The vet visit was brief. Dr. Jake arrived around 8:30 pm, gave me a waiver to sign certifying I was the owner of the cat and that I authorized the procedure, and explained to those assembled--Tracy, Nurit, Sonya and Tricia--what he had recently told me over the phone. The first shot is a sedative and anxiety reducer, which would put him in an endorphic dream state. The second shot, administered five minutes later, would quietly send him off. Dr. Jake gave us time to say goodbye before the shots, but we've been saying goodbye to him all week.
I held him on my lap, cradling his head in one hand and stroking his fur with another. His skin had become cold to the touch an hour or two before. His breathing had become more and more labored, and Sonya sat beside me and placed a reassuring hand on his chest. Tracy had thoughtfully combed Abbie so he looked sleek and good one last time. I wailed at the first shot; I wailed louder at the second. That was the point of no return. You can be in denial all you want, you can still hold out the smallest hope in your heart that maybe just maybe he'll perk up and this whole silly cancer thing was just one big joke ha ha got me good there buddy, but once that needle goes in and the tourniquet is released, there are no takebacks.
It mercifully did not take long. I held my best friend in my arms and felt his life slowly ebb away. I told him to go with the Cats who had Gone Before. I knew they were there, emerging from the shadows and the sun, singing him a song of mourning and joy, of welcome and farewell. I sang him his lullaby. He did not know we were there. It didn't matter. I felt his chest rise and fall a few more times, I felt his pulse grow softer and softer, and then he was gone. It was 8:45.
We sat in the living room for a long time like we did with Martha, petting the cat and talking about his life. So many things had already been said, but it was okay to say them again. Dr. Jake helped me take the cat's collar off. I will never part with it. Should I ever need to hear that jingle of tags, should I ever need to remind myself of his presence, I can do that. It is an incredible comfort.
Then we wrapped him up in his carrier towel. In his paws I placed Catnip Frog, which had been a gift from my mother, and the red yarn mouse, a gift from Sonya's mother. Then we wrapped him in a bedsheet shroud, placed it in one half of the cat carrier and took him to Lexington: me, sovay, and ratatosk. hermitgeecko arrived several minutes later with an incredibly useful flashlight. Together, we represented four of the six or seven most important people in his life. It mattered so much to me that they would be the ones to help me lay him to rest. We may not have had enough for a kitty minyan, but Abbie was a Foodatarian anyway and besides he always was wary with a crowd.
We had planned on burying Abbie under Rosabella, a flowering dogwood tree Sonya had planted as a child and which she cherishes dearly. Rosabella, however, offered no reasonable spot for us to dig. She has low-hanging branches and I really did not want to injure her roots with our shoveling. Instead, we moved further back in Sonya's yard to a tall pussy willow, grown from a sprig of the tallest pussy willow in the state of Maine. We marked out a grave in the grass between the pussy willow and Sonya's family radio telescope. (What, didn't you have one in your backyard growing up?)
Digging a grave is a difficult, grubby, back-aggravating, blister-inducing, yet extremely personal and intimate job. Digging a grave at midnight is especially difficult because the sounds of metal on rocks could bother the neighbors, and you really don't want to have to explain to the nice police officers why you're out digging a shallow grave in someone's backyard in the middle of the night. We could have done it in daylight tomorrow, but Sonya and Tracy both felt a sense of urgency to finish this story that started two Saturdays ago. We also had no place to keep him overnight--in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, "it's summer and we're running out of ice."
All four of us took turns in shifts digging, holding flashlights when we weren't taking a turn at the shovels. The topsoil came out very easily, but the ground underneath was full of rocks the size of footballs. Either kind. The glacier that came through New England sure was generous with the granite. We spent more time digging and scraping and removing the large stones than we did actually moving dirt. The stones were put aside for the cairn we would build when we were done.
Finally, after levelling out a decently deep spot, we went back to the car to retrieve the cat. As I pulled the cat carrier-bier out of the car, Sonya asked me if I wanted a hand. No, I said. I need to do this myself.
Took two steps and looked down at the sheet-shrouded lump which had once been the greatest cat in the world. And I cried the rest of the way to the gravesite. These things, see, hit you in stages. Perspective whups you upside the head and you suddenly have an Awful Realization about what you're doing. I'd been whupped: I am now going to bury my cat. It will be a few weeks yet, I think, before I get whupped again and realize he is well and truly gone.
We placed Abbie the Cat in the hole we had made just for him. I sang his lullaby to him one more time. sovay remembered how he'd once wanted a piece of her chicken caesar wrap so badly that she acquiesced and gave him a nibble, which he promptly threw up--and then asked for more. Carolyn told the story of the time she'd playfully placed a chip clip on the side of his mane, which promptly caused him to throw up. (She then turned to me and gleefully exclaimed, "I've hacked your cat's firmware!") I am not sure why so many legendary stories about cats involve prompt vomiting, but there you go.
Sonya, Carolyn and I each tossed a symbolic handful of dirt into the grave, then I took a shovel and began to fill it. I needed to take the first round of shovelling, just like I needed to carry him over by myself. He was my cat; I was his guy. Sonya softly sang the same low, sweet song she had sung the previous Monday when we first thought Abbie was on his way out. I tamped down the dirt with the shovel, cringed at the clanging sound, and stepped into the grave to tamp it down with my feet. I looked down at the dirt and assured Abbie that even though I may have threatened it in the past, this was not dancing.
ratatosk took over the filling duties after a while, and once the dirt was mostly replaced we took all the stones removed from the dig and built the cairn. Since Lexington has coyotes, it was practical as well as symbolic. The cairn looks to be the best you can build in the middle of the night. Some day soon we may have a daylight memorial for the fellow, and possibly make a proper headstone. He was a Good Cat.
The toughest part is over. There is a deep feeling of relief hidden among the profound sadness and desolation. I no longer have to worry about Abbie and how long he might last in such a sad, painful condition. I no longer have to check on him, to hold him, to look in his big soft kitten eyes and see a friend yearning to let go. On the other hand, I will never again get to check on him, to hold him, to look in his big soft kitten eyes and see a friend. To paraphrase George C. Tilyou, I had troubles yesterday which I do not have today; I have troubles today which I did not have yesterday. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.
There is a palpable emptiness in the house now, but there is also peace. This is how it happens.