Uno LeBoeuf-Little, 1996-2013
I just finished rereading The Last Unicorn. It's my favorite comfort read when I'm grieving because I always cry at the end. The tears that come at the conclusion of a good book hurt less than those of personal grief. They don't leave me with puffy eyes, clogged sinuses, and a headache. They're safe tears, cried over something beautiful but very far away, something that isn't actually making a wreckage out of some very precious part of my own life.
But at the same time, the bit where I cry is sort of too much on the nose. It's the part where the titular character says,
"My people are in the world again. No sorrow will live in me as long as that joy--save one, and I thank you for that, too."
Exactly. You sorrow over the loss of someone dear to you, but that sorrow is only as deep as your joy in them was great. So in the end, even grief is something to be grateful for.
Which is to say: Thank you, Uno, for sixteen and a half wonderful, infuriating, stressful, lovely years. I'll be grieving your loss for a very long time, as befits how inseparable a part of my life you were.
This was my first time actively ending a pet's life. Null took that decision out of our hands, spiraling down from tolerable to miserable to dying so quickly that we didn't quite realize he wasn't going to recover until it was over. The dog I grew up with, Padoo, took the decision out of everyone's hands by simply vanishing one day when she was old and tired. The parakeet I had most of my school years died very suddenly too, with no sign of sickness until the night she simply fell off her perch.
But for Uno, we had to schedule his death. Sunday night, we knew. He tried so hard to eat, but he couldn't--every two or three laps sent him off into a fit of fighting with his mouth. We examined his mouth and saw the new tumors wrecking his gums and teeth and tongue, and we realized how quickly they'd appeared and grown, and we knew there was no more good for him to be gotten out of life. John said to me later, "I cried so much that night because I knew he'd crossed that line."
It's funny. Monday morning, after scheduling the home euthanasia appointment, I hung up the phone and I felt like a monster. I felt like I'd just ordered Uno's execution. All Monday afternoon, waiting for the vet to arrive, I had doubts. Uno was so comfortable lying between us on the couch--purring, bumping John's foot with his head, snaking a paw out for my dangling computer cord as I wrapped it up--that I couldn't help but think, He's happy. Can't we let him go on being happy? But Monday evening, after it was all over, the doubts were gone.
It was partially because I took a closer look at him while he was sedated and after he was dead. For the first time, I could clearly see the horrifying number and size of growths in his mouth. And his left eye, which had watered pretty constantly throughout his sickness, had this strange mottled look to it that suggested the cancer was attacking him there, too. It was time. Things would only have gotten rapidly worse for him. Things were already far too bad to ask a cat to live through.
But it was also because now that the fight was over, now that I wasn't trying so hard to extend his future, I could look back and see how bad it really had been for him day-to-day. If anything, I felt guilty for having let it go on so long.
But there's nothing to be done about that, either. And that last afternoon was all anyone could have hoped for. John and I were together with Uno, and Uno was content. We cried a lot, but Uno was happy and comfortable. And then Dr. Mones and Jenny came over and performed that last rite in a more gentle and compassionate manner than I could have believed possible. They never hurried us, despite whatever their schedules held. They explained everything to us about what they would do and how Uno would react so that there would be no surprises. They waited for our go-ahead for each successive step in the process. Dr. Mones even asked our permission before shaving a small area of the inside of Uno's back leg, though I don't know how he'd have gotten the needle in the vein if I'd said no. And when it was all over--meaning not only that Uno was gone, but that John and I had taken all the time we felt we needed to pet him and kiss him and say goodbye--they bundled him up in blankets as though he were a kitten sleeping so quietly it would be a shame to wake him.
(Dr. Mones gave me the tuft of fur from that mini-shaving he performed, asking me if I'd like it as a keepsake. It's in a little bag now with some of Uno's sheddings I'd attempted to spin yesterday afternoon into thread. Neither was any good for spinning, alas, despite the shaved fur being the softer stuff from Uno's underside. The bag looks like it's got fur from two different cats, the back sheddings being brown-gray and the underside shavings being a very light reddish brown. That bag, and Uno's old collar, are on the altar now, near Null's collar and Beanie Baby tarantula.)
I remember the awful experience of rushing my parakeet to an emergency vet in Metairie--if only I could remember, I'd tell you which one it was, and which doctor, because I'd strongly recommend never putting yourself or your pets in his/their hands. Mom and I waited in the lobby for hours, living on miserly scraps of news, and finally receiving for our troubles only a small bundle of taped-up newspaper, my beloved White Wing dead and wrapped up like so much garbage. And the vet addressed my mother as though I weren't even in the room: "I'm sorry, Mrs. LeBoeuf." Meanwhile, I stood there, sobbing, probably no older than 14, holding my sad burden and receiving no comfort from anyone in the room. No one at that awful clinic treated me as though I were present and grieving, or her as though she meant anything to anyone.
This was to that like day to night, like summer to winter. I don't ever recommend the experience of having your pet put to sleep, but if you're in or near Boulder and that sad duty falls to you, Alpine Hospital for Animals will treat you right. Just about every member of their staff, doctor or tech or receptionist, has been the model of compassion and empathy. They helped us care for both Uno and Null through their final sicknesses, and I could not ask for more kindness or support from anyone.
Our friends have been nothing but supportive, as well. John kept to his Monday night plans of running a game of Becoming Heroes, saying he needed "a distraction, and for the good guys to win." I came along so I wouldn't be in the house all alone, and it was a comfort to play a bit of Puzzle Pirates in the presence of friends having loud, animated fun. I also drove off and met a couple other friends for dinner. They gave me hugs and sympathy and listening ears and permission to grieve--never underestimate the importance of that permission--and we all ate far too much food and it was glorious.
Today I've been gentle with myself, not pressuring myself to clean up or work or anything. I reread The Last Unicorn, like I said, drifting in and out of dreams in which I watched Uno sit under the wooden stool in the living room and groom himself. And, as when Null died, I'm feeling that huge weight lifted off my shoulders: no more making sure I'm up/home/still awake in time to give Uno his next subcutaneous injection, no more persuading him to eat, no more helplessness to do anything other than witness his pain and decided when to stop prolonging it. No more cats in the house at all--no furry dependents to care for and clean up after. I've been more tired than I realized, not just with the end-of-life care but simply with the job of having pets at all. I'm sort of reclaiming that energy for myself now.
(After Dr. Mones and Jenny left, I thought, I don't want to ever go through that again. But then I thought, The only way to ensure that I don't is to never have another pet.)
One day we'll take on that job again. The house feels empty without cats. Waking up feels lonely without Uno and Null bounding up onto the bed to remind us that it's breakfast time. But for now, we're not in a hurry. We're taking a break from pets. Besides, there can't possibly be another Uno. He was one of a kind. As John pointed out last night, the world couldn't handle two of him. It would just keel over, and Uno and his doppelganger would be all like, High fives! That was easy. What can I conquer next?