Saying Goodbye to Jasper

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A week ago we said goodbye to our 15-year-old black cat Jasper. A lot has changed since I first adopted her, but she was still my first baby girl and it was really tough.

I adopted Jasper the summer after my freshmen year at UF. During those college years, she was my buddy – a homework and study companion that kept me company in the car for the five-hour drive to and from college.

After college, she came along with us when we moved to CT. I was 19 years old when I got her and I assumed she’d be long gone by the time I settled down as a real live adult. I didn’t realize how very long cats live. See Jasper was not what you’d call a friendly cat to anyone except for me. She frequently hissed at my husband and we all knew better than to leave something out on the floor. She was known to pee on things left unattended and she had some hairball issues. I often warned house guests not to touch her, try to pick her up, or even to make eye contact with her. She was prone to attack if you sat on her couch and tried to look her in the eye.

After we got married, we decided to adopt a one-year old black lab. Jasper was less than pleased, but put up with the dog. She only occasionally peed on the dog’s bed. I longed to see the two of them curled up keeping each other warm in the winter, but that just never happened. Jasper merely tolerated the dog, while the dog wished to be the best of friends as only dogs do.

Next came kids – One baby and then another. Jasper took it all in stride. She never once peed in the crib. As she aged, she started to be friendlier, or at least to put up with more. We taught my daughter how to touch her gently and she taught my daughter to observe the signs that indicate an animal needs some space. My daughter has never had another cat, so she doesn’t realize that as cats go, this one wasn’t overly nice to her. She loved her just the same and so did I.

After years of joking about not believing how long cats live, it was finally Jasper’s time. She’d stopped eating and pooping and she’d begun peeing several times a day outside of her box. She was in kidney failure and it was pretty far along. After confirming with a blood test, I made the decision to put her down. I’ve never had to make a decision like this before.

My biggest concern was how to tell my daughter that the cat was not going to make it. I asked co-workers and Facebook moms’ group members for advice. We’ve never discussed Heaven before, and I didn’t want to start now just to make it easier on myself. I decided I could mention Heaven as a possibility, something that some people believe in, but I would be honest that I just don’t know what happens after you die. I decided I’d answer any questions she had as best I could. People recommended two books: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney and When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers.

I picked my three-year-old up at school and told her that Jasper is really sick and part of her body is not working anymore. I’m going to take her to the vet again tonight and I think she’s going to pass away tonight so we need to give her a lot of love after school and tell her goodbye. And that’s just what we did. We spent over an hour with her on my bed, petting her and telling her how much we love her. It was a perfect goodbye. We took a few photos and my daughter even asked me to take a video. I thought the video would be weird, but it’s actually nice to have. In the video, you can see the cat is happy being pet and peaceful, but just not herself.

I didn’t think I’d be upset as I was. It was really, really tough. I was sobbing at the vet. I was sobbing all night once I got home. I even said once to my husband, “I killed our cat tonight.” I think my guilt is in not doing more. I’ve suspected for a while that she wasn’t doing well, but truth be told, I haven’t been all in it with the cat for a long time, and I feel really bad that the pets are not top priority as they once were. I know it was her time. I know it’s unrealistic to think we could pull off the treatment required to possibly prolong her life another 6 months or so. I know it was the right decision, but watching another living thing die in my arms because of a decision I made is not something I took lightly.

Ultimately I took it worse than my daughter. She has yet to cry. We didn’t even pull the book out of my purse. We’ve been trying to spend some time talking about our fun memories of the cat. We made a book with photos so that we can see her when we’re missing her. My daughter did have several questions that stemmed from the cat’s death. She’s been telling people that our cat is dead and mentioning that she misses the cat. She has been throwing tantrums this past week and I wonder how much of this is bouncing around in her brain and maybe making her upset. Her questions tell me she’s thinking about death and how it relates to her.

Will Daddy be sad when I die?
Older people usually die first sweetheart, so daddy will probably die before you, but not for a long, long time.

Can we get a new baby when my sister dies?
She’s just a baby, so she should live for many, many more years.

Can we get another cat?

We can’t see the kitty anymore because she’s dead and you can’t see dead people anymore. But dead people can see each other.
Maybe so sweetheart. That sure would be cool.

Mom! Guess What?! Jasper was the FIRST ONE TO DIE!
Yes baby girl, yes she was.
(When you’re three and a half it’s all about being first at anything! In her mind, Jasper was really cool because she had done something FIRST!)

I was able to really laugh about that last one. It’s pretty hard to mope around when you’ve got a kid as entertaining as mine running around.

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RIP Jasper Cat – We loved you a lot and I’m sorry we didn’t take more time to show you.

Elise also posted just about a year ago about the loss of her family’s beloved dog and how she helped her family cope. Her post brought me comfort during a difficult time.

17 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Jasper

  1. This is such a sad situation, made more delicate when there are kids involved. We went through the loss of my mother in law, my first dog and then our second dog within a short period of time, starting when Zo was only about 3. It was hard to explain to her but she still has good memories of all three and pictures them “somewhere” together and that brings her comfort. I think it made her feel better to think that Nana had a dog with her….We called it heaven on the advice of our pediatrician even though we don’t do religion. It gave it a name that made it a little easier to explain. Zo still asks about the dogs and misses them to the point of tears sometimes (She doesn’t ask about her grandmother as much though…) I had all the same books prepared too, and she didn’t want to read them, as if she didn’t want to dwell on it.
    I’m sorry you had to go through this Jenn. Cats do live forever, for better or worse. Your description of Jasper sounds a lot like my cat now. A real asshole, but I love him (I’m the only one in the family who does). Thanks for sharing. It does get easier.

  2. Jenn, this really made me cry. I related so much to Jasper’s unique personality, as I had a dog that was similar, and who would bite me at the drop of a hat. He was also a voluminous urinater! But still, I loved him and when he had to be put down, I felt like the Grim Reaper. I have lost 3 other dogs since Roscoe’s demise and it doesn’t get any easier. I do want to affirm your decision not to put Jasper through treatment just to keep her alive for YOUR needs. I did this with my Lizzie for a week or so because I wasn’t ready and that was selfish of me. Finally I realized she was desperately trying to tell me that 17 years was enough and she wanted to rest in peace. I still feel haunted by my selfishness. When my dog Simon was clearly failing, I ALSO took video of him so I would have something to remind me that I made the right decision when inevitably he would have to be put down. He actually died in my arms on the way to the vet, sparing me that tough decision. But after the Lizzie experience, I would not have hesitated to put him to rest.

    I also felt the guilt you felt with my first dog, Nathaniel. He was our baby until a real one came along. On the day he died, I had put him in our spare room for most of the day because he was in the way when the baby was trying to do baby things. That night, I let him out and he got hit by a car. I still feel sad about him and how I treated him after the baby came along. That was 32 years ago! But it is natural and normal for a pet to be treated differently than a baby. Sometimes I think they understand that better than we do.

    The great thing about our pets is that they let us practice how to love and nurture a little guy BEFORE the helpless baby comes along, and then they understand when we are too busy or preoccupied, because all they really want is to be around us. Pretty awesome creatures, wouldn’t you say?

    Jasper’s final gift was to give you the opportunity to discuss these difficult issues with your daughter and help her learn about loss and sorrow in the most natural of ways, which seems so appropriate after all the years of understanding and love you gave her.

  3. I am so sorry and sometimes there are no words. Glad you have great little distractions and that Jasper had such a wonderful home.

  4. I am SO SORRY for your loss. Before my current dog (you know what I feel about him), we had two really sweet and awesome dogs – both had to be put down because they were SO sick. One was so elderly, sweet and had lived her full life. The other was very young (just a little over 6) and was very sick. It’s so hard when you have to put them down but in your heart, you know that it is the right thing to do. I think you handled the situation just perfectly.

  5. Oh, Jenn. Of course I sobbed as I read this, and still am now. You did a really wonderful job with this post. The guilt is pretty heavy, even when you know that you make the right decision. But one of the most heart breaking things for me – and something which you pointed out – is that pets that you had prior to children tend to lose their ranking once kids come along. Thanks so much for sharing this, and thank you for making me laugh through tears at your daughter’s rationalizations and realizations. I’ll give my dog Vince an extra snuggle today. Xoxo

  6. Awwww…so sad!! It’s so hard to explain death to young kids. I tried (Nate asked about the dog I had in my childhood and where it was, so I told him it had died). Our family talks about heaven, so I brought that idea up, and the poor kid couldn’t sleep because he said he was worried about all the dead dogs floating above him in heaven- OOPS! Mommy fail. It sounds like you did a great job giving her enough information to comfort her without going too far. 🙂

  7. Hugs Jenn. I’m so sorry for the loss of Jasper. I loved reading about how your daughter processed this and the kinds of questions she had!

    1. Thanks Michelle. It’s only been a week, but she brings it up out of nowhere. It’s a reminder to continue to be there for her in whatever capacity she needs me, however her grief shows up. Children’s worlds are small.

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