Meet my cat. Her name is Dottie. She is a cat of different color, if you’ll excuse my usurping of a familiar phrase. You see, Dottie is both cat and companion to me. “Companion” doesn’t really cover it though; she has been an unexpected comforter, empath, and confidante to me. We nap together—I would say, “peacefully,” but she is on a never-ending quest to get all four paws on me at the same time, and therefore and has a squirm-factor that is off the charts. She is my co-writer of music and editor of articles. She touches my face when I am sad, and makes me laugh with silly acrobatics. She is my spirit animal and I love her beyond measure.
And she is dying.
The first time I saw Dottie was on a second trip to the pet store. My husband and I had lost a cat rather traumatically a couple of years before. There are only two reactions to this type of loss, right? One is to go get a new friend immediately so that the wounded heart knits together faster. The other is to swear off pets forever. We were of the second mindset; our connections with animals are too deep, the pain too searing, the heartbreak too unmendable.
Does hope spring eternal? It must, because there we were, staring at kittens.
The first trip resulted in some general enjoyment of the cuteness on display. A few cuddles and a little wistful pull in the pit of the stomach.
“This,” says the head, “is a really crappy idea.”
Responds the heart: “Oh, but I have no limits.”
On the second inevitable trip to the pet store, Dottie stood up from behind a partition on the upper floor of a display, did a quick down-dog stretch, and took up residence in my soul.
Nine years later, the signs started. Always a generally pukey cat, she began to vomit more often. It looked…different. It happened once, and we took note. It happened twice, and we took pictures. It happened a third time, and we took her to the vet. Several weeks and lots of differential diagnosing later, we had our answer: small-cell lymphoma. It’s a terminal diagnosis for cats.
She was dying. And I wanted to.
I handle human death fairly well. Sadness, of course; grief of the usual five-stage nature. But animals—that’s a different story. There is something so innocent in an animal’s trusting of its caretaker; something so heartbreaking in the finality of loss of a daily companion and giver of unconditional love; something so cruel when I know what is happening and she does not.
Everything changed. Now when we napped, I imagined only that it was our last nap. When she went out to the screened porch to hunt lizards, it was the last time she would feel the sun, sniff the air, be content. I agonized when she sat with me; I could imagine only the unimaginable: that soon, she would not be lounging on my lap. Soon, the would be only empty white space where she used to be. To me, she was both alive and dead at the same time. She was my own personal Schrödinger’s cat.
I was miserable, caught up in grief for a future without my girl. I ran the gamut: denial, depression, anger. I cried. I wept. I watched her every move, expecting the creep of death at any moment. Though she was alive and warm—and considerably skinnier—I superimposed the absense of her over the presence of her. I stared relentlessly at a Zoetrope of her life and death.
It was a Tuesday in May when we thought her passing was near. I stayed home from work and meetings. She stayed in her quiet sickie spot in the closet. She came out to sit with me in my office for a while. She sat on my lap while I wrote a song for her. She looked in my eyes and I cried. Again.
She sang a song to me. I know that sounds a little batty, but there it is. It was Gungor’s “This is Not the End."
This is not the end, this is not the end of us.
We will open our eyes wide, wider…
OK, so she’s saying goodbye; saying “I’ll see you again after death.” She went back to her closet sickie spot.
I wept. I shared the song with Dave. He wept. We mourned for a long time, and then decided we would take her to the vet the following morning and let her go.
We did the unimaginable; we released her totally and completely that night.
As soon as the decision was made, Dottie trotted into the room.
“Hi!” she said. “I think I won’t die just yet.”
Dottie is still wtih us today. Sure, there are steroids to give and food to puree and feeding schedules to be adhered to. But she’s here, and real, and beautiful, and—against all odds—thriving. And I am enjoying her rather than mourning a death that hasn’t come yet.
In all my desperate, clinging neediness, I was holding us both prisoner. I was a miserable mess and therefore, she was too. But after releasing her, after accepting that there are things I just can’t change, a beautiful peace settled on all of us. This is the art, the magic, and the science of release.
Releasing brings peace. Releasing brings acceptance of the give and take of life. Releasing allows us to stop living in—and worrying about—all possible futures and be completely grounded in the now. And the now is the only moment that really matters.
Turns out, my Schrödinger’s cat was alive. And I’m enjoying every now that I have with her.