A Boy and His Cat

A boy and his catOur family cat died today, quite unexpectedly. He had been unwell for a couple of days, and I took him in to the vet this morning expecting that he might have an obstruction or some other expensive but curable malady. That was not the case, and I had to make the difficult decision to have him euthanized.

This story isn’t really about the cat though, or about me. It’s about my middle child, my thirteen year old son, who loved that cat like nothing else. I knew that he and his brothers needed to say goodbye to Merlin, so I called their dad, who offered to break the news, and then bring the boys to the vet. They all came in and we spent some time together, all of us crying, all of us a little shocked at how quickly this had happened.

When the vet gently explained what would happen next, my ex husband offered to stay with the cat as he was put to sleep. “Thank you,,” I said. “But I want to be with him.”

Quietly, my middle guy said, “I want to stay too.”

MerlinAnd so he did. For a little longer, he and I cuddled Merlin, and then the vet came in to sedate him. After that, my guy cradled his cat for a half hour, gently stroking him and making sure he was comfortable. We laughed through tears about Merlin’s notched ears, tattered from too many fights over the years. We admired his beautiful bushy tail, which always curved over, the result, we suspect, of a close encounter a few years back with a car. We cried and we talked, remembering our favourite Merlin stories: the way he dismantled the bottom half of the Christmas tree each year; the way he shredded the tissue paper in any gift bag left untended; the way he stalked deer in the back garden.

“I remember when I could hold him in the palm of my hand,” my boy cried. Indeed, he had known Merlin longer than any of us. Merlin’s mother was a rescue cat and some family friends fostered her and her kittens once they were born. The cat rescue agency encouraged the family to let their children play with the kittens as much as possible. And my guy, who spent three mornings a week there, couldn’t wait to go and play with “the kitties.” It was no surprise, really, that one of those kitties eventually ended up at our house.

He was a beautiful cat, a handsome, long haired ginger tom with a friendly nature and an independent streak. When the weather was good, he used to disappear for days at a time. I should have known that he wasn’t quite himself, because he’d been home much more frequently than usual in the past few months.

My son held his beloved cat as he got sleepier and sleepier. “It’s just about time for the vet to put Merlin to sleep,” I told him. “You don’t have to stay for that.”

He shook his head, tears streaming down his face. “I want to be with him.” And so my guy held our cat as the vet administered the final injection, held the cat as he died, and held him for a few minutes after. I don’t know how, at thirteen, he had the courage.

My first instinct today was to have the cat put down and then tell my kids, to protect them as much as possible from the pain of this ending. But I knew they needed to say goodbye. And when my son asked to stay, I knew that he needed that to0, that for him it was part of the process.

And I’m glad that he was there, that he got to say goodbye on his terms, and that it was he, who had held Merlin as a week-old kitten, who now held our cat as he drifted away.


About Sally

Poet, seeker, author, mom. Celebrating the beauty and mystery that surrounds us and learning to trust in the journey.
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38 Responses to A Boy and His Cat

  1. Help Me Help Holly ♥ says:

    So sorry to hear of your loss 😦 He was a beautiful cat. I’m off to give my cat a big cuddle and tell him how much I love him now!

    • That is a perfect idea. And take some pictures of him! I hardly have any pictures at all to remember our Merlin by. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      • That’s too bad, but I know what it’s like. Of the hundreds of pets I’ve had over the years, I have two picturex of two of my dogs and about 30 pictures of a feral black cat that adopted me on Christmas Eve 2006. I tried to make her into an indoor cat, but at midnight when she wanted to go prowling and hunting, she let me know. She got run over by a car on September 20, 2007. I went down that same day and got a cat from the animal shelter, an indoor cat. She’s been with me ever since, sleeping next to me on the printer right now. I have over 17,000 pictures of Zoey the Cool Cat, and I add more each day.

        Thanks for sharing your story about Merlin and your son. By the time I finished, this 58-year-old guy had tears in his eyes.

      • I’ve wondered about who that beautiful cat is who appears on your blog and as your Gravatar. Zooey is a gorgeous creature and it is clear that she is very well loved.

  2. “I don’t know how, at thirteen, he had the courage.” I think he learned it from you.

  3. sgros4 says:

    Sorry bout the loss of Merlin, we lost a cat recently as well!
    Prayers to you and the family

  4. I’m sorry to hear about Merlin’s passing, I know how hard it is to loose these animals that come into our lives and bring us such joy. It sounds like Merlin was loved very much and had a very good life with your family….even when he undecorated the Christmas tree.

  5. kp says:

    Sally, I cried all the way through this post; knowing how attached our kids have become to our dog, Sam, and our cat, Cocoa. It is beautiful that your son wanted to “be there” for Merlin as he died; and that you wanted your children to have the opportunity to say “Good-bye” to Merlin before he died. So often in life, we choose to avoid situations that are emotionally painful….but then we rob ourselves and others of the comfort and resolution that comes from “being present”. Kim

    • What a nice way of expressing it, Kim, as “being present.” My son bore witness to his cat’s death, and I hope that the experience will shape him in positive ways, giving him another layer of resilience, and the courage to face other hard things which will inevitably come his way in his life. At the same time, I hope it brings him a sense of peace, a knowing that, however hard, he did something good and important.

      • Parents who love their children like you do (mine didn’t), and children who love their pets, continue to convince me that even after the Boston bombing, there are more good people in the world than there are bad. I have no doubt that your son has learned care and compassion for all creatures on this Earth.

      • Thank you, Russell. Watching my boy with his cat, I saw a glimpse of the compassionate and caring man he is becoming.

      • I’m not sure what made me compassionate and caring. Certainly not my mom, and my dad died when I was 6. My wise old grandmother adopted me when I was 11, and I think her love of all things nature — even the ants, roaches, snakes, and spiders — instilled in me the same love, and a love of all those things that most people hate taught me that care and compassion.

      • I think that so long as we have one person in our lives who loves us like crazy and who shows us how to love, then we’re golden. It sounds like you’re grandmother was that person for you.

  6. amb says:

    I know how hard it is to lose a pet, and I’m so sorry your family had to go through that. But I also know how much it meant for me to be there when we had to put our dog down, and I’m so glad that you and your son got to share that. xo.

  7. i’m so sorry about merlin. that’s so sad. i’m glad your son stayed with him till the end. he’ll always remember his own courage and his love that allowed him to comfort his cat till the end.

  8. Such sorrow. Blessings to you all.

  9. I had to put our family dog down recently, and my son was there. As sick as it sounds, seeing death for the first time is a huge growth moment for him. It is a rite of passage towards becoming a man…

  10. Brigitte says:

    Oh Sally, this was such a heartfelt, sweet story. I know you and your son are aching for your sweet Merlin but I’m glad you two were together to see him through. What a lovely family you have — how proud you must be.

  11. kingmidget says:

    Far too many parents think their kids can’t handle things like this. Kudos to you for recognizing yours could. And that everybody was probably better for it.

  12. Crikey, that brought a tear to my eye, to loose a friend, to see such courage!

  13. Debra Kristi says:

    Oh Sally, I’m reading all your sad stuff in one sitting. I’m so sorry. I’ve been there, I understand. I’m glad your son had the courage to stay by his cat so that later – down the road he won’t wonder. Saying goodbye is never easy. I hope your heart finds the healing it needs. Hugs.

  14. Sorry for your sudden loss. There’s no real way to describe the thing that those furry creatures do to us. It’s lovely that you were all there with him, especially your son… Goodbye’s are so important.

  15. Denise Hisey says:

    As someone who was robbed of being able to say goodbye to our family pet when I was 10, this post moved me to tears. You did the right thing, and your son no doubt has so much courage because of his courageous mom. The right thing isn’t usually the easy thing but you did it anyhow. I admire this very much of you.

  16. Sallyann says:

    As I read this I had planned to send you a hug and a smile, but by the time I reached the end of your post I could see that you and your family have that part very much under control.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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