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.