My cat, Tundra died a little over three months ago, and I am still reeling. He died the day after my last final, which was very considerate of him, but left the end of the semester with a bitter taste in my mouth. How does one get over it?

I am upset still partially because I was too busy with everything else to notice that he was sick. Never mind the fact that he hid all the time anyway. Never mind the fact that he was adept at being a cat, since cats often don’t show how sick they are until it is almost too late…he was a five year old boy kitty in the prime of his life. I feel like I let him down for being too busy to see that he was sick.

And when we finally did think about it, I still had to wait a few more days to fit him into my schedule to get him to the vets on a Monday, but when he had the seizure on Sunday, we went to the emergency animal hospital without a pause.

He almost died over the next few days, but pulled it together on Tuesday after being in an oxygen chamber for a few hours. Did you know that oxygen chambers cost $250 for 12 hours? I didn’t. I still think there is something terribly wrong with that. They diagnosed him with a rare anemia, and sent him home on a slew of meds for his heart, encouraging us to spend even more money and get him an ultrasound. We debated that for two or three days of forcing him to eat, and then went in. And all this time, I felt like the worst pet mother in the universe. My busy life had doomed this cat. My poor boy.

Tundra was, by the way, a very special cat-find. My 16-year-old half Siamese, Lily, had to be put to sleep for failing kidneys due to poisoning when the Menu Foods tragedy occurred in 2007 (Yes, we have FDA paperwork and everything to prove that it was indeed the food that poisoned her – IAMS reimbursed us our vet expenses, but we now feed Blue Seal on principle). Lily was my girl. She was the smartest cat I have ever known, and the most ladylike. She had a partial English meow vocabulry (my ex, James, swears he heard her say “Home now?” when I was away on a trip, and when he told her that I would be home in the morning, she had gone to the bed and curled up to sleep – no word of a lie). Her death was a blow to my soul, and I felt that she would somehow try to come back to me.

When my friend Jeremy told me he had a dream that I had a little white kitten named Tundra, and then my daughter Rosie randomly typed in the name Tundra to one of the little tag machines, I took it for a sign and went to find a little white boy kitty. Craigslist eventually yielded a tiny ball of fluff, and we brought him home. He was very shy since his previous owner thought it great fun to chase the kittens around to make them run, and he was never good with men, but overall, he was a sweet little kitten. We thought that he had a long life ahead of him, wrestling with Kahtrah and shedding everwhere.

The additional $300 for the ultrasound was finally decided on, and the vet looked at his heart with great care. It was enlarged, and there seemed to something genetically wrong with it. She poked and prodded my little boy, and then decided to take another look at him, this time in the abdomen. A shadow on the ultrasound apparently confirmed her fears. Tundra not only had a bad heart – he had lymphoma. Terminal in a young cat. She gave him 1 to 3 months, and sent us home with Lasix, appetite stimulants, Prednisone, and a few other things to keep him comfortable.

So there we were. My cat was sick, but it was not from neglect. His own biology had turned against him, and had eaten him apart from the inside. His intestines were packed with cancer, and he was dying in front of my eyes. The pills made him eat and use the litter box, and the rest of the time, he dragged about from place to place, looking lethargic. Worst of all, he wanted to sit with me ALL THE TIME. Forget the shy retiring cat I never saw. He wouldn’t leave my side. I had to kick him out of the bedroom after he accidentally peed on the bed, but the couch and a lot of towels gave him a place to sleep at night. I would cry while talking to him every evening before bed, and tell him it was ok if he died, and every morning I would go out to the couch, find him gone, and wonder if I would find him dead somewhere in the house. He was usually in the bathroom, however, waiting for his breakfast and the daily pill fight. Twice a day, four pills. We had some nasty arguments over those pills, but he never bit me on purpose. I got snagged by teeth a couple of times, but he always looked so mortified that I had to forgive him.

This went on for three weeks. During this time, Rob’s sister-in-law, Jen, died from breast cancer, and he was a puddle on the floor a lot of the time. Understandably, Tundra’s illness was not as big a deal to him as it was to me. I hate to admit it, though, I felt the other way. Jen’s death was a tragedy, but dealing with the dying cat in my on home felt more difficult to me than someone I only saw at Christmas. Rob had known her a lot longer – since he was like ten – so I get where he was coming from. I nursed Rob and Tundra when I had time to spare from grading finals, and wondered when the roller coaster ride was going to end.

Wednesday, May 9th I got up to take the dogs out, and Tundra was not on the couch. Typical for the morning routine. I turned to go to the bathroom, and saw several of our other cats(we were up to 6 for a brief time, including my mother’s cat, Thomas, who was staying with us while she was in rehab) hanging anxiously around the door, but not going in. I opened the door and found Tundra lying in a puddle of urine, not moving much. I thought for a minute that he had died, but he gasped for breath, and I grabbed a towel and whisked him off to the couch.

Rob came out, and took the dogs out so I wouldn’t have to do it. I sat on the couch, stroking Tundra and totally at a loss for what to do. He was dying. I had to go to work. I couldn’t just leave him. I couldn’t call in. I couldn’t take him with me. What the hell was I going to do?

I agonized over the situation, my normally clear brain trying desperately to figure out what the hell to do. I was in a total fog, and finally decided to take him to the emergency vet and have him put to sleep. If he made it to the vet, he could go out peacefully. If he died on the way, he could at least be with me when he passed. Rob helped me get him to the car, and I drove to the vet’s, playing a song by Gotye called “Bronte”, which seemed to be about losing someone and which seemed to encompass everything I was feeling at the moment.(I later found out thet “Bronte” was written by Gotye for a friend who had to put the family dog to sleep – how ironic is that? Kind of like how the musical adaptation of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Stars, Songs, Faces” wouldn’t leave my head around the time of my dad’s death and how I played it for him the day he died…turns out that it’s about dying.Weird shit).

The drive was terrible and Tundra gasped and wheezed on the seat as I carefully drove the million miles (it sure felt that way) to the vet, talking to him all the while. I pulled into the parking lot at 6:30 am, got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, opened the door…and just then Tundra gasped deeply, let out a piteous meow and expired right in front of me. Died. Dead. Gone.

I look back at this and have the rather unorthodox view on it that he was trying to save me that last vet bill. I also look back on it and see it as I stressed him out so much by driving him that he died even quicker. Whatever the cause, my cat was lying dead on my front seat, and I stood there stupidly staring at him for a good five minutes, stoking him and talking to him before picking him up and bringing him inside the vets.

The receptionist got the vet who came out and checked to see if he was gone. I felt like saying to her, Lady, I have seen death before. I have put down a number of cats and dogs who were suffering, watched my 73-year-old cancer stricken father die in front of me, and dispatched mice at the pet store to feed to snakes. I got it. I know death when I see it. I was too polite to say this, however, and when she asked me if I wanted a room to spend some time with him, I said yes, and then made the arrangements to have him cremated.

When everyone finally went away, I started crying and couldn’t stop. As I am crying now as I write this. Because the simple truth was I still blamed myself for his death even though there was nothing I could do to stop it. I still do. I let society dictate when it was ok to take a sick cat to the vet and the thought of it made me ill. I know that by the time the hidey cat came out from hiding and began to sit in my lap all the time (and I often had to displace him to work on my papers, something that also upsets me) it was too late to have made him better. Lymphoma is very bad in young cats. Older cats may live with it for years, but in younger cats, a stronger, faster metabolism often is also a  death sentence. His heart issues were another problem. Neither of these things were illnesses he could recover from, but I still blamed myself.

I tried multiple times to leave the room, but couldn’t. I stayed with him, stroking him and talking to him for over an hour. I noted how soft his fur was. I took his collar off, intending it to go around his little funeral box (it is still on my rear view mirror, and I can’t seem to take it off). I kept trying to leave, and I couldn’t leave him. I felt that I had failed him in some way. Not being there for him more. Taking him for granted. Not being able to hold him and grade papers at the same time. I dunno. Of all the pet deaths I have had to deal with, his was by far the worst.

And when I finally did leave, I went to work. I calmly told the receptionist where I tutor that my cat had died. Managed not to cry while working with my student that morning. Got through the rest of the day, did my stuff, went home. The silence that greeted me was awful. The other cats and our two dogs came over to give me comfort. I went into my bedroom and just bawled.

It has been almost three months since Tundra died, and my grief hit me again this morning like a rock. I am not ok with society saying that my cat is just a cat. My cat was a family member. He was not a ‘fur child’ – that concept is so brilliantly stupid, but he was a member of my household just the same. I hate that we can’t take bereavement days for pets. Grief is grief. Person or animal, it does not change. My heart hurts the same for a 5-year-old cat as it does for a 73-year-old human. We love all the beings in our life. It is sick that society gets to decide which ones matter.

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