On the one hand, we knew she was seventeen, which is old for a cat. On the other hand, we never saw it coming. One day there was a Bennie in our lives, and the next there wasn't. The cancers that move so quick in humans, like they did with Mom, are even faster in felines, who are much smaller.
It just seemed like all of a sudden, she wasn't acting right. It happened over a weekend. Like most older kitties, she spent most of her time sleeping, moving between whatever lap she could find and the bed. Keith had gone camping, and I started noticing that, while she was sleeping in the bed, something wasn't right. She was all the way at the far edge, where she never laid before, like she was trying to move away from everyone else. When a cat starts isolating herself like that, it's a sign of trouble.
She would still respond to me if I laid with her and petted her, making those big loud purrs she always did, so I wasn't totally sure, but it didn't feel right. Then I realized she wasn't eating. That took a bit longer to catch, since she never liked to eat with the boys, but eventually I realized that she wasn't getting out of bed at all. I took her a few cat treats and she ate them, so I still wasn't sure. Then on Sunday, I got a whiff of her breath. Foul doesn't begin to describe it.
I told Keith what I was fearing when I got home, and on Monday, we got her an appointment for the next day. When I picked her up to put her in her cage on Tuesday, the side of her face had swollen up. It had not been like that when we had left that morning, but by the afternoon, she looked like a case of kitty mumps. That actually made me feel a little better. I started thinking that maybe it was a bad tooth, which would explain everything--the bad smell, the not eating, everything. She had had dental problems before, so I knew this would be treatable.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. We had forgotten to schedule her annual appointment in the spring because of the time needed to deal with Mom. We kept talking about it all summer, but never did anything about it. I will kick myself for the rest of my life for that.
The vet pointed out that she had lost half her body weight, which meant that something had been wrong for a while. We were shocked. We knew she had been eating--we'd seen her--we had no idea she'd been eating less and less. They took a sample from the lump to do a biopsy, and gave us some canned food, pain meds, and an appetite stimulant to try. While they were pretty sure it was cancer, they wanted to confirm so that we could discuss options.
We took her home. She was really groggy from the shot they gave her before they took the sample, but she fell on that plate of soft food. She ate and ate and ate. I put more out a couple of times and only stopped because I didn't want her to eat so much she threw up. So much for the appetite stimulant. To think, I'd been prepared to force feed her. She fell asleep right by the plate.
The next morning, she had moved to the bedroom, but was turned so she wasn't facing anyone. She didn't want to be touched and it was obvious that she was suffering terribly. She wouldn't even look at the same food she had devoured the night before. I gave her the pain meds, helped her get as settled as possible, told her I loved her and that as soon as I got back from work, I was going to talk to Keith about putting her down. It was unbearable to leave her like that, but I had no one to take over my class, so I had to go. Before Keith could get home from work, she had passed away.
I'm glad she got to go at home, but I hate that she died alone. As long as I live, I'll never know if we handled that one right. There are way too many "what if's" and "if only's."
One of the worst parts about the whole ordeal was fighting the urge to pick up the phone and call Mom and let her know. I inherited the cat lady gene from her, and we talked each other through lots of pet loss over the years. She loved Bennie. (How could she not?) I knew she'd want to know.
There was no Bennie and no Mom to call and tell about it. So all of a sudden, I can't just grieve my sweet little kitty. I've got yet another reason to grieve my mother. 2010 was a year of more tears than I ever thought I would shed.
Yet as hard as it's been on me, it's been worse on Keith. Bennie and her sister Basil were our first kitties. We got them right after we moved in together. Two kitties. Two people. It was kind of predestined that one of them would bond with each of us. Basil was "my" kitty. Bennie was "his." Basil acted like I had given birth to her. Bennie just seemed to always want to be with Keith. She would sit on his feet, his lap, his legs, his shoulder, anywhere she could get.
One of the thoughts I had when we lost Basil was that I wished so bad I could spare him from having that same pain whenever it was Bennie's turn. I tried, but I know I failed. I can see that look on his face when we suddenly remember something she used to do or think we've caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of an eye. Seventeen years is a long time to share with a cat.