Monday, October 17, 2011

Thank You For 14 Years of Friendship

Saturday was one of the most difficult days of my life because I had to make the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.  I had to decide between selfishness and selflessness, pain for another or pain for myself.  However... love is selfless... and I loved my kitty cat, Darlin.

Over the past couple of months specifically, her health has been declining drastically.  She wasn't making it to the litter box, was having trouble eating, was blind, was deaf, and was even having trouble walking.  She would stumble and fall and sleep nearly twenty out of twenty-four hours a day.  In a word, she was disoriented.

I received some wise advice from my mother-in-law (who recently had to put down her eleven-year-old dog): you have to weigh the quality of life compared to the chance that the animal will get better.  Well, there was no quality to Darlin's life anymore for her- she didn't know where she was, who she was, or who was with her.  She struggled through each and every day, and if she wasn't struggling, she was sleeping.  So... no quality of life.  There also was absolutely no chance of her health improving because she was fourteen years old and extremely feeble.

Those were the facts.  And those facts came with a serious choice:
1) I could be REALLY selfish and wait until she became even more disoriented, started feeling severe pain, and died on her own.

2) I could STILL be selfish and wait until she was obviously in pain and then put her down- allowing her last memory to be pain.

3) I could make the most difficult choice, be unselfish, and put her down before she was in any horrific pain but was obviously not really enjoying life, per se.

I never thought I would be fervently praying for my kitty to die, but I was.  I didn't want to go through with it... I wanted her to die peacefully in her sleep- oh how I would have been thankful to know that she had just gone in her sleep before I ever had to make "the" decision.

I received a call a few weeks ago from my mom and dad letting me know that they thought Darlin might be dying- she was having trouble making it to the litter box and was no longer eating.  I said my goodbyes over the phone, asked for them to love on her, and just hoped that she would go while sitting in my dad's lap (one of her favorite places to sleep) or in the middle of the night while sleeping in her bed.  However, we also discussed the possibility of her needing to be put down.  I watched her stumble around on web cam for a bit, discussed what was going on with her, and then knew the choice I had to make- the best choice for her.

There was, however, a light at the end of that short, yet emotional, tunnel.  My parents told me that she was doing better!  She had started eating again and seemed to be having a little bit of a better time with "living".  Phew!  That was a close one!

Pain struck again, though, Friday, when my mom called me to let me know that it was, indeed, time.  She had made an appointment for Darlin to be put down at 10:30 am Saturday.  There wasn't much time, but she wanted to inform me and confirm that it would be okay with me.  I knew that it was the right choice, but there was one condition... I had to be there.  Travis and I were going to make it up to Tennessee by the Saturday- no other option.  The vet was super helpful and generous; she opened later on specifically for us so we wouldn't have to make it to a 10:30 am appointment and so I would have some time with her before having to say goodbye.  It was final... after 4:00 pm, Darlin would be in peace at last.

How would we get to Tennessee?  We would either have to pay a whole lot of money to fly commercial (with the potential of us still not being able to get a flight), spend 12 hours each way driving to Tennessee (driving through the night Friday), or Travis's dad, Shawn, could fly us in his small, private plane.  This was one of those times where I was so thankful, that I barely knew what to say because words couldn't quite express my gratitude.  Shawn and Becky flew us in the private plane to Tennessee, early Saturday morning (to return the next day).  I don't know quite how to express my gratitude to them because it is impossible to do so; it was a huge sacrifice for them... one that will never be forgotten.

Saturday was a solemn day.  When I arrived at my parents' home, Darlin was in her bed... where she spent most of her time.  When I picked her up and held her, I could see in her old, tired eyes that it was time to let her be in peace.  I spent Darlin's last hours with her.  She purred and she snuggled, and I loved on her: kissed her, hugged her, held her, sang to her, and talked to her.  I told her how much I loved her.  I told her that the only reason I was going to do what I was about to do was because I loved her.  And I prayed... I prayed so hard that God would just let it happen there in my arms so that we wouldn't need to go through with the thing I had been dreading.

I wished that time would stop.  I wished that time would go backward.  I wished anything except that time would move forward, but it did.  The hours ticked by, and with each passing hour, my heart broke a little more.

When it was finally time to go to the vet, I held Darlin close to me in my sweater and kept her warm and cozy.  We made it to the vet, and my mom- God bless her- signed the consent form for me.  Once we went in the room, I confirmed with her that it was the right thing to do- I couldn't help but doubt my choice over and over... how could something so selfless and "right" for my kitty, break me inside so much?  She confirmed that she thought it was time (I had heard this confirmation so many times, but I didn't quite want to believe it).  She explained that she needed to take Darlin to the back to insert the catheter, which would then stay there until we were ready to have the injection (we would of course be in the room for that).  When I handed her over and the vet took her away to the back, I broke down.  My back slid down the wall until I was sitting on the floor of the office with Travis's arms wrapped around me.  I sobbed.  And sobbed.

As much as I wanted Darlin back in my arms, I dreaded the vet bringing her back to me.  Her bringing Darlin back into that room would only mean one thing: the moment I had dreaded was about to occur.  However, time moved on...

My little kitty was brought back into the room with a catheter in her sweet, tiny paw.  She was also a little tired and subdued because the vet had to give her something so the catheter wouldn't hurt going in.

I sat down on a chair in the corner with my sweet baby girl in her bed in my lap- her favorite place to be: in a lap.  My parents and Travis surrounded us.  We all prayed over her and each of them kissed her sweet little head and said, "I love you."  I held her close, kissed her and said, "I love you," many times... but never enough.  I nodded to the vet, and my baby for 14 years went into the most peaceful sleep while we had our hands on her.  Just as her eyes closed completely, I stroked her head and held her paw.  The vet checked her heart, but I already knew she was gone.  She went fast.  She went gracefully.  She went peacefully.

I can't explain the urge you feel to say, "STOP!" as the injection is already happening...  it's like... even if you wanted to change your mind at that point, you can't.  It is no longer your choice.  Even as she laid still before we left... there was an urge to say, "No, wait!  Please, not yet!  I changed my mind..."

Soon after she passed, I asked if I could pick her up.  I held my tiny, limp kitty cat in my arms, kissed her, and told her again that I loved her.  I then laid her down on her bed, curled up as if she was sleeping, and crossed her two sweet front paws.  She was beautiful.

I set her and her bed down on the vet's counter and left the room so my mom could discuss the cremation with the vet.  After about a minute in the lobby, I found myself going back into the room to see Darlin's face one last time.  I just wasn't ready to say goodbye.  Not that I would ever be.  I pet her again, kissed my fingers and placed them gently on her head and left the room for the last time.

I don't know how to express to those who have never had a close pet what it feels like to have to make a decision like the one I made for Darlin.  I can't express the pain the occurs inside when you have to watch your sweet kitty of 14 years pass away in your lap because of an injection that you, yourself, gave the "nod" to the vet to give...

Other things in my life have happened in a way where I could "spread out" the emotion.  What I mean is, usually when hurtful things happen in your life, you can transfer some of that sorrow to anger, bitterness, happiness, relief, etc.  When hurtful events happen, usually there are "mixed emotions".  I can deal with mixed emotions.  But this... is pure, undiluted sorrow.  I have never known such dense, complete sadness in my heart.  In other situations, the emotions are spread out amongst others.  This helps because you are called to support and console others even if you are hurting as well.  If Darlin was a kitty Travis and I had gotten together, he and I would share the sorrow- thus spreading it out.  I would console him and he would console me- we would both carry the heavy burden.  Darlin was my kitty cat.  My baby.  I am not saying that others weren't big parts of her life or that she wasn't a big part of others' lives... she definitely was.  However, if asked whose cat she was... the answer was "Brittany's".  We were friends from my childhood into adulthood- loyal companions.  What I am saying is that I didn't have anyone to console... I didn't have anyone with whom to share the immense burden- not the exact same burden at least.  These are the reasons why this pain was worse than anything I have ever experienced thus far.

Darlin wasn't just any kitty- she was special.  She was a lap kitty.  She loved much and was loved much by everyone that knew her.  She would come when I called and play tag with me when she was younger and stronger.  She was my companion, friend, and baby.  I grew up as she did.  Unfortunately, pets grow faster than we do, thus, death takes them long before it takes us.

I wish I could say that I can now think fondly of her without ever feeling my heart crack and crumble inside or tears flowing down my cheeks, but I can't.  It takes more time.  More than anything, it takes the Lord's healing.

I think one of the best ways to end this is by saying thank you.  Thank you Mom and Dad for loving Darlin and caring for her.  You two proved selfless till the end to not only my kitty but to me as well.  You took her under your wing when Travis and I couldn't, paid for health expenses even when money was tighter than normal, and gave her love from the beginning until the end.

Becky, thank you for your consolation, support, and advice through this whole ordeal.  You helped solidify in my heart and mind that I was making the right, humane choice.  Thank you for the times you have taken care of Darlin when my parents have come to visit and brought the cats with them.  I know the kitties messed up your study's bathroom, but you were generous and gracious about it despite the chaos.  During those trips, you were loving to Darlin, spent time with her, held her, and pet her even though she caused you some allergy issues.  I know she appreciated the attention.

Shawn, thank you for your support and willingness to fly on the drop of a hat to get me to Tennessee to be with my baby for her passing away.  I know that flying in your plane costs you a lot in time and money, and you have never asked us once to reimburse you for gas- in fact you refuse our offers to pay for some of it.  This weekend could have been a stressful 24 hours on the road for Travis and me, but thanks to you and your generosity, the trip was so much less stressful (even considering the circumstances).  It means so much to me that I was able to be with Darlin until the end.

Travis, thank you for all of your support throughout this emotional roller coaster.  You have held me when I have needed to be held and backed off when I have needed some alone time.  You loved Darlin- that is the greatest gift you could have given to me for her.  In Tallahassee when she was with us, you would help me bathe her, feed her, clean out her litter box, clean up her messes, and spend time with her.  There were times when you would be sitting at the kitchen table doing homework with her curled up in your lap; I am so glad you have those special memories with her.  Other times, we three would cuddle on the couch together and fall asleep- a little "family nap".   She loved you, too.

Mom, thank you for getting her for me.  It is times like these where we have to remind ourselves that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  You claim to not be a "pet person", but you took care of Darlin's "pet needs" (litter box, food, water, etc.) better than I did many times- especially when I was younger.  As she and I grew older, you took care of her "sick needs"- putting pads down around the litter box in case she didn't make it, taking her to the vet when things didn't seem right, feeding her wet food when she could no longer eat the dry food, cleaning up a variety of her "messes", bathed her when she was too weak to clean herself, and so much more.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart- I know Darlin was thankful, too.

Dad, you were one of Darlin's favorite people (probably the top of her list near the end).  You loved that kitty, and you made sure she knew it.  You held her on your lap even when she drooled and pet her even when she was too old to clean herself- your hands had to have been filthy and your clothes covered in fur after holding her, but you didn't care... or at least, you cared more about her than those other issues.  I never had to worry that she was being neglected emotionally because I knew that you considered yourself her "grandpa".  There were times when I am sure it was "inconvenient" to love on her, but you were selfless until the very end.  She loved you so much.

Darlin, thank you for 14 wonderful years of friendship.  You were a loving, sweet, tiny kitten that grew into a loving, sweet, tiny cat.  You were loyal to me always despite not always being able to live with me.  I had a great childhood, but somehow you made it even greater.  I guess you just had a way of making life better.  You were a sweet addition to my life that I will never forget.  Thank you for snuggling with me.  Thank you for always saying hello with a sweet little "meow" when I would walk into the room.  Thank you for playing tag with me.  Thank you for coming when I called so I would know that I never had to try to hold or play with you against your will- you weren't that kind of cat (you weren't "fickle").  Thank you for going on trips with me.  Thank you for beating cancer a couple of years back and giving us more time together... I guess those vets didn't know who they were dealing with when they said you wouldn't make it more than a year.  They didn't know they were dealing with my Darlin.  Thank you for playing with me.  Thank you for napping with me.  Thank you for...everything you gave me.  Thank you for being my little "darlin'".  No other name could have suited you quite as perfectly.  Thank you for your love and devotion.  You are in peace now, never to suffer again.  You had a long, wonderful life full of adventure, love, and prayer for you.  Having to say goodbye was the hardest thing I have ever had to endure... but I did it out of love for you.  Love is selfless and kind- that was the most selfless and kind thing I could have done for you.  You didn't deserve to suffer any longer.  You deserved peace.  And now you have it.  My heart still breaks for you... I think there will always be at least a small scar on my heart from October 15th, 2011- the day I said goodbye to my sweet, one-of-a-kind friend.  You were beautiful as a baby, and you were beautiful lying still.  You were so beautiful.  Thank you for all you have given our family.  Thank you for all you have given me.

I miss you. 

I love you and will always love you.