The biggest surprise is that it comes as a surprise to me at all. I’ve known how it all will end, that it will end, and sooner rather than later. I’ve even said it out loud in my most grown-up and matter-of-fact voice. And yet I am rocked to the core of my being. One soon, she’ll be gone.
It may come as a surprise to some, but I can be very logical, even practical. Her body has begun to fail her. A diagnosis of kidney failure was our first reminder that time, as it is with all of us, was limited. “She’s an old cat,” I said. “She’s lived a good life.” We held her, I wept. I had always imagined fifteen years with her, but you get what you get, right?
Time passed. Her organ failure did not progress, and she thrived. And when she approached the magic age, when she turned 15, I thought I must be ready. I said “This may be our last Christmas with Piper.” And we gathered around to fuss, to pet her, to appreciate her for a moment. Fifteen turned into sixteen, followed much too quickly by seventeen. With each passing year, the ritual becomes less meaningful. For awhile we could believe that this scrappy cat would defy all logic and the limitations of biology and live forever. I believed it.
But time doesn’t stand still, and nothing, no one, goes on forever. She is failing still more. My wake up came three days ago as I watched her struggle to climb the stairs, her back end swaying as she tried to keep her legs under her, an issue she has never had before. That was the moment I was struck by the weight of inevitability, the moment my heart heard truth. We are going to lose her.
No matter what I said before, how logical and detached I could be, I did not believe. I believe now. Borrowed time takes on new meaning when it comes to someone you love.
She still has some fight left, her paws tapping out a playful cadence as she tries to catch the string on my jacket. She purrs. It takes little to make her happy. A warm lap, a soft stroke. She eats, both our biggest victory and our greatest fear. When she quits eating, we will know that it is time.
She is living the dream now. The cold is hard on old bones, so I heat a rice sock to warm her. She experiences privilege unknown, the lone animal invited into the inner sanctum; my bedroom. I ignore these self-imposed restrictions and my ensuing allergy attacks, and invite her under the blanket to curl up on the electric mattress cover. Her preferred perch is on my lap as I write. Not only do I comply, I insist. I take her with me when I change rooms if she is not already sleeping comfortably. I need every stolen moment I can get. To prepare.
But how do you prepare? How do you say goodbye to someone who has shared your life and your adventures for going on 18 years? I am at a loss.