Friday, August 19, 2011

They were once at peace

When life gives you blight, make green-tomato salsa

I’ve been procrastinating this post, for obvious reason—we killed Schafe on Monday, and I’m having a difficult time with the decision. Even though I’m convinced that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Monday morning K. found maggots in the cat’s hip wound, flies actually flying from his body. He showed me, and I’m glad I looked, even though it may have been the most awful, repellent thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It was the heart of darkness, the face of death, everything that I live fighting to destroy, even though I know the flies themselves are just fighting for their own damned lives.

When I saw it, I knew it was Schafe’s time, one way or another. I wanted to drive him to the vet. I knew they still would have put him down, unless we insisted, cruelly, that they do surgery or give him antibiotics or do something equally ridiculous. It was still the most awful thing. But we decided that it was crueler for Schafe, to drive him to Presque Isle, to put him in an awful situation with other animals screaming and having a doctor poke around at his wounds with bright lights and cold instruments and then the same result, but not at the home he loved. So instead we found bullets for the .22.

We planted marigolds on his grave, the place he chose before he died, and had a real funeral, watching a slideshow of pictures of him from ten years ago. He also may be the first cat to enjoy a full-on Irish wake. I can’t say enough good about him. He used to be a car cat, riding around, wrapped around his driver’s shoulders. He used to fit in a tee-shirt pocket. He used to push my pen with his head, purring, as I wrote.

These things still bring me to tears. When I told my sister, she reminded me of a story I don’t think I had heard before, of when my grandfather was a teenager and had to shoot every single cat on his Michigan farm, at least thirty of them. He spoke of it as if it was the worst thing he ever had to do. It made me feel better to know that even someone as strong as he was struggled with death. Maybe that’s what makes farm life so hard—the reality of death, its presence, looking into its face daily.

It’s been a rough stretch. Hail, blight, animal suffering. Maybe it’ll get easier. In the meantime, we grieve. Grief is as real as anything else in life, and I don’t want to deprive myself of its lessons.

I’m in Massachusetts now, visiting family for a week or so. Knowing I don't have to worry about a cat or tomatoes makes our absence a lot easier, and it also makes me want to celebrate life with the people I love.


Ellen D. said...

Gosh, Melissa. I am so sorry. I am sure, however, he was ready to go. It was just What Comes Next. I think I would be if my body was so weakened it that sores were attracting flies and maggots. Cats very commonly get liver or kidney failure in old age. Sometimes leukemias. All those maladies make humans feel terrible. (I should search for a better word!) ' God gives us pets with shorter lives than our own for a reason. {hugs}

Anonymous said...

Oh, I am so sorry about Schafe, I know how hard it is to make that decision. It takes a lot of courage to kill your pet, no matter how much they are suffering. Two of our male cats (after Milhouse) ended up dying from kidney failure; the first one, Ichiro, was Nina's cat in every sense of the word -- he even used to sleep with her in her cradle. We prolonged things with him longer that we should have, to help Nina and ourselves come to terms with his illness. Second time around, as soon as we knew that Brodovitch was in acute renal failure we made the five minute drive to our vet's office, where they saw us during off hours and euthanized him in one of their outdoor gardens.

I think it is good that you're letting yourself grieve. We actually put a meditation garden back by our pet cemetery - creepy, right? But it's one of Nina's favorite places to sit, and although she still has her "saddness dreams" about Ichiro sometimes, it helps her to know where his little body is composting beneath the rocks she painted for his tombstone.

Melissa said...

Thanks so much to both of you for your sympathy. The amount of grief I felt shocked me, and it's good to know that other people experience the same thing. I found your story about Nina especially touching--what a beautiful way to raise your children, in touch with both life and death. Now I also have a pet cemetery in my backyard, and I'm planting to paint a little headstone for Schafe.

A LIttle Birdy said...

I'm so sorry about Schafe. It's so hard to see a beloved pet suffering, and even harder to make the decision that his life is at an end. I've said good-bye to 5 cats over the years. Each one had led a long life, and each one was difficult to say good-bye to. We had a funeral for each one, and they are all buried behind my parents' house. It's a comfort to know they are still nearby. They never leave your heart, and it's a comfort to know they are still close by.

Melissa said...

Thanks for the sympathy, Robin, and glad to hear you, too, have your own pet memorial. Cats are especially hard for me to let go of--then again, I haven't lost a dog yet. (I've been meaning to return you email! I will soon!) Hope you made it through the earthquake/storm okay...