death, Guest Posts

Letting Go

April 22, 2016
pet

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

I get the news moments before my 21 year old autistic son Mickey gets home. The biopsy is back: our fourteen year old cat Fudge has lymphoma.

I still manage to greet Mickey cheerfully when he walks through the door. But he knows me too well. “Do you have sad news for me? Is Fudge dead?”

So much for the myth that people with autism have no empathy.

We try a course of chemo. She responds better than we expect. But late one Sunday night, Fudge suddenly pees on the carpet. She has never done this. She staggers, and looks spacey. Something is very, very wrong. When I pick her up, she is limp.

“Is Fudge dying?” Mickey asks.

“No,” I lie, trying to shield him. “She’s feeling sick. The vet will try to make her better.”  Inwardly I cringe; what if I’m wrong? But she may yet pull through. Why alarm him until we must? We call the animal specialty hospital. I place a soft towel in her carrier, and carefully tuck her in. My husband Marc drives her to the pet emergency room, and waits while they run blood work. The vet determines that her kidney values are elevated, and that she is dehydrated and anemic. They admit her to the ICU.

We try to coax Mickey to join us when we visit Fudge the next day, but he’s having none of it, so we leave him with a sitter. As we get out of the car, Marc tells me, “I signed a DNR last night.”

“What?”

“I guess I should have asked you,” he says.

“Yes, you should have.”

“Would you really want her intubated, or shocked with paddles?”

I shudder. “No.”

How do you visit a pet in the hospital? Are you supposed to show up with flowers? A box of fish-flavored treats? As we enter the facility my heart starts hammering. They take us into the overly bright ICU, and I am assaulted by the sound of so many dogs barking. Fudge is frightened by loud noises; couldn’t they keep the cats in a quieter room? I see technicians in green scrubs. Steel examining tables. Floor to ceiling metal cages; Fudge crouches in one of them, connected to a beeping monitor. She looks diminished. Forlorn. Or is she drugged? Her eyes are dilated. “You can’t touch her without gloves,” the tech warns, pointing to a sign. Fudge sniffs my gloved hand but looks away. Please, open the cage so I can hold her, I want to say. I can’t even reach my fingers far enough through the bars to touch her. I will myself not to cry.

“I’m so glad we didn’t bring Mickey,” Marc says. “This would really have freaked him out.”  He’s right. It freaks me out. Mickey would have been terrified.

We bring Fudge home the next day. “Hi, honey,” Mickey says, petting her head. Fudge is a bedraggled version of herself. We set up a makeshift IV pole to administer bags of fluids. We give her injections. Pills. Supplements. Fudge is quiet. She sleeps most of the time and eats little.  But she still purrs. I wonder: is she signaling contentment, or trying to soothe herself?

Not an hour goes by that Mickey doesn’t ask, “Is she going to die? Is she still dying? Is she weak? Is she still young? Just a little young? Will she come back when she dies? I want her to come back. Why can’t she come back? When Fudge dies you have to put her in a box in the back yard.”

“Is that where you think we should bury her?” I ask, thinking that might give all of us some measure of comfort.

“NO!” he says. “Don’t bury her.”

His questions exhaust me. I can’t explain the finality of death. I barely understand it myself.

I watch as he squats on the floor beside Fudge. He croons, “How are you, my pretty girl?” After a while, he looks up and says, “Fudge needs her blessings.”

I’m unsure what he means, but I take her in my arms. She is so emaciated that I can feel the fragile architecture of her rib cage.

You think you will have a pet forever. You bathe her. Groom her. Feed her treats. Nurse her through surgery. You buy her fishing pole toys and feather ticklers and little bouncy balls with bells in them. You do these things for her, even when she hawks up hairballs on your best rug. You do them because of her sweet squeaks and trills, and the way she always – always – answers to her name by trilling right back. You do them because of the way she snuggles against your hip whenever you sit on the couch. You do them because every night she sleeps on Mickey’s pillow or the foot of Jonathan’s bed, lulling them to sleep with the sound of her motorized purr, and because she has the most gentle disposition in a cat you’ve ever seen. You do all these things because she is family.

And then you have to let her go.

What we didn’t realize, when we first fell in love with that delicious caramel and chocolate colored kitten, was that someday we would have to make hard decisions. Fudge has given all of us joy for nearly 15 years. But we know that soon there will come an awful day, after months of suffering, when she will let us know that it is time to go. Marc and I will stay with her in those final moments, just as we did with our two other cats, cradling and whispering and stroking her, until her heart stops beating. We will walk out of that vet’s office without her.

And then we will have to tell Mickey and his brother Jon that our pet is gone.

There is no “good” way to lose your pet.  There isn’t. But here’s the thing I return to again and again. Just as it is with people, either we choose to engage, to love, knowing that every relationship is time limited….or we choose never to love at all.

Knowing this from the beginning doesn’t make it hurt any less at the end.

ketchup+is+my+favorite+vegetable-Front+Cover+090915+reduced

Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of a new memoir, Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers.) Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Brevity, Literary Mama, Scary Mommy and The Manifest-Station. For more information, visit her website athttp://www.lianekupferbergcarter.com/, follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LianeKupferbergCarter/and Twitter at @Lianecarter.

12109010_10153307028458406_4053769942114712730_n

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a special Mother’s Day weekend retreat in Ojai Calif, May 6th, 7th, & 8th, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

 

You Might Also Like

11 Comments

  • Reply Roz Warren April 22, 2016 at 7:37 am

    Terrific essay.

  • Reply Kelly April 22, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    This is powerful. You’re right; knowing doesn’t make it easier, and it’s never easy to say goodbye. They said something like this in Marley and Me; all dog owners know this truth and yet we do it anyway. How can we not?

  • Reply Anne Louise Bannon April 22, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    This is so beautiful and so sad. Yes, we have lost several pets in our household and it hurt every time to let go. Then we find another critter to love – even when they aren’t as wonderful and perfect as the other. The cat who snubs us, the dog who jumps on things he shouldn’t. But we still love them and it’s not easy letting go. So sorry to hear your baby is ailing.

  • Reply Adelaide Dupont April 22, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Fudge is dead. Fudge is blessed.

  • Reply Bill Bachhuber April 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    We are going through the exact same thing with our 11 1/2 year old Gretchen right now. April 23rd 2016 is the day we will say goodbye to our sweet girl. We elected to not do chemo based on her advanced staging. This is so well written but needs a picture of fudge. We would like to provide a copy of this to our veterinarian if it is ok with you. If possible could you email it to me at bac2h@charter.net? Thank you again for putting into words what so many of us think and feel.

    Regards,

    Bill and Theresa Bachhuber
    New Hartford CT

    • Reply Liane Kupferberg Carter April 25, 2016 at 7:25 am

      Bill and Theresa,
      I’m so sorry to hear about Gretchen. I’ve emailed you the PDF of my piece.
      Regards,
      Liane

  • Reply Trixie April 22, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Losing an animal, sucks.

  • Reply Barbara April 24, 2016 at 10:11 am

    It is so hard to watch them suffer. We must always question if what we’re doing is for them or for us. We’ve gone through it three times and it is never easy. Peace.

  • Reply Deb Helfrich April 27, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Powerfully moving piece, Liane. Thank you so much for sharing this honest look into a very difficult time. I found the whole process of transitioning from my first to second dog so emotionally overwhelming that I ended up writing a book about it to put an arm around others going through the death of a beloved companion. I send you and your family a virtual hug as you grieve.

  • Reply Liane May 2, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks, Deb. Even though we have been through it several times now, it never gets easier. I’d love to read your book. Thank you so much for commenting.

  • Leave a Reply