I think it was about 7:30 at night when Mr. Tiddles released his last breath. I’m guessing. My sobbing kept me from noticing. I cradled his body against my chest and repeated how sorry I was when his distended stomach collapsed one last time. I felt powerless and inadequate. I didn’t want him to hurt. I didn’t want him to panic. But I had no power over either. That is why I apologized, because I couldn’t do anything but hold him and wait.
His last moment wasn’t how I preferred his ending to be. I didn’t want to be there to watch him go. I wanted to be at work or out shopping or anywhere away because I knew I wouldn’t have the courage to bravely say goodbye, and I was right. But then again, maybe being there gave him comfort while crossing over.
7:30 is a good guess. My husband and I arrived at the emergency animal clinic, his corpse still cradled in a towel and held against my chest, at about 8:00. By then, I had stopped apologizing and my sobs had dwindled to an occasional spasm; however, I still needed a moment in the parking lot before I could take him in and ask them “what do I do now?”
That’s all I want to share about that. The night of January 17 is one I don’t care to relive much, even in words. I’m trying to forget it, waiting for this memory to feel more like a bad dream. Maybe next month.
I worried about my husband afterwards. Still do. In our 12 years together, I’ve seen him cry 3 times, if my memories are accurate. But while explaining our situation to the nurse at the front desk of the clinic, his voice cracked and number four was added to my recollections. While I’m cautious about expressing my grief in his presence (and therefore exacerbating his own), I don’t want to act like nothing is wrong. However, when he hurts, I hurt, and bearing the sorrow of two isn’t easy.
Two days later, I waited in my car at the usual pick-up spot after my husband leaves work. It was then that I had an idea that would cheer him up. In the past, he responded well to what I call “mobile dance parties.” These “dance parties” are nothing more than amplifying the upbeat song playing on the radio and announcing the dance party at an embarrassingly high volume immediately after he opens the car door. For example, if a spunky Madonna song is playing, I turn it up and yell “Madonna mobile dance party” when he opens the door (if it’s Janet Jackson, I’ll yell, “Janet Jackson mobile dance party!”). He’ll smirk and maybe roll his eyes, but I know it amuses him. For the short commute home, I sing loudly (even if I don’t know the words) and seat dance (lots of bouncing and shoulder action). I’ll encourage him to sing and dance along, but he’ll only want to honk the horn in time to the tempo because he knows it entices flirting.
A good mobile dance party, though, relies heavily on the chance that an upbeat song is playing on the radio when he opens the car door. I didn’t want to wager this opportunity on that, so I queued one up from my iPhone, remembering an Olivia Newton-John song I heard a few weeks ago. It was perfect: upbeat, fun, and fan-80s-tastic.
A little after 4:30, I watch Steven approach my car, my finger hovering near the Play icon. I felt giddy imagining his delight, that handsome smirk and playful roll of his eyes. He’ll climb in the car, I’ll demand that he dance and sing along, he’ll only want to reach over and honk the horn in tempo to the song, and for three and a half minutes, we’ll forget why we were sad.
He opened the back door to unload his backpack and lunch bag onto the back seat.
I hit play and yell, “Olivia Newton-John mobile dance party.”
He smirked a little, but didn’t roll his eyes. That’s okay.
I shimmy my shoulders and sing along as he climbed in the front seat and fastened his seat belt.
As I navigate the car into traffic, I lean towards him and sing loudly.
He didn’t try to honk the car horn.
I experienced a moment of clarity halfway through the chorus.
You see, when your cat recently passed away from a cardiac arrest, don’t try cheering up your spouse with an Olivia Newton-John mobile dance party that features a little ditty called Heart Attack because that is what is known as a terribly insensitive lack of judgement.
My boisterous singing of “A heart attack (heart attack); you’re givin’ me a heart attack” rapidly decelerated to a regrettable, “Well, that was a poor choice.” I turned down the radio and stewed in brief silence. Feeling like a buffoon, I worried Steven thought I was ridiculing his sorrow so I stammered out an apology and asked how his day was.
Unlike me, others in our life were capable of exhibiting a sincerer form of condolence. The cards expressing sympathy, the heartwarming messages posted to social media, the phone calls, my husband and I are grateful for them all, from family and close friends to strangers who work at the pharmacy that supplied his pills. It’s comforting to know that people understand how a cat can feel like a member of the family because at first, I couldn’t justify why I felt so hurt. I couldn’t grieve because I believed my emotional response was melodramatic and stupid. But this collective sympathy expressed that feeling the hurt and sadness is reasonable and okay, that I wouldn’t be derided for the crying or the melancholy. It felt like a gentle hug.
Mr. Tiddles returned home to us in a small wooden box with a plaque bearing his name a few days ago. At first, holding that box felt confusing. My brain said I was holding Mr. Tiddles. At the same time, it told me I was holding a box of ashes. I had to sit down for a minute until it could make up its mind, eventually compromising on something comprehensible. This was still Mr. Tiddles, just…different.
Even days beyond his passing, with Mr. Tiddles locked away in a box, I forget he’s gone. I still have the impulse to buy a broth he can eat because he doesn’t like the pate anymore. I still want to bend down and pick him up, placing him at his normal feeding spot on the counter because he couldn’t do it on his own near the end. I wonder how long it will take to forget these heartbreaking habits.
Of all the trauma I would like to forget from this experience, I do like to reflect on a phone call from his vet on the morning after. Based on my description of his final moments, she assumed he threw a clot that landed in a lung. We expected this to be one of the few ways he would go. What I didn’t expect was that because Mr. Tiddles becoming a symbol of hope for other cats diagnosed with advanced cardiomyopathy.
After sharing that Mr. Tiddles would go down in her record book for living the longest after his diagnosis, the vet said, “I have to tell you; just the other day, one of my patients was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, also. When the owner asked about life expectancy, I told them, ‘Well, the textbook says it can be a matter of months, but let me tell you about a cat named Mr. Tiddles.’”
If I could say one thing to Mr. Tiddles to help me let go, it would be, “Thanks for all the stories, Mr. Tiddles.”