One of our cats is dying. We have two, Lewis and Clark. They were barn kittens when we got them thirteen years ago from a farm in a town south of us, known for cheese and rolling hills. We named the cats for the American explorers, Lewis and Clark, as we got them during the summer of 2003 when a celebration began in the U.S. regarding the famous exploration of these two curious men. We felt their names fit the cats and their curiosity.
Being well cared for and loved indoor cats, death has been kept far from their lives. There have been no close calls on the road, no terrible infections, and no injuries. Lewis and Clark have had good lives. Clark, always the more skittish of the two, would run and hide whenever friends would visit. Eventually, this changed as he had select people, friends of our family or friends of our boys, that would not induce hiding. Clark has always been fatter, quieter, and more loveable than Lewis. Clark is unique and has always had some increased pigment in his left eye. It seemed to spread, but never effected his vision. Eventually, however, Clark lost his “meow”. He would still open his mouth to meow, but nothing would come out! It’s been years since he’s meowed. Still, neither this or the patch of increased pigment in his left iris ever seemed to effect his quality of life. Looking back, we didn’t recognize these changes as signs of death hovering around Clark.
Up until recently, he’s eaten well, listened to the birds in our yard with interest, begged for water on occasion, and even been caught watching television. Daily, he hopes to get a drop or two of milk left in a discarded cereal bowl in the sink. We all love him. But, now we know death is hovering. He has had increasing difficulty breathing over the last few months. At first it was an occasional cough. Then, the cough progressed, leading to a wheeze. The wheeze became almost constant, with each breath we heard a whistle or squeak. Still, he appeared happy, comfortable, and able to eat, drink, and sleep.
Yesterday, things changed. Death is hovering more closely now. Clark has lost weight. He is using his accessory muscles to breathe. These changes have been gradual and seem to not cause him any distress. He must have a lesion in his throat. A lesion that has slowly grown. We love Clark. Did I mention that? I especially like to watch him with our youngest son, Ben. He follows Ben around like a dog. Sitting next to him daily when homework is being done and rubbing against him during breakfast. It’s been a routine for ten years. Our seventeen year old, Matt, gently cleans the sleep and matter from Clark’s eyes. Clark lets him. Matt has done that daily for many years now, too. His care for this animal has touched my heart.
This morning Clark didn’t rub Ben. He didn’t allow Matt to clean his eyes. Instead, they both lovingly petted him, while Clark struggled for air. The wheeze is gone. I was a nurse, I know what that means. He’s still using accessory muscles to breathe and now his mouth opens with each inspiration, trying to “capture” the air. It is a feline gasp. Our new college graduate is on his way home for a visit today. I gave him notice that Clark is not doing well. I hope he gets to see Clark one last time. My heart, which was so full during the weekend graduation ceremony and celebrations, is now heavy for a beloved family member.
Death is no longer just hovering. Death is near.