Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Cat Died and I Hate Feeling These Feelings

This amazing picture was taken by the
very talented, kind and cat-loving Kristin Merten
A couple of weeks ago my cat died and I'm so mad about it I could spit. Nothing actually happened to him. That's not why I'm mad. He was really old. His kidneys failed. He slowly faded away and on his last day, he sort of looked at me like: "Woman, it's time. Let's go." So I took him to the vet who confirmed that it was time and he died quietly in my arms a couple of hours later.

My arms still feel empty. They want to hold him one more time. My house seems weird without him in it. I hate that he's gone and I want him back and I hate that I had to tell the vet to kill him and I hate being a grown up sometimes and it all sucks. That's why I'm mad.

When I was driving to the vet that night, I tried to remember what happened when my old Woody dog died a couple of years ago. I knew it was something that I took care of. Just like I was the one cleaning him up in the weeks before it happened, and cleaning up the messes he felt so bad about making. I remember having to awkwardly pick him up and heft him into the van because he was too weak to jump in anymore. I drove him to the vet that one last time, stroking his head at every stoplight. I also remember that while we knew it was coming with him, it somehow seemed very sudden. But I could remember nothing of the actual moment of his death, even though I knew I was there. Even though I was the one holding him.

My memories of having to tell the kids about Woody remain vivid. Their tears, my son's almost inconsolable grief that his dog was really gone forever. Hugging them while they shuddered and cried and trying my best not to lose it in front of them. Being surprised that I could hold it together. Feeling slightly numb by the whole thing and thinking that was good, because it allowed me to do continue doing all the things my life required me to do. The phrase "just a dog" running through my head, hating that phrase.

It wasn't until I was in the exam room with Bandit, holding him as they injected the stuff that would kill him into the tiny catheter in his paw, that I remembered everything. I remembered being in the exact same spot with my sweet, old dog. The exact same process. Hunched over the same side of the table, in the same room.

Then the involuntary memories started. The flashes of my step-mother's hospice room 6 years ago. Watching her labored breathing slowly stop. The seconds between each breath getting longer. Knowing what it meant. Watching my little sister's face as her mother left her. Feeling like I was losing my shit. Thinking it can't possibly get any worse than this.

Are we supposed to feel peace in these moments? Because I don't. I just feel pain.

I hate feeling pain. I HATE IT. And this time, after losing the ill-tempered, bitey, rotten little cat who had been my friend for almost 17 years, in addition to feeling pain, I felt anger.

Being a grown up is the worst sometimes. I don't want to be the one who has to do this. To make these choices. To hold hands and paws during the moment someone I love leaves the earth. For the love of God, there has to be a real adult around here somewhere. There has to be someone more qualified to handle this stuff than me.

I have no idea when I became the grown up in the room. What was the exact moment that I became the person who had to deal with the hard stuff? I don't even remember. Was it the day I got married? Or the day several years later when I decided to stay married? Maybe when my first baby was born? Some people become grown ups really early. I know a couple of people like that. Crappy circumstances or crappy parents forced them to be the grown up in their own lives before they were ready. It didn't matter what crappy circumstances came my way, though... I was not growing up easy. No sir. Not until I really had to. Because I did not want that job.

And now, I totally have it and there are days I think I'd like to give it back.

I recently heard that someone I know is giving it back. Maybe he had similar thoughts to mine. Maybe he was like: "You know what? This is not what I thought it would be and I don't want to do this anymore. Being a grown up is over-rated and in fact, it kind of sucks."

So he's done being a husband and a father. He's now pursuing other options. And while I certainly understand that there are days when we'd all rather just throw up our hands and quit, I do not respect his choice. In my country, there is a word for someone who turns in their grown up card and abandons their children. That word is soul-less, selfish, shitbagging asshole. Ok, so it's more than one word.

And of course, I don't really want to give up my job as an adult because that's real life, right? Or at least how it should be? You grow up and make your choices or life throws things at you and you deal with them. You deal with all of them. I'm a wife and partner to someone who I strive to be worthy of (and try not to snap at too often). I'm a mother to three small people so precious to me that I can't always handle how much I love them. I don't want to give any of that up. In fact, if it was taken from me I would fight like a rabid badger to get it back.

And in a weird way, I want to be the person who cleans up the messes and does the hard stuff. I want to be the person who wipes up the blood, and the puke, and who carries those I love when they're too weak to jump anymore. To be the one holding their hand or their paw when they leave the earth. Because that's real love, right? That's loving someone to level NO MATTER WHAT. And that's my level, you guys.

You don't get to have the good stuff in life without risking its eventual loss. I understand the impulse to avoid feeling the pain of that loss, or just pain in general. I avoid feeling pain and doing hard things in a way that makes me deeply uncomfortable. So I need to do the opposite of that. I need to feel hard things and do hard things.

That's what she said. Sorry. That was extremely immature. It takes a lot of effort to be a grown up and I'm still not that good at it.

But you can't experience love NO MATTER WHAT without being willing to do the hard and dirty work. I LOVE YOU. Sit down right here and let me pick the nits out of your hair. I'll clean up the bathroom, you go lie down. Tilt your head back and pinch your nose. I've got you, just a few more steps. Let me know when it's time and I'll be there. I'll hold your hand until it's all over.

That's what grown-ups do.

Footnote: When I say "in my country" I'm referring to my place of natal origin. That would be Trenton, NJ.

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