I noticed it slowly at first. Smudge, my cat, was not moving as much. She wasn’t really wanting to jump up on couches or on my bed to visit me. Smudge seemed more content to stay snuggled up on her bed.
I then noticed she wasn’t as playful when the laser pointer came out. She was thirteen and a half years old after all, considered a geriatric cat at this point. Then I noticed she wasn’t eating or drinking as much.
I made a call into the vet and got her an appointment about two weeks out. Over the weekend, things seemed to get worse.
I knew something was off, so on a Monday, I called and got a new appointment for the next day.
My sons also realized that something was off with Smudge. I assured them she was just not feeling well and would be going to a cat doctor the next day. The next morning, the boys went off to daycare and I went to work. When I asked my husband how she was doing, he said she was not really accepting food or water. I decided to work at home so I could watch her myself before going to the vet.
He was right. She definitely wasn’t herself.
She laid in the bed and really didn’t acknowledge me or my attempts to get her to drink or eat. She would, however, start to purr whenever I scratched behind her ears and petted her.
At the vet, they took bloodwork and did a quick exam. Then I had to wait about a half an hour while they ran the labs. During that time, I snuggled her, whispering how much I loved her. The sinking feeling in my gut only worsened when the vet came back into the room with a sad look on her face.
Smudge’s kidneys were failing. To add to this, she also has a heart murmur, which would make treatment very difficult. I could put her into the Intensive Care Unit for a few weeks while they pushed fluids to try to flush the kidneys, but that would mean that she would be separated from me. She would be in the hands of strangers. When I asked the blunt question as to what it would actually do for her, the vet said, with a sad look, this would only buy her a short amount of time.
By that time, I was sobbing, knowing that I had to make the call for quality of life for her. So that evening, I had to euthanize my best furry friend.
This cat was with me for some of the biggest events of my life: college, engagement, marriage, my father’s death, a miscarriage, and the eventual births of my sons. In the darkest times of my life, Smudge was there to purr on my chest and give her unconditional love.
In the midst of this, I was so wrapped up in my own grief, that I didn’t even think of the grief that my family would now have to also experience. I wouldn’t/couldn’t drive her home to give my children the opportunity to say goodbye to her. Car rides stressed her out and it seemed cruel to drive her 30 minutes home and to bring her back. COVID-19 prevented more than one person from being in the room, so my husband and children couldn’t join me.
So I had to put her sleep in the room on my own.
I drove home in a daze, crying and sobbing for most of it, so saddened to lose my beloved pet. When I got home, I realized my boys already knew. My oldest was wailing. My four-year-old was asking where Smudge was.
I could only cry.
This was their first experience with death and pet loss.
My husband had to patiently explain to them that Smudge would not be coming home. No, she would not come back to life. It was not possible to get another cat just like her.
The next day, I put in a call to a friend who is a child therapist and she assured me that my husband had handled the situation appropriately. She stated that it is important to tell children that the pet died, as using metaphors like “put to sleep” or “going to heaven” can confuse younger children instead of helping them accept that death is final. It could also create fear about going to sleep.
The boys were very sad for the first few days, as was I.
Tears came easily. One thing we did to help with the grief was to look at photos of Smudge and watch videos we had of her. We laughed at the silly stories and acknowledged the sad feelings. We still have Smudge’s littermate, Kelly, and her presence has been so comforting. However, I don’t think we will be getting another cat any time soon.
Once we got the call that Smudge’s remains were ready for pickup, I bought a shadow box and placed her ashes and some other mementos in it. Now we have a memorial that the boys (and I) can go to when we are sad and want to remember her.
Death (including pet loss) is a lesson I think we all wish we could spare our children, but unfortunately, it is a given in this life that they will experience it at some point.
Talking about it and giving our children room to process it is important. The most important thing, I personally think, is to teach our children just what treasures memories can be.
Have you lost a pet? How did you tell your children?
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