So hard to believe that I said goodbye to my furry little soul sister, CiCi, a year ago. Gotta admit, it went by fast. Well, fast since the beginning of this year – the first 6 months were hell. Even though I’m much better emotionally than I was 365 days ago not a day goes by where she doesn’t cross my mind in some way.
So CiCi’s story began almost 2 years ago in July of 2015 when she suddenly went from a happy and frisky kitty to a sullen little thing who dragged herself from one room to the next. Of course this happened on a Sunday and by the time I realized, shit! She needs medical attention ASAP! even the emergency vet for our area (an hour away in Red Bank) was closed. I rushed her into our vet the following morning where they weren’t sure if she had swollen intestines or cancer. What they did know was that she needed a $2000 exploratory surgery. And so wanting her to survive and all, I left her there in the vet’s care. When I called the next day to check on her and find out what’s going on, they still had no answers. They had performed an exploratory laparotomy with biopsies on her and they wouldn’t have the results back in until the following week. I picked her up 2 days later, happy to see her, relieved she was still alive and coming home but frustrated because we still had no answers – you know, like it was all the same from say $2000 ago.
When the results came back they weren’t good. They weren’t as bad as they thought, but still not good. She had severe inflammatory bowel disease. It was so bad that her intestines were thickened to the point where they couldn’t absorb nutrients from her food anymore. She was placed on 3 different medications, probiotics and a very expensive prescription diet. She also had to go in once a month for a vitamin B12 shot to help her intestines with the absorption of nutrition. It was all in vain. She lasted almost another 11 months. She started deteriorating in late March 2016 and on June 24, 2016, I held and kissed her one last time as our vet administered the euthanasia cocktail.
I stupidly took her in alone. My original plan was for my husband to come along with me so he could be the voice of reason. But for some reason, and I honestly can’t remember what that reason was, I went alone. Dumb. I was an instant mess. I had a hard time letting her physical body go even though I knew her soul had departed it about a minute after the second drug was administered. I looked like a raccoon from my mascara running all over the place and now I was supposed to drive myself 3 miles home?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what if I could go back in time (no, not to stop her from passing) and have a heart-to-heart with my past self – you know, to sort of prepare myself a bit more for what was to come after she passed. Because I wasn’t prepared. Not even the tiniest little bit. I knew I’d be sad and miss her but I wasn’t ready to feel like a walking open wound for the next 6 months.
So, these are the things I wish I had known before my cat died.
Reconsider, at least for the weekend: It all seemed to go down so fast. She went from placing her freshly killed moth at my feet Wednesday night to being lethargic, not eating/drinking, and crapping outside her litter box in less than 24 hours. I took her in Friday afternoon and I wish I hadn’t. Actually, what I really wish I had done was take her in Friday afternoon, get some pain medication for her, set up some wee wee pads around the house and have one last weekend with her so everyone could’ve said goodbye to her in a way that just felt right.
Don’t be stupid. Take your husband with you: What was I trying to prove? That I was SO brave I could handle all the things and emotions related to this solo? No, I was an idiot. My husband, while he loved her dearly, had a more level head about what was going on. He knew she was miserable and in pain and he didn’t want to see her suffer anymore. Besides, do you know how many forms and paperwork needs to be filled out before this happens? A shit load! Have your level-headed husband there so he can handle the paperwork and you can love on CiCi just a little bit longer.
You’re going to feel like shit because guilt sucks: Honest to whatever deity you pray to for the first few days after she died I called myself her murderer. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do for her I just still felt like I murdered her. Our vet reassured me there was nothing more that we could do for her, and that she had never seen a family do so much for a terminally ill animal.
And then, while I was holding her while it was happening, and the vet confirmed she was gone, for a split second I felt a sudden rush of relief. Yes, relief because I no longer had to care for a terminally ill animal. Relief that we might actually be able to start digging out from the mountain of debt that we accrued because of vet bills, medications, and expensive AF prescription diets. That damn split second of relief brought on months of guilt. I never thought of her as a burden, and I would’ve done anything to relieve her of pain. When I spoke to a therapist (yes, I actually spoke to my son’s psychiatrist about this – nothing wrong with that), he explained what I probably felt was relief that it was over for her. Her pain was over and her soul could now rest because of it.
I also felt guilt over a stupid comment I made about 10 days before she died, when I was making yet another trip to pick up her special diet. I casually said to my daughter, “I really wish I didn’t have to do this anymore…” I know! I didn’t mean it like that. I meant I wish she wasn’t so sick that she needed a special diet and that she could just eat regular (high end – I treat my fur babies well) cat food and that I didn’t have to find specialty pet stores or visit the vet’s office to pick up food for her.
Grief is just the worst: Missing her sweet face, her calming presence and her hilarious antics was something I was pretty prepared for. What I wasn’t prepared for, and what surprised the hell out of me, was the profound depression that struck almost immediately. Finding the strength to stop crying and compose myself long enough to drive the 3 miles home, and then entering a cat-less house with an empty pet carrier was just too much. I spent almost the entire summer in bed and in my pajamas. I really don’t remember doing much of anything last summer. I did take my kids out a few times. I know we drove up to Paramus to mall hop on little dude’s birthday, but that was in late August and I was starting to pull myself out of it a bit by then.
You won’t know what to do with yourself: From July 2015 until June 2016 I had devoted most of my time to taking care of her. Some days she needed almost constant care, other days not as much, but most of my time was devoted to keeping her as comfortable as possible. I also had to run her to the vet quite often, administer her medications every day. I fed her and made sure she was eating, and then I’d check her poop to make sure it all looked normal. That was my day. My kids would be in school and I was a stay-at-home cat mom. But when so much of your day is devoted to tending to the needs of a terminally ill animal, well when that animal is no longer around that’s a pretty big void to fill.
Realize that you’re not the only one grieving: My teenage boy child loved this tiny cat so much and he was crushed when she passed away. He was also the one who would help me administer her medications. And my little dude… they had such an incredibly close bond. He would sit at the dining room table coloring, drawing, or building something with Legos and Play-Doh, and there was CiCi. Right by his side and watching his every move. I was 100% convinced they were plotting world domination together. Two days after she died he demanded she be brought home and I was left wondering how do you explain to an autistic child that his cat can’t come home? How do I explain death to this child? I told him the vet helped her fall asleep and she can never wake up from this sleep, therefore she can’t come home. He cried for a bit and then seem to accept it and he moved on. My daughter and I had a really special bond with her. When we adopted her I said I wanted a female cat because I was sick of all the testosterone in the house. I couldn’t even catch a break with the dog! My daughter and I would hang out in the kitchen almost every night, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, and CiCi would be right there with us. She would look back and forth between us as we spoke, sometimes she would interject with her own little meows of advice. It was our girl time and I saw how much my kids missed her when she was gone. My husband too. He tried not to show it, but I heard him break down and cry the morning I took her in to have it done. Our dog also felt it. While they weren’t the best of friends, I think they liked one another, and I think he missed her the most. He moped around for weeks after she died and took his time reclaiming his spot on the living room sofa. She had claimed that spot as her own (by beating the crap out of him) her first week with us.
You need to practice self-love and care: I’m not kidding on this one. Eat good, healthy, nutritious foods, get out of the house, exercise, take walks (even if you just take the dog for a little walk). All of these things… Do them! Because when she became ill, my health habits seemed to go to hell in a hand basket. I started eating crap and stopped my daily workouts and walks. So take care of yourself because a year after she’s gone you’re going to be left wondering how you let yourself get to this point and you’ll have to start all over again.
Trust me on this one, you will feel better: You may not believe it now, but about 6 months from now you will start to feel the darkness lift. You won’t cry forever. There will come a day when you’ll think of her and smile instead of cry. You’ll be able to reminisce about one of her antics and you’ll laugh. The sadness will subside and you will be okay.
BUT don’t be surprised if grief decides to sucker punch you every now and then: While you will feel better, don’t be surprised if grief suddenly pops up and gives you a swift kick in the ass. This happened to me just a few weeks ago while I was washing dishes. I just looked up and became momentarily disgusted at the state of my kitchen curtains. I started wondering how I could’ve gone so long without washing them because they’re so dingy and you can just tell they’re filthy. When I lifted the left hand corner of one of the curtains up I was reminded of why I haven’t washed them. A patch of CiCi’s black and white fur is on the underside of the curtain. That curtain corner was somewhat of a saving grace for me last summer. Whenever I was really sad, like complete with hysterical crying and snot bubbles bowing out of my nostrils, I would lift up that corner and pet her fur. I would also brush it up against my cheek. It helped provide a physical link to her even though she’s no longer here. And when I saw the fur and realized why I haven’t washed the curtains, I cried again. Long and hard. And it was okay. But now I’m getting to the point where I’ll be washing those curtains soon because, well, it just has to be done. It’s been over a year and aftre that long hard cry a few weeks ago I feel more emotionally ready to do it.
As I’ve eluded to throughout this, things are so much better these days. I went back to work, which helped tremendously. I get up and get out of the house every day now, although I must admit sometimes I still struggle to get out of my pajamas but that’s more of a comfort thing. What can I say? I just LOVE me so pajamas! I’m starting to take better care of myself with eating properly and I’ve been walking quite a bit lately.
I miss her though, and I always will. She was such a little cat but she had this great big personality. You couldn’t ignore her. When we went to the animal shelter to look for a cat as soon as we walked in she jumped right up and started meowing over to us. She definitely chose us as her family.
Will we ever have another cat? I’m really not sure. I’d love to, but trying to convince my husband is another thing. We also have our dog now, who just turned 7 and seems to now be loving the fact that he’s an only fur baby. But I know that we he passes away (I’m hoping he’s got another 5-7 years left in him) it will leave a big void in this house, and I can truly see my husband and I walking out of an animal shelter with another kitty to love in our arms in the distant future. But for now, we’re not ready and I think focusing on our pooch is what’s best.
Have you ever had to say goodbye to a four-legged member of your family? How did you get through it?
RIP CiCi. We love you and miss you every day. And I swear, that towel… we weren’t mocking you.