years back, I’d been on the Board of Directors for AHELP, and I was familiar with animal hospice and palliative care. I’d been providing Meg with hospice care for the last few months.
In the last few weeks, I’d been suffering from compassion fatigue; between her dementia and her thyroid disease, Meg would wake me up 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 a.m., frantic for food. I would feed her, but then she would act like she wasn’t sure what to do… Several nights, I was so tired, sad, and frustrated that I just wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I kept trying to help her, as best as I could.
And as I looked at her now, my beautiful, sweet, perfect senior girl, I felt guilty for ever having felt fatigued at caring for her. She’d really never asked for much, other than a warm lap, some treats, and some toys to play with. She’d always been so lively, even as she dwindled from her chubby egg-shape down to six pounds. I gazed at her prone body and felt like I couldn’t breathe. She was lying on the carpet in my bedroom and she was barely aware that I was there. In the entire decade that I’d known her, she had never had an accident on the floor. I saw that she had gone to the bathroom on the carpet. I knew she couldn’t help it. I put a towel over it and pretended not to notice. This sweet senior kitty deserved her dignity.
Compassion 4 Paws had helped me do a quality of life assessment on Meg; I’d agreed with her doctor that despite her physical appearance, she was still happy and had quality of life. I’d planned an in-home euthanasia with Compassion 4 Paws, and knew that the time was drawing near, but hadn’t realized just how near it was. I’d missed my window. As I looked at her, I knew that there wasn’t enough time for them to get there. I don’t know why, but I was fearful of her going through a natural death. Perhaps it’s because I had worked at a convalescent center when I was a teenager and saw so many people at the end of their lives who wished that things weren’t as drawn out for them (and told me as much, which was a lot to take as a teenager). Or perhaps it was because I just didn’t want her to suffer. At all.
Meg was actually my ex’s cat; he’d adopted her from Oregon humane 15+ years before, after she’d had kittens and been kicked out of her home for being protective of them. She was now the “mother hen” of my trio of animals at home, the glue that helped my other cat, Chaney, and my dog, Jack, be friends. Meg, who had been vigilant when I was recovering from a broken pelvis, moved her head slightly. I started to cry, and ever the caregiver, she turned to me. Even as she was dying, she wanted me to know that she was there for me. I stopped. Meg didn’t deserve for me to be emotional during her last moments.
I hadn’t wanted Meg to have a natural death, but even more so, I didn’t want her to be alone, so I was so thankful to be there. I frantically texted Michelle with AHELP Project, and she immediately called me back. She told me that she was going to call Compassion 4 Paws for me because I was too upset to find their phone number.
Michelle talked me through what Meg was going through and asked me to describe how she looked. When I told her, she explained that Meg was probably in stage three or four. I should have known how many stages there were in the dying process, but I panicked and asked, “Are there four stages, or are there more like ten? I don’t know if I can handle this for six more stages,” I said, trying not to cry.
Michelle patiently explained that there are four stages and kindly offered to come over. I declined, and then she called Compassion 4 Paws for me. I was afraid to leave Meg’s side. I wanted her to know that I was there for her. I’d planned to have dinner with my boyfriend that night, and he was already on his way over when I realized that Meg was dying. When he came to the door, I explained that Meg was dying and I totally understood if he didn’t want to stay there, as this was going to be pretty intense. But he said that he wanted to stay. He consoled Jack and Chaney while I stayed by Meg’s side. I was so grateful.
Compassion 4 Paws called and apologized that they were half an hour out; I told them that I understood, and I was impressed because that’s still very prompt service, considering that these are all very busy veterinarians who are helping people and their pets during their most vulnerable times.
I saw Meg start to transition and explained that I wanted to go so that I could concentrate fully on her. As she drew her last breaths and her eyes dilated, I saw how peaceful she was. She was barely aware, but she knew that I was there. After her chest had risen and fallen for the last time, Chaney and Jack had a chance to say goodbye. Jack was quite startled. Half an hour later, Compassion 4 Paws came to cast Meg’s paw print and take her body for cremation.
I still haven’t started crying again since she left. The first few days after she’d died, I woke up in the morning and forgot that she was gone. I even looked for her a few times, and then I had that pang of remembering.
Jack and Chaney are still in mourning for their friend, and I wish that there were animal support options for them just as AHELP Project and Compassion 4 Paws helped me.
I’d like to thank AHELP and Compassion 4 Paws for their support and guidance during such a difficult time. Our little family continues to heal and Jack and Chaney continue to comfort for another. I hadn’t planned for Meg to leave the earth this way, but she had her own thoughts on that.
To learn more about AHELP Project, visit their website here. AHELP Project has a Caregiver Support Circle to help those whose animals have recently died or received a life-limiting diagnosis. Read more here.
And to learn more about Compassion 4 Paws and the services that their dedicated veterinary team offers, please visit their website here.