RIP

On January 14th, I put my beloved cat, Buckwheat, to sleep. Since my last post when I mentioned her claim to our household as a private domain, she deteriorated rapidly. She stopped eating and moved from her perch on the couch only to sip water. When doing so, I observed that her back legs, particularly on the right, were poorly controlled.

Buckwheat

The veterinarian performed a brief neurological exam. When touching the right side of Buckwheat’s face, there was no reaction, not even a blink of her eye. Her forepaw and back foot drooped. Reflexes normally noted, were absent. The facial paralysis led the doctor to theorize a brain tumor. “And,” she said, following a pregnant pause, “Buckwheat is 20 years old.”

It was left for me to drop the other shoe. I’m pretty slow on the draw, but this situation demanded an immediate decision. The diagnosis surprised me even though I’d joked with Buckwheat that this might be her last car ride. Normally, when faced with this predicament, she’d sit on my lap grumbling with agitated disgust. Yet, on Thursday’s trip, she was docile.

I thought I was ready to make such a call. I’d wondered for the last two years if she’d make it through another winter. But, my composure broke when it became obvious this was not the time for procrastination. The veterinary staff tacitly conveyed a paradox of their profession: clemency is often the least tenderhearted of choices. I agreed with the vet’s implied suggestion to euthanize Buckwheat. Thereafter, the process moved swiftly with grace and dignity.

Bucks, watching her garden grow

An assistant shaved Buckwheat’s right foreleg. The doctor inserted an IV catheter and taped it in place. Bucks did not seem troubled by this, which provided more evidence of the lack of sensory response. She lay on my lap with her head resting in my hand… the hand of her best friend.

Though difficult, I consider it an honor that I shared in her dying. Later, knife pains of grief pierced my chest, but at the moment of the injection, I felt peace. One of the staff stroked Buckwheat’s brow and praised her long life. Buckwheat meowed softly once, then closed her eyes, and relaxed her head upon my palm. Finally, she did what she does best: she went to sleep.

Now, a couple of days after her passing, I recall other signs leading to this rapid decline. I’d assumed her wobbly gait to be merely arthritis. Most likely though, that hitch in her step, along with the occasional fall when jumping, and moments of apparent confusion indicated the presence of a more serious condition.

My Sensei

Already, I miss talking with her. Writers are solitary creatures, yet they crave an audience. Buckwheat was mine. During my early morning rambles as I wrote and read aloud, I bantered with her as if she were my editor. Most of my wonderings deserve only silence and I received plenty of that. Nonetheless, I appreciated her listening.

Buckwheat’s serene personality eased the self-doubt in much of what I try to say. She nursed me with a calming presence during my recovery from the stem cell transplant. Her companionship was a salve for my wounds and enhanced many of my joys. She loved to garden. Together, we dug in the dirt and enjoyed the butterflies that visited our efforts.

The responsibilities of animal care include food, shelter, and sometimes the vicissitudes of mercy. I feel blessed for having known this gentle soul. Letting her go was my final troublesome but correct gift for all she had given me. Respect at the time of Buckwheat’s death is the least I could offer in return for the friendship we shared. At home, in the hours following her passing, I made a shroud with her favorite blanket. Then I buried her in one of my wildflower beds, beneath a young maple tree. She will rest in a warm but shaded spot. There, I can visit whenever I wish to continue our chats.

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14 responses to “RIP

  1. It’s so hard to let our pets go even when it seems the right thing to do. Still missing my Toonces who left me at age 19 last May.

    This summer I plan to adopt another cat, this is the longest I have ever been without a cat in my life and I’m needing one to share my empty house.

    Teresa

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  2. I’m so sorry you had to put your beloved down. I’ve had to do that and it is difficult no matter how much sense it makes. (My Otto had been diagnosed with a very serious heart condition, only made it to 8). The two boys I have now are my loves, my companions, and basically the only children my husband and I have, they have helped me through my diagnosis and treatment and I wouldn’t ever want to try to do without them! Thank goodness they’re only 2…

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  3. Oh no, John, I am so very sorry. I wept throughout this entire post…your pain and grief reminded me of how I felt when we had my Canadian cat, Keshé, put to sleep here in Florence, many years ago…tears are still streaming down my face as I write this comment.
    I know that you won’t want to read what I am about to write, but I am going to write it anyway. Sometimes I think things happen for a reason: the appearance of that friendly male cat at your doorstep may not be a coincidence (=this sentence is written by an atheist, by the way!).
    I know this is not the time for you to think about adopting another cat…I just wanted to tell you that, oddly, a similar thing happened to us. Puzzola, our (now) eldest cat, found her way to our front door just a few months before Keshé died (Keshé, unbeknownst to us at the time, was already quite ill). We didn’t want another cat, so we discouraged her (like you with Spanky, we fed and petted her outside but didn’t let her in)…but Puzzola was determined, I mean DETERMINED, to join our household (we live in a row house on a street where many other cat lovers/owners live, too, incidentally…but she picked us). Then one day she came inside, and we just shut the door. I have always wondered about her fixation with us, as though she KNEW…well, okay, enough. You do what is best for you, of course.
    I am sending you a big hug…

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  4. Nice-looking cat, John. Wishing that empty spot that comes with such a loss be filled soon.
    Don’t know what I’d do without a dog to bark at (talk to).

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  5. Yes I can well identify with your sadness over Buckwheat. When we lost Liffey, our wonderful wheaten terrier it took us two years before thinking of getting another dog. It’s been said many times but still true: when it comes to end-of-life decisions we are more humane with pets than with humans. Gerry

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  6. So sorry about Buckwheat….I have been through this numerous times, and it is never easy. I have always loved animals, and especially have been taken by those that seem a bit needier than others. Hence, my husband and I now have five indoor cats. And quite a few outside stragglers who stop by for an occasional snack, which we gladly provide.
    You can’t put a price on the friendship provided by these lovely creatures…I sympathize with you in your grief. I like that you buried Buckwheat nearby…that is comforting.

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  7. Hi, John:

    Thank you for sharing this lovely and moving reflection on your pal Buckwheat. Sorry you have lost her, but it sounds like her spirit will be very much alive in your garden.

    My sister just put her 17 year old cat down right before Christmas, and called me in tears from the vet while she was waiting for her to be euthanized. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. We have two cats and a dog and these animals are such a huge part of what makes our house a home.

    Thanks also for checking out my blog recently, and for your kind words.

    I hope you are feeling well and strong and I look forward to reading more from you.

    Best, Emily

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  8. John,
    I’m so sorry to read about Buckwheat’s passing. I do hope that some other loving critter creeps into your life. I’m still a little lost
    without my Sophie dog. I still think animals are much easier to get along with than people. ;o)
    Sending healing vibes your way.
    Denise

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  9. What a touching remembrance of Buckwheat. This really touched me. I’m so sorry for your loss but I cheer the wonderful companionship and serenity the two of you shared. I love my pets dearly; I love all creatures, great and small.

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  10. John, thank you for such a moving eulogy to your friend. I’ve had pets throughout my life but have thus far (by chance, not by avoidance) been spared that last trip to the vet.

    You gave Buck honor in life as well as death. Godspeed to an excellent cat.

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  11. I am so sorry for your loss – such a very pretty cat – still so lucky to have such a good snd tender master that cared so well. Time for rest now Buckwheat – you were much loved.

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  12. When I had to help Elsie (Molly’s predecessor) to whatever the next phase is, my vet told me that giving your cherished companion a peaceful passing is probably the best gift we can give them. Would that we were as compassionate with our fellow humans. 20 years is remarkable! I’m sure Buckwheat rests in peace now.

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  13. I just saw your link in the NYT online today. I felt badly reading about the death of your Buckwheat. It’s really difficult to see our companion animals go, but for me, it’s felt like good closure when I’m able to make sure that unnecessary suffering is avoided. Buckwheat looked like a wonderful cat.
    I lost my 16 yr old cat, Tabitha, when she ran away to die a year ago. Fortunately, God made more cats, and I found Kitlyn at our local animal shelter. She was a 1 yr old tuxedo cat who’d been at the shelter for 6 weeks…a miracle when I considered that the shelter kills animals if they run out of space. She was waiting for me. She’s the light of our home, and makes us laugh every day with her antics. I hope that another fur person has presented him/herself to you to love.

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  14. This is the most beautifully written eulogy I have ever read.. !! And it makes it more special because it is for a cat, it has made me laugh and cry at the same time.. !! Sorry for your loss, but, I hope time heals..

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