“Your cat has cancer.”
I was gut-punched; the air hissed out of my lungs like a pierced balloon. I stared at Dr. Gray. She obviously grabbed the wrong chart.
“My cat? You’re talking about Pebbles . . . right?”
Dr. Gray nodded. “I’m sorry I have to deliver this news. There is a treatment plan we can put in place to make her comfortable the rest of her days.”
I went numb. The rest of her days? She looks fine.
“How long?” I choked. “How long do you think she has?”
The doctor stroked Pebbles’s head. “Depending on how she responds to the medication, two months to a year.”
My eyes blurred with tears. The thought of my cat not being a part of my everyday life was too much to take in.
We had gotten Pebbles shortly after my husband died. My daughter and I had visited several shelters, and ended up at an animal rescue along the Sacramento River. A woman had turned her home into a haven for cats. Yes, a legit cat-house. Construction was ongoing, as the owner added room after room, large closets really, giving Mrs. Winchester a run for her money.
We searched through all of the enclosures, and it came down to two kittens: a black one and a white one. We played with both and debated. Then, the white kitten, with light-brown markings on her face, tried to crawl up my daughter’s bare leg, as if to say, “Take me home!” And that’s what we did.
During our first night together, Pebbles clawed her way up my bedspread, attacking it like it was Mount Everest. Once she reached the peak, she claimed what had been my husband’s side of the bed. It was reassuring for my hand to find a warm body near me, even one so tiny and furry. The hairy cotton ball soon became not only a family member, but a steady comfort.
As an indoor cat, Pebbles followed us everywhere. Her little paws worked hard to keep up with our longer strides, but traversing the house caused her to drop from exhaustion and fall asleep.
After short naps, she continued exploring her new digs and found a few secret hiding places. In the early days, I’d be in a panic trying to find her, fearful she had escaped somehow. Once I’d discovered her favorite resting places were inside cupboards and in the backs of closet shelves, finding her became a treasure hunt.
Our kitten soon grew to adulthood, with her own distinct personality. Always a clean-freak, Pebbles elevated grooming to another level, especially after a meal. The ritual commenced with an upward lift of a paw that was met and moistened by a rough pink tongue. The paw then moved gently across her mouth, several times, removing unseen morsels. The act was repeated with the other paw, as if it were a starched white napkin and she’d just dined with the Queen.
For the past thirteen years, Pebbles has given me great joy and companionship. How can I possibly say good-bye?
I know how to do grief, Lord knows I’ve had my share, but I have never done “end of life” with a family pet. What makes it all the harder, is that Pebbles is the only member who practices unconditional love. And what she has given me, I cherish.
My job now is to make her happy and comfortable. I do not want her to suffer. I’ve decided to spoil her by doing the things she delights in most. At the top of her list is having her front feet massaged. I take a paw between my thumb and fingers, and rub and apply gentle pressure that extends and contracts her nails. All the while, Pebbles sits in my lap, eyes half closed, wearing a dreamy faraway look.
I don’t know how many days we have left, but when you know they are numbered, each one becomes more precious.
I’m not the only person who talks to their pet, so it should come as no surprise that Pebbles and I have had several tearful exchanges––she, the master of stoicism. With much cajoling on my part, she has agreed to let me know when the good of her days no longer outweighs the bad.
Pebbles is under treatment, and each morning she suffers through my fumbling attempts to medicate her. (Getting a pill down an animal’s throat is no fun for either party.)
My wish is that we will continue being silly and enjoying each other’s company. In the evenings, as Pebbles hunkers down on my chest to sleep, we are heart to heart. Her purr is a vibrating song that echos through my body, connecting us . . . making me pray for a long goodbye.
Written By Erin G. Burrell
Author of That’s Why You’re Here