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In which grieving sucks

I was dreading saying goodbye this morning, but I held up fairly well at the vet's. I stayed in the room for the euthenasia, and I'm glad that I did. If I hadn't, my last memories would have been of how weak Phoebe was in those last days, how she could barely move from room to room, how she turned her face away from the scent of food, how I could feel all her shoulder bones and spine when I rubbed her back. Last night, she started bleeding, which confirmed that I had made the right decision. I couldn't stand to see her suffer, and I guess that was the one thing that was worse than telling her goodbye.

Instead, my last memory of her is a gentle one. She purred for me and Ivan as we stroked her in the vet's office, all curled up in her kitty carrier with the top taken off so we could reach her. I told her how much I loved her, how much I would miss her, how somehow Ivan and I would manage without her around to run the place. Then she turned her back to me, and I knew it would be easier if I didn't have to look at her eyes when it happened. She was still purring, but it felt like a signal -- "OK, Lacey, you can let me go now."

And so I did. The vet came back in, and gave her the injection. I feared the worst -- I feared a struggle, twitching, gasping, an emptying of her bowels, all responses to death that I had prepared myself for. But instead, her head, which she'd been holding erect, just gently lay down, as if she was finally allowing sleep to take her after days of being awake -- which is literally what happened, because I think she was in too much pain at the end to sleep more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. There was almost a palpable relief emanating from her body, as if she were sighing, "At last."

I said, "Is that it? It happens that fast?"

And it was. I bent over and kissed her forehead one last time, and then Ivan and I wept for a few moments in the empty room after the vet took her away.

Ivan cried more than I did, I think because for him this hasn't been quite real until now. I've been crying several times a day every day since last Saturday. Somehow in my heart, even though she was still mostly herself when I brought her in last week, I knew she was nearing her end. I wanted to be wrong, but I started letting go right then.

I felt at peace as we left, and relieved, and surprised that I didn't feel devastated. But it wasn't as easy as all that; now that she's gone, I have to remember that grieving is a process. I feel listless right now, so much so that I just tried to sleep but it wouldn't come. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the reality that she's not ever coming back. And of course, there's all the memories -- of her little chirps when she was happy to see us, of her squawks when she was annoyed, of her strange idiosyncracies, like how she loved to lie on cell phones and MP3 players, and how she claimed anything new brought into the house as her "bed" within an hour of its arrival. I'll miss seeing her on top of piles of clean laundry, in half-packed suitcases, downstairs on the couch. Most of all, I'll miss her weight and her powerful purr on my lap, or on my feet while I slept, or the way that sometimes she and Joker would sleep on either side of me. Once I woke up from a nap with the blankets wound around me tightly, and Joker pressed against my frontside, Phoebe pressed against my back. I didn't want to move, because anyone with cats knows how loathesome it is to interfere with their repose. So I texted Ivan, "I am trapped in a kitty sandwich!" and he texted back, "That sounds like a very comfortable trap!"

God, I will miss that comfortable trap. When we first adopted Phoebe and Joker, Phoebe immediately attached herself to me, Joker to Katrina. So I've always had this certain connection to Phoebe, felt "chosen" by her. For all those years in Duluth, I felt like Phoebe was an outward manifestation of my inner neuroses. She was an anxious cat, always wanting to be fed on time, swatting at Joker when Joker came too near, meowing insistently between the bedrooms and the bathroom when she thought it was time for us to get ready to go to bed. And I was indulgent of it all, because I saw in her all the things I hid from the world.

But in her later years, Phoebe mellowed out. She conducted herself with such dignity -- even at the very end, she never stopped using the litterbox and trying to groom herself. Ivan and I would tease her, putting jewelry and shirts and hats on her, and she always bore it so stoicly. I think perhaps she really was a manifestation of my inner self, and as I mellowed out, she did, too. I think she was that tuned in to me.

And with that realization, perhaps I can believe that she was tuned in enough to know when I woud be able to let her go. I never, ever, ever wanted to do it. I used to "joke" with my pets about how they had to promise to live forever. Every time I saw her on the couch downstairs, on her back, her big round belly in the air to be rubbed, her eyes bright, I would say, "Promise me you'll live forever."

Of course, I always knew she couldn't keep that promise. Instead, I'll have to believe the next best thing, that she chose a time when I would be capable of letting her go. She's left me with Ivan and Syrus and Joker, a house full of love that I didn't have for many years when she and Joker felt like my only family when I lived alone. I do believe that on the other side of great pain is great peace and great beauty. I've passed through this dark place before to emerge in better places. But it's still hard being here. Knowing that the only way past grief is through it. And that it will be a long time before my mind and my heart realize that she's really gone.

I loved you so much, Phoebe. People keep telling me that I gave her a good life, and I know it's true. But she gave me a good life, too, and she's left it just a little more broken with her departure.


I'm choking up reading this. :'(
Thank you for your comment, Angela. I think anyone who has loved an animal, whether they have lost one yet or not, understands the pain of letting go. I know you love your little furballs, too, and appreciate your understanding.

I will be choking up when I think about Phoebe for a while. Writing about her helps, and I'm glad I was so obsessed with photographing her over the years. I'm going to gather all those photos onto one disc and make a few prints soon.

Pets give us so many gifts in the years they spend with us, though. It's absolutely all worth it.
If your mission was to make me cry, you have succeeded.