Our 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.”
And 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.