This spring I’ve been thinking about how flowers can only see the sun if their roots are buried in the ground. For each bloom, something is interred. For every sunny afternoon, night comes. For every bright light, some darkness.
Fred brought light into the world. His health and vigor for almost fifteen years was somewhat miraculous considering the prognosis for a cat with his severe birth defects. Birth defects, pshaw. He was perfect. A softball sized head that fit perfectly in my palm, an insatiable appetite for affection, an operatic howl that produced shock and awe. Such loud purring. Such big paws.
The first time I met Fred he had been born about half an hour ago. The cat I’d just adopted turned out to be pregnant, and had given birth to two kittens. I thought her ordeal was over, left the apartment to run some errands, and came home to find Fred. He was twice the size of the other kittens. He used his enlarged head to shove them both out of the way and get more food.
At the point a few weeks ago when the vet ruled out all illnesses except stroke or congenital neurological defects to explain Fred’s lack of appetite, it seemed worse to attempt further treatment than to let him go. We tried many different foods and appetite stimulants. He’d been holding his own and seemed happy in this world since the problem started a little less than year ago. During his last month, he changed. He looked terribly skinny, he seemed unable to get comfortable. He seemed much more confused than ever before, and despite knowing his way around the house, he would get stuck and not be able to find his room. He couldn’t follow my voice anymore (he was blind) and although he could hear me and would react to my voice, he couldn’t tell which way it was coming from.
He had a ton of tests done. I signed up for Care Credit to pay the bill. They couldn’t find anything wrong. The final treatment offered was a week in the hospital to try to boost his strength through intravenous feeding, then surgically installing a feeding tube, and then teaching him how to eat again. He might not get strong enough to attempt surgery. He had a definite chance of dying from the anesthesia. He might not be able to learn to eat again, and the feeding tube presented a whole new set of challenges, particularly for a little guy who hated vets and medicine and being messed with that way.
Fred had a good life. He was safe, he was comfortable, and he was completely adored. He knew he had the upper hand in our relationship. He had his own room and his own things, and being in the hospital just those few days was utterly demoralizing for him. I had planned to take him home, but what would happen? Could I find someone to put him to sleep at home? Would he slowly starve? Would he be terribly confused and hurt himself falling or running into things? Would he die alone while I was at work listening to some angry person yell at me about their ten dollar copay? Even though coming home seemed like the right thing theoretically, I could see no way it would not lead to more suffering for him in reality.
At work I don’t always get yelled at. Most of the time, I listen to stories of all the hidden things we don’t talk about with our family and friends. I’m incredibly privileged to be a part of so many people’s shadow world (in the Jungian sense). After I made the decision to let Fred go and was listening to the agony of a woman contemplating abortion for a baby with a zero percent chance of survival after delivery, I realized there are some counseling situations equally beneficial to counselor and client. We talked about compassion, and we talked about making the most merciful choice. We talked about letting go of our own need and wish for the other to be with us, and instead making the decision best for them.
If we could see all of life clearly, decisions about abortion and euthanasia would be no challenge. If we could see all of life clearly, we would see all the threads and paths opened and closed by our actions, and all the harm or good created by them. Choices would be simple.
We’re all a little blind, so we do the best we can. We follow the wall, or stay on a familiar path, or try to follow a voice we trust to get us out of a place when we’re stuck.
I’m trying not to think about Fred emaciated, cranky about the IV, and unable to stand up on his own. I’m trying to think of him as he was for fourteen years and nine months of his life: brave despite his blindness, pugnaciously affectionate, hungry all the time, always friendly to strangers, always by my side. Knowing Fred was a delight every single day.