I said goodbye to my sweet old Siamese cat Jack this afternoon.
She had been ailing for some time. A recent checkup revealed pancreatitis, which is brutally painful, and I was treating her at home with fluids and medication. At the same time, X-rays revealed cancer in her chest and abdomen, and tests showed she had chronic liver failure.
I’ve been working half days for the past two weeks, spending all the time I could with her while letting her eat whatever she could eat – no more dieting!
Jack’s vet suggested chemo and other measures but I declined for three reasons. First, Jack has been to the doctor more than any other cat I’ve ever had (my current vet is wonderful, and she saved Jack’s life five times), but Jack hated the vet, and the thought of a long cycle of treatments that may not have worked and would only stress her out was too much. Second, she was almost 17, and her liver was shot to hell, and if I prolonged her life it was only a matter of time before more cancer or diabetes or kidney failure kicked in. And third, the cost was insanely expensive and as it is I have younger cats who need medical care.
Letting her go was the right thing to do. She had a wonderful life, because she was loved and protected for as long as she could remember. To tarnish that life by letting her die an ugly death would be obscene.
As brutal as this was it was also beautiful, I was able to say goodbye to Jack while holding her in my arms, not long after sitting in the sun on the porch – easily her most favorite place ever.
The last few weeks before she got noticeably sick – cats can hide these things from us for some time – she spent every minute she could out on the porch, in the sun. And every single night for the last two weeks before she became seriously ill, whenever I turned out the light and got into bed each night, she jumped up and curled up on my pillow, at least for a little while, purring away. That was something she rarely ever did, since she preferred sleeping in her own bed. It’s almost like she knew the end was near and she wanted to make all of her time as special as possible. She also demanded a shitload of back scratches and belly rubs then, too, and I indulged her every time. One of those magic moments happened this morning, before she took a final turn for the worst, and I’m so glad I took the time to pet her, making me late for the train to work, as always.
An old woman who lived in a shitty part of the Tenderloin used to collect neglected kittens and give them to anyone passing by, people she saw every day from her spot in downtown San Francisco. If you walked by a few days in a row at the same time and your were nicely dressed, she knew you had a job and could provide for a cat.
Jackson, named after Jackson Street, was the third and final cat I adopted from that woman. That old lady has long since passed on, and if she went to her God, He better be treating her kindly.
Jack was only four or five weeks old when I brought her home. I took a picture of her when she fell asleep on my couch. She was as small as a dollar bill, and her eyes were like tiny blue stars.
I was looking for a boy cat, and I had picked one out, but the old woman handed me Jack and insisted I take her instead. It was meant to be. It really was.
Jack snuck into my house under cover of boyness and she was the biggest pain in the ass cat I ever had when she was young, always pissing off the older cats and stealing food and letting out bizarre warbling yowls in the middle of the night.
I like to think the old woman gave me Jack because she knew I’d fall in love with that tiny Siamese kitten, and not throw her out the goddamned window.
In the last eight years Jack was my rock, getting me through the brutal losses of three other cats, a terribly bleak year of depression and anxiety that nearly took a toll on my health, and a year spent worrying that I might lose my job during a big shake up at work.
I can’t tell you how many times I soaked her soft coat with tears when I was afraid or depressed, and her response was always a loud, calming purr.
She was extremely smart and very affectionate, an opinionated individual who would only bend so far, and she was occasionally hilarious (and yes, cats can have a sense of humor – like kids, they develop incredibly complex personalities if you nurture that growth).
Jack got me through five terrible times in my life, and now all of those crises have passed. I feel better and things are looking up. I am finally published, and working on getting my name out there.
I like to think Jack felt she could move on now, after a job well done.
In her last days, when she spent most of her time lying in her cozy bed, I cried on her again and again, and even though she was probably in pain she responded with a purr – not quite as loud as before, but it was still there, and still reassuring. And that happened today as well, her last day.
On Saturday, Ash and Juno (who knew Jack the longest) spent the day in the same room as Jack, instead of out on the sunny porch where they would have been any other day.
Today, as I waited for the vet to come to my home, Jack wanted to hide in the bedroom closet and I let her – another sign the end was near. My big boy cat Ash, who is eight (and who can be a real dick to the other cats at times), sat in the bedroom, watching the closet door for hours. Jack has been there his entire life.
Jack’s doctor saved her from life-threatening conditions five times before her luck ran out. Five times I could have lost her. Five times I got her back. But not this time. This time Fate went all out, and Jack fought with everything she had.
A wonderful vet and her assistant came to my home and helped me say goodbye in the most peaceful way imaginable.
I carried Jack home in my arms that first day, and she died in my arms on her last day.
There is beauty in that. It will be hard for me to find at times, but it is there.
Thanks for being there for me, Jackson. If there is any life after this one, wait for me. I’ll be along one day.
Jack was about 5 weeks old when I brought her home in October of the year 2000.
Jack in her favorite place in the world, on the porch and in the sun.
Jack and me posing in October 2015, for National Cat Day.