A reader writes: I have been going through your website and have found a lot of helpful articles. But I haven’t found the answers I so desperately need . . . How can I live with myself? Did I do right by him, even in his final weeks? Did he know he was loved and wanted? Was it worth being home for those hours for him, even though I think his heart got worse (maybe the stress relief did lower his heart rate even more)? Was that final purr session meaningful?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
My response: I am so sorry to learn of the death of your beloved cat, and I know that nothing I can say will alleviate the pain you're feeling now, in the wake of this difficult loss. Still, I want to assure you of my sincere belief that yes, you did indeed "do right by him, even in his final weeks." You did the very best you could with the information you had at the time, and you certainly went the extra mile to provide all the professional veterinary care you could find. Sadly, though, when Mother Nature intervenes, reminding us that the life span of our beloved animal companions is so much shorter than our own, there is only so much we can do ~ and no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep them alive when nature dictates that it is time for their bodies to shut down.
There is a difference between extending an animal's life and extending its death, and with all the advances in medical care and all the options available today, it is difficult to know whether the care we give to our cherished pets is prolonging their lives or prolonging their dying.
I want to share with you a post that appeared in our Loss of A Pet forum (one of several forums on our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups website). A member writes,
Real love also means you recognize your pet is suffering, going downhill, or having many more bad days than good. It took me a long time and several cats to get to the point where I could understand that the only reason I was keeping them alive was for me and my inability to let them go. Good advice I've seen in other forums is, "better one week too early than a day too late." One of my cats, Lucy, taught me that. She had kidney disease and for over two years her health was a rollercoaster. Finally she was at the point where she wasn't eating, hiding out in her cubby in the bedroom for about 5 days. I decided that *this* was probably it and made the appointment with her vet. Left for work, then came back in the afternoon to take her. But as soon as I opened the front door, there she was, laying in the living room. She'd probably gotten up, made her way out and died not long after I left. Her position looked like she had been in pain, and unfortunately rigor mortis had set in. For years I carried that last image of her, along with the guilt of not being brave enough to let her go before it got bad. Don't make the same mistake.
As a grief counselor, I've met with many animal lovers over the years, and I've yet to meet one who doesn't agonize over the euthanasia decision. (See Guilt in The Wake of The Euthanasia Decision ~ including the related articles listed at the base.) The guilt and doubt you're feeling now is, to me, evidence of how very much you loved your kitty. We do not feel guilty if we do not care, and we do not mourn for those we do not love.
I hope you will find a way to forgive yourself, my dear, as I've no doubt your precious cat knew how much he was loved by you, and I believe that he understood your intentions were to alleviate his suffering ~ so you already have his forgiveness, his understanding and his love. Now, of course, you are the one who is suffering. It is an exchange that is made for the purest of reasons, and I see it as a most selfless act of love.
Afterword: Thank you for your kind reply. I don't regret euthanizing my kitty, I know it would keep him from suffering further. I am just agonizing over the several days before his passing and my decision to bring him home and euthanize him there. I knew how much he hated vets and how much he loved his space. I am kicking myself for monitoring him for several days instead of getting him seen sooner. I am kicking myself for getting knee surgery and being unable to drive him to help and soothe him how he liked (being carried around our apartment). I am kicking myself for once again making the wrong decision with him (I've taken him in to the vet and stressed him when I should have monitored him, and monitored him when he should have been seen earlier) regarding when he was seen.
I promised him when I got him that I'd let him determine his path instead of my own needs and wants, and I did my best to stick to it.
Nothing about his passing was how I thought it'd go when I first adopted him knowing he had severe heart disease -- not the timing, the uncertainty of the causes, the diagnoses, the hour of the day, or his euthanasia. I wish I had brought his sleeping towel with us to the euthanasia. I wish I had been able to give him one last taste of his favorite food, his beloved sunbathing, his forbidden cat grass, our walk through our apartment, etc. But he had other issues that kept coming up that made him so complicated. And he was SO GOOD at hiding discomfort until it was too much. I wish I had known him better so I could have caught it sooner. It tears me up that he was in pain for 5 days before he was released. I don't know if being home was worth it to him; I don't know if he knew I was with him at the end and took something comforting and loving from it. I know cats live in the moment, and I wanted his last moment to be knowing he was loved and safe by me.
And that's what I struggle with.
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