He’s skinny now, a fragment of his old self with watery eyes and a weak voice. You can almost put one hand around his whole body and he looks tired. It’s like all the air has left him and only the heart is left. But he still has the eyes that look at you with a kind of gentle trust and he still gets up slowly to come to you for a gentle touch and the odd meow that’s his alone.
Something happens to old cats, happens too quickly. One day they seem sleek and alive and then suddenly without warning all the age catches up with them. No growing old in stages just everything all at once, or at least so it seems. It can be hard to look at, the sight of the ghost of a cat marking time. And yet something even more wistful looms.
In the wild, far from our eyes, nature herself would bring about both the beginning and the end. Her terrible laws would be enforced and something, some accident, some predator, some illness, some fate would return a cat to its cycle of life and death. But when they live in our world they endure our captivity but enjoy our bounties, the freedom from cold and fear and all those happenstances that normally make life a vapor by our standards. And so something happens to them that rarely happens outside our walls, they grow old, very old, and we must decide when there is too many years and too little life.
It’s not the techniques for this that are difficult. The sad duty, the thing we euphemistically call “putting to sleep” is quick and without pain, a matter of seconds. Many of us wish our own death could be so. The question is always the when. When is it right? When is it good? When is enough, enough? There is no numbing medicine for that, no anesthetic to ease the pain. In some ways this is good because it means we naturally shrink back from taking life, a trait we humans should always develop, but for us it brings to bear all the fears that come with being finite and still having power over life and death.
And they don’t make it easy for the most part. Even when an animal is desperately ill and deeply in pain they retain some of the spirit, the dignity, and the earlier form that attracted us to them. An old broken cat still purrs, still holds on to that something that makes them so unique, and we see that, and we remember in their faces all the times that have passed so quickly by and it makes it hard to let go. We want to hold on to every minute we can because we know that even if it is just an animal it still is, in its own way, a unique soul of a sort, an irreplaceable life.
Then at some point a kind of love takes over, a love stronger then our sense of loss and we realize that such a creature as this must not be allowed to endure another moment of a fragility which they cannot comprehend and deterioration they cannot transcend by faith or hope or meaning as we know it, and our fingers find their way to the phone.
It’s time, now, for Buddy to go. Buddy the beautiful old cat turned skinny and frail with time, true friend of an old lady till the day she died and companion for a whole floor of people who slowly but surely are losing their memories. Blind in one eye he had to turn in circles to look over his shoulder and walk with his whiskers to the wall for direction but every hand that reached out was rewarded with his gentle response. His life was a token of what will one day be, the time when the ancient fears dividing animals and man will disappear into Light. How different the world would be if each of us made as many people happy as that old cat with the funny meow and the beautiful, soulful, eyes. And if there is a life of some sort beyond this for him I wish him a well deserved rest.