My cat, an irresistible, affectionate main coon, moved into my life 13 years back, when I lived on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. My not-yet husband asked me if he could bring Buddhi with him when he flew in to visit me from Los Angeles. “Sure,” I said.
Buddhi adopted me from the get go, following me around, sleeping next to me, loving me. Years later, I would reflect that Buddhi taught me the most invaluable lesson in my life: that if you give unconditional love, you will get it back. The more love I poured into this amazing creature, the more love and affection he showered me with in return. When he nestled up to me, cradled himself in my lap, I thought: he is made of love. Carrying him around, more like lugging him around when he was at his full 14 pounds, was one of my favorite things. Up close, his purr was a vibrant lullaby and when I squeezed him, he would grunt in a way that always made me giggle, as if he were uttering, “you’re suffocating me, mom!”
The bonds we form with our pets are often indescribable. Our pets are there for us, eager and excited to engage in our lives and to love those closest to us, too. They are the ultimate responsibility, different than the humans we are responsible to in that we are their spokespeople and their interpreters when they are sick, excited, happy, or miserable. They look to us to guide them, to care for them. In turn, we are their sole agendas, which is perhaps the most incredible gift, as well as responsibility. Although over time my relationship with my husband ended, Bud cat and I were bonded till death did us part.
In sickness and in health
When Bud was diagnosed with diabetes 2.5 years back, I wept, thinking that this would ultimately lead to the end. But, I learned how to inject him with insulin, and soon after, I became comfortable with it, so that it was as mundane as brushing my teeth. I learned how to read his reactions –when his insulin was low he grew sluggish and lifeless; when his insulin was high, he was often manic. Similarly, I became adept at administering his new, strict diet and managed to rush home to be sure he got his insulin twice a day at the prescribed times.
Bud had a few close calls with death: once, the vet and I could not get his insulin to regulate and he needed to be on IV for over 24 hours. My vet took him home with her to watch over him. He pulled through, and resumed being the Buddy cat I love and knew in no time. There was a second time, when I knew something with him was off. I couldn’t place it, but he was just not being his noisy, messy, loveable self. I brought him to the vet three times that week, insisting, pleading that something was wrong. When I finally dropped him off that Saturday morning before heading to a wedding, I was positive that he was not right. Sure enough, within a few hours the vet confirmed that there was a problem. He had a serious illness which the vet likened to salmonella poisoning. A few antibiotics and lots of love and care, and within a week, Bud recovered.
This time around – the last time around, the changes in him crept up slowly: there was the matted fur that I worked so hard at to untangle and smooth out with a fine-toothed comb; there was the appetite change and the subsequent weight loss. There was a bit less of Bud to love and cradle. At first, I thought it was insulin related, and rushed him to the vet for a glucose check. But when his insulin was intact, I had a feeling something was shifting. He ate less, didn’t seem as spunky as the Bud I knew and adored, and he sat around a lot. I waited. I watched. Finally, after another two something- is-wrong visits to the vet, the doc said it was time to give him an ultrasound. I agreed. They shaved his belly to get him ready for the test, and later that afternoon, a Monday, August 4th, the doc told me that they had discovered lymphomas in his abdomen, his intestines, and his kidneys. I didn’t ask how long he had to live; naively, I didn’t even fear for that. I just knew that we were in the next chapter. I wept, and then the vet told me I could come and pick him up.
The vet told me that if he ate, it could be months. If he didn’t eat, it could be weeks that he had left. She gave me some medication to induce his appetite.
Two nights later, while I was in yoga, a truth I had already learned came to me: we all have our separate paths to follow. Regardless of us wanting to take away pain, all we can really do is love and pray and bring comfort to those we love. Bud was on his path. I had been so lucky to intersect it. There was a connection between us, but it was not an ownership – I did not own his life. That belonged to God, to the universe.
I knew the spiritual aspect of it. But it didn’t help my pain of seeing him suffer. I was determined to make him eat. I sat and spoon fed him baby food – first turkey and then beef flavor. When he was done with the baby-food phase, I fed him chicken. I opened can after can of the unhealthy cat foods that he was no longer allowed to eat. I was desperate to get him to eat. He would sniff at them and walk away. At the suggestion of the vet techs, I even tried some tuna fish. The smell seemed to get him excited, but he didn’t eat it. Thursday we put him on prednisone. He pepped up a bit. Friday night he was his old self. I was overjoyed at his spark, his renewed lease on life.
I had a week with him before I had to let go. In that week, I cried, I coped, I laughed, I devoted myself to him. How badly I wanted him to live. How desperately I wanted him to get better. And slowly, with prednisone, with spoon feeding him anything that he would tolerate at this point – apple sauce, cat food gravy–he did get a little better. His old fiery self crept back in. For two days, he woke me up at 5 am, cried for food, and followed me around. I told myself that he would outlive this – that the docs didn’t know everything. I believed that my love and devotion gave him a fighting chance – that he had a will to live. One of his favorite treats I bought him was a purifier circulating water bowl, complete with a little fountain nozzle head. He sat and drank from the fountain head all hours of the day.
Buddhi was my special, loving, beautiful pal. He was my pillow when I was sad and alone and he was my confidant when I went through my struggles. Sitting and petting him was one of my favorite things to do. To hear him purr beside me at night was the softest, sweetest, most reassuring sound. The world could be falling apart, but with Bud by my side, it felt that much sweeter.
I didn’t know it was going to be his last day. I didn’t know it was going to be my last time to hold him and love him. That morning, he was his loveable self, eager to be fed, to be around me, rushing around the apartment. One of my favorite things about Bud was the joy I witnessed in him each morning: his excitement for a new day to begin, for him to be awake, for me to be awake, for us to be in it together. I lingered a little bit longer that morning, not rushing out for my run. I checked in on him once and then again, knowing that if I went out for my two- hour run and something went wrong in my absence, it may be too late. I locked the door and then came back. I locked the door again and then checked back in. Something made me linger. When I came back from my run, though, and he was okay. Quiet. Then, when I got to work in my home office, all seemed to be well, until he cried out and I realized he was having trouble walking – something to do with his back legs. I picked him up and put him in my chair with me so that he could work with me.
An hour later, on the way to the vet, I felt frazzled. I was supposed to meet my dad for his birthday lunch. I was rushing, trying to make it all happen, and then, at a red light, I leaned over into Bud’s carrying case to pet him, and when I found his little paw and squeezed it, he squeezed it back. Love, relief, gratitude for the opportunity to love this little creature rushed through me. I felt so lucky for the opportunity to have such love in my life and to share it with such a wondrous and magnificent being.
At the vet, he was so soft. So sweet. They told me that it was time. That today or tomorrow was it for Bud. But I would never be ready to say goodbye. It would never be the right time. Uncharacteristically, he sat on a stack of magazines on the examining room table – advertisements – and watched me. I felt as if he was communicating with me, telling me that it was time, that it was okay. That he was ready to go.
When they put the catheter in him, he was still and quiet. They put him on a furry rug and he stretched out and he let me pet him, along with the vet tech. He purred. I think that he was ready to go to sleep. I kissed his neck and told him that he was loved. So loved. And then, he was asleep forever. I stayed on and kissed his soft fur, pet him, loved him and took him in. The gentlest of creatures. Silent.
Perhaps the hardest part of loving someone is knowing that one day you will have to say goodbye.
I am not one of those people who likes the thought of cremation or ashes, but when I retrieved his ashes from the vet, I felt him there beside me. I could almost see him. A healthier, younger version of him. He was there with me and while the concept of his ashes made me feel ill inside, it also filled me with a sense of peace. His being was with me, only I knew and believed that his soul was beyond. That the creature I had loved so wholeheartedly for thirteen years was not ashes, but life and love and all the good things this world is made up of.