Everything felt raw. The skin around my eyes and nose was red and chapped. It burned, ached, and felt like it would crack if any muscle in my face dared to move. My stomach was the same, it felt empty and full at the same time, but it ached. It, too, was raw.
And so was my heart.
Last week Mr. Muse and I said goodbye to our little diva cat, Rupunzel (yes, that’s how WE spell her name). She had just turned 18 years old, and we’d had her fluffy, sassy self with us for the last 17 of those years.
Rue, is what we called her for short. She was a former barn cat from my parent’s farm. Her mother, Frisky, was a grey tabby/tortoiseshell who had a litter of four orange and white kittens in 1999. Three boys, and one little girl who was half the size of her brothers but with a personality far larger than her barely pint-sized self.
On top of a litter of puppies exploring the yard, the barn cats were bringing their kittens out to see the world. Rue walked right into the puppies playpen, and as they mauled her with their tongues and paws, excited for the tiny, palm-sized, new playmate, she swatted them in turn. From that day forth, we knew that she had the attitude to spare.
As she got older, she was the queen of the house. Her gaze easily cowed our two dogs. These two same dogs wouldn’t hesitate to drive a strange cat out of our yard but shrunk away from Rue’s presence. She didn’t tolerate their antics and barely tolerated them being around, though, they were tolerated. (Otherwise, she’d get scolded by Mr. Muse or me.)
After our dogs had passed, it was just Rue and Alex, who is technically her nephew, though he’s a year older. We thought about getting another dog or two but decided that since the cats were in their mid-teens, they’d earned their retirement.
Rue was my “fluff” and Mr. Muse’s “fluffball”. The cat that everyone at the vet clinics loved. The cat that friends threatened to steal. The cat who had an entire basket of toys to play with and always insisted on her pink, sparkly ball. In her last week, the two of us made quite the picture as we looked under the furniture together to find that favorite toy. She was the littlest cat with the loudest purr; she was tiny and feisty and adorable.
And now, she’s gone.
No matter how many times I’ve been at this place, saying goodbye to a beloved companion, it’s always the same. Utter rawness of emotion. Loss and bare-faced anguish.
She was an otherwise healthy elderly cat except for chronic kidney disease, but she was struck with pancreatitis. And after supportive care, hospitalization, an abdominal ultrasound to see if there was anything else going on, and more supportive care, we made the decision to let her go.
Of course, we asked if now was the right time. For a very sick cat, she was still her sassy self. But, after a week of barely any food because she just couldn’t keep anything down; it was thought that her pancreas had likely stopped working altogether. No matter if we could get food to stay in her stomach or not, without a functioning pancreas, her body wouldn’t be able to do anything with food she’d manage to keep down anyway. We were looking at slow starvation. I couldn’t do that to her, nor could Mr. Muse.
As a pet owner, I’m glad I worked a handful of years at a veterinary clinic. I got to see a side of pet ownership that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I saw people subject their pets to chemotherapy and radiation for cancer that had very poor prognosis even IF the chemo and radiation were successful. I saw a dog owner continually prolong the life of her dog that was literally rotting from a variety of cancers, had no teeth left, and horrible cataracts – but veterinarians cannot tell someone to euthanize their pet.
During that time that I learned that there was a line I could not cross when it came to pet care. When it no longer was about what was best for my pet but because I was selfish. I’d faced that reality before, and here it was again.
After 18 years, my little fluff, my “puddin’ pop,” my Ruppie-doopie-doo, was gone.
And even though I know my decision was the right one, it’s never easy. And it hurts.
We buried her with her beloved pink sparkly ball alongside loved companions who went before.
I felt raw. Broken open and shattered.
I will heal, but for now, my best girl is gone.