Divorce lessons from Lewis the cat
Lewis was a cat. No pedigree. No unusual markings. Just furry gray, huggable, and independent. In the last year, he managed to sneak out of the house twice. He nailed a few birds, even a ground squirrel – conquering his prey with only one tooth.
He lived with my daughter until this morning, when she made the brave, terrifying, agonizing decision to put him to sleep. Lewis’s diabetes had escalated. He was licking and scratching himself raw. He wasn’t eating. He was miserable. Medication didn’t seem to help. More tests meant dipping deep into savings.
Aside from “do not resuscitate” for human loved ones, I think there’s no pain worse than the knot in your stomach when you decide if your sick pet lives or dies by your hand. I watched my daughter struggle: Am I being selfish? The vet says he might get another year or two with expensive meds. Is this my fault because I moved him across country? Did I cause this when I left him with a cat sitter during business trips? Do I owe him more than this? Am I a mean, insensitive person? Then, the tears. He was her buddy. Did she have the right to kill him?
She’d adopted Lewis from the SPCA in New York City. He was 7 years old. He’d been caged for 8 months because no one wanted a “pre-diabetic” cat. Never mind that he was laid back, gentle (except if you are a bird or a mouse), and children didn’t phase him. He had a little indentation in his neck where we suspect a collar had been. We guessed someone abandoned him. He’d had full-on diabetes when the SPCA took him in. They reversed it and he reached pre-diabetic status.
My daughter fell in love with him, diabetes or not. Lewis lived with her for 3 years, including navigating a cross country move in the car. Never a peep. At the new house, life was good. Little kids tugged on his ears, and he ignored them. He had predator moments in the wild (her back yard). He ate expensive food to keep the diabetes at bay. Lewis was always hungry. He spent most of the day next to his bowl, just in case a passerby might drop a little goodie in it.
Then he got sicker. The vet listened and understood. The cat was not going to get better, she said. You’re doing everything right, but sometimes we must remember that no matter what we do, we will outlive our animals. We celebrate them at birth with our joy. We give them the best life we can. Then, we celebrate them at the end through our tears.
She decided to release his little soul.
A friend went with her. They talked about all the things that Lewis would do in kitty heaven. They cried together when the vet gently carried him away, the blue fluffy blanket wrapped around him. She kissed him on the head before she let him go. The vet promised her a little imprint of his paw in clay. She’ll frame it along with his picture.
There’s a hole in my daughter’s heart now. There’s guilt. There’s relief. There’s deep sadness.
Then, there’s moving on. It hurts like hell when she opens the back door after work and there’s no little furry gray head meowing for his dinner as if she’d never fed him. She tells herself she did the right thing. Of course she did.
Sometimes in life, there are no good choices. We make them, then we live with them. We keep going, and we grieve. They all hurt. They all draw criticism, even from ourselves. We do the best we can. And then we go forward.
One day, another kitten will appear at her doorstep. She’ll scoop him up and giggle with joy. He’ll never take Lewis’s place. But the circle of life with pets will begin again.
The depth of loss at endings enables the heights of joy at beginnings.
I offer this to you who are going through an ending – divorce or break-up. There are new beginnings ahead, in spite of the pain you feel now. It doesn’t diminish the good times. It simply means you keep going, and the cycle begins again with joy you think impossible right now.
Thank you for the laughter, the lessons, and love, Lewis. Rest in peace.
You bet. For me it is dogs, and not just any dogs, German Shepherd dogs. Ever since I saw Rin Tin Tin as a kid (centuries ago…) I have known that my lot was supposed to include sharing my life with a GSD. Never knew why, until 2007 when I was 66. Of course the bottom line was and is: unconditional love. You get that only from our nonhuman friends who bond with us. From humans? But then in 2007 I discovered I had had all my life a pretty bad case of multifactor ADHD. Very high levels of atypicial behavior in restlessness and inattention. That makes for a very stable and frightening world, which gets worse as you age. But GSDs are bred to be 200% loyal, steady under fire so to speak, very trainable to just about anything and above all to bond very very strongly with one human being, That was just what I need(ed). So when we had to help Bruno move to another life in 2013 after 13 years of miraculous companionship, and when Kaiser died suddenly and horribly violently of hemangiosarcoma after 30 months of the warmest and closest companionship I’ve ever known, I howled and cried so hard I thought I’d choke, for days on end. You bet. That is an unmatched, indescribable tear in the weave of my soul, and that hurts. ITs the sort of wound that doesnt’t close, but just recedes as we inevitably move along in our time space dream we call life. thanks for sharing that.
HI Greg. Thanks for this tender response. Our animals become part of us.I know that excruciating pain you felt when Kaiser died. Theres nothing like that grief. I can still relive my last days with MamaDuke and Gordie, our Great Danes. I had to put them both down about 6 months apart. I never thought I’d recover. They were our first children. But somehow time makes it bearable. I still miss them.