Saturday, October 13, 2012

Death and falling stars

I recently lost a close friend. Literally, as I typed that, a huge, fast burning, falling star appeared before me. I literally mean literally.

Let me tell you where I am as I write this. I’m in a suite – they keep calling it condo but, I’m pretty sure it’s a suite – on the beach in Destin, Florida. I’m on the balcony, smoking a rare cigar which I’m pretty sure is against the rules, listening to the surf. It’s just 5am and I’m recently awake. The sky is still dark so, instead of the gorgeous beach scene that I’m expecting any minute now, I’ve got the Milky Way which, is as good or better than most any terrestrial scene you can serve up.

I should be more content just now than I ever am. But, that’s not my MO. Looking back on life, thinking about some of the incredible things I’ve seen and experiences I’ve had, I know that at every moment I was always too much in my head. Look at me now. It only too me two an a half paragraphs to see a stunning falling star and then climb right back up my own ass.

I slept on the coach last night. When I went to climb into bed, after washing a good cry off my face, I found my wife on my side of the bed. Now, I’m not a dictator about things like this but, I’m also an extremely flawed man who has trouble dealing with change.

Oh, I said, I didn’t know we were switching sides, as I gathered my night-time things from the nightstand next to her head. She looked at me silently.

A sit-com rerun was on the TV so I tried to settle into that. No luck. I squirmed and flopped for about 30 minutes while she fell into a dead sleep.

I tried to sneak out without waking her. At the last moment she groggily asked what I was doing. Did I want her to sleep elsewhere? No. Okay.

Earlier last night, over dinner, her son asked why we had put the cat down. Her son, who is successfully carving out a career for himself in the Army, is treating us to this weekend. It’s my birthday now and hers in a week. It’s a sweet gesture that I don’t think he fully understands as his wife has been gently explaining the whole experience to him every step of the way.

My wife explained how Desi, a lifetime indoor cat, got fleas a few months ago. How? She’s not sure. (I brought fleas home from a temporary, outdoor job I had to take working with plants.) We tried and tried to get rid of them but nothing we tried seemed to work. The cat became more and more upset with the situation and stopped using his litter box. She decided the night that he peed in her gym bag, that he had to be put down. There was just no other choice.

His sister, Lucy, died a few years ago. She developed some sort of strangulation in her intestines and couldn’t eat. It was far too expensive and uncertain to risk surgery; she had to be euthanized. It was too much for me to take Lucy to the vet that day so my wife did. Later, she told me that she couldn’t bare go with her into the room so Lucy died scared, confused, and alone in the arms of a man she’d never seen before. It broke my heart.

I vowed that when it came Desi’s turn, I wouldn’t let that happen.

It wasn’t Desi’s turn. There were still a couple of options that we could try. They would take time and patience and more cleaning supplies but I wanted to try. My wife didn’t. She was mad at him for peeing in her gym bag and was certain that he planned to ruin our couch, next. She woke me up in the middle of the night and told me that I had to take him to be put down the next day.

I explained the options we still had, she wasn’t interested. We argued. I pleaded for more time but, she said that if I didn’t do it the next day she would do it in three days. Three days wasn’t enough time for the other options to start working so, I knew that if I didn’t do it, she would send him back to the death room, alone like Lucy.

So, I got out of bed and went upstairs to the living room. I made a bed on the couch and Desi, as he usually did when I lay on my back, came and curled up on my chest. We slept like that. Then, the next day, I killed him.

As he lay on that steel table, being held down by me and one of the nurses, or whatever they are in a vet’s clinic, I scratched him in all his favorite places and bawled. I kept saying, Desi, my love, a thing I used to say all the time, and I’m so sorry, a thing I’d rarely had to say to him before.

He craned his neck around, looking at the room and trying to understand what was going on. Finally, he found my face and stared in my eyes while the needle went in and he quickly drifted away.

That was well over a month ago and I’m still not close to being over it. I thought I was until last night when I heard the situation described so breezily. It was all I could do to keep from bawling uncontrollably right there at the table in the highly recommended seafood joint that the daughter in law so carefully picked out for us.

I’m aware of the thing with pets and I hope and believe that most of you have stopped reading this by now. No one really wants to hear about the death of another’s pet. Desi wasn’t a special cat to the rest of the world. He only knew about five people and, as far as I know, only two have cried at his death, my wife and me.

My problem is, I don’t know how to get around this. I thought I was getting there but I’m not. I can’t forgive her for forcing the situation and I can’t forgive myself for allowing her to do so. I didn’t get up and move to the couch last night because I was on the wrong side of the bed. I got up and moved to the couch because, since Desi’s death, I haven’t been able to sleep in the same bed as her without chemical assistance.

I want to recover from this. I don’t know how.


Melanie said...

I'm very sorry to hear about the passing of your cat. I've only ever had one pet in my life and it was really hard to see him go too.

Have you talked to your wife about the situation? Maybe that would help.

Not in a way that places blame but a way of just describing how her actions/words/threats made you feel and how you are still struggling with them. Then give her a chance to talk about why she was so insistent.

The more you talk it out in a productive way, the sooner you will be able to let go of the hard feelings towards your wife.

About your cat, you may always feel sorrow at it's passing. And that's okay.

That's my two cents.

Melanie said...


lfc said...

this was very touching...thanks for sharing.

i'm not psycho-analyzing, but giving advice based on my own experiences...
maybe your grief is extending itself because you feel guilty for not exercising every option to keep him alive. sometimes people won't allow themselves to heal because they feel they owe it to the deceased to grieve longer than necessary as a way of honoring them.

at any rate, don't beat yourself up. everyone grieves in their own way - and as an animal lover i can completely relate.
good luck and hang in there.

Anonymous said...

You need marital counseling asap. What your wife did was wrong in so many ways. This wasn't about the cat -- this was finding a way to punish you. Think about it -- she really couldn't have waited more than 3 days (a perfectly arbitrary time frame) for the cat to get better? There was nothing you could do to minimize the damage the cat could do to your (her) stuff why trying to help the poor creature? Crate it? Confine it to one room? The only purpose this served was to make you feel horrible and to make her feel in control (and to prove to herself she has control over you no matter what -- look I can get him to put down his pet if I insist!) If she won't go to counseling, plese go by yourself. Not letting yourself be put in this situation again is the first step toward getting better.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about your loss. I wouldn't know how to even begin to heal, let alone move on. Talk therapy has never worked for me, and in situations like this, instead of reaching out, I tend to withdraw and shut down even more.

I will however disagree strongly with the Anonymous #1 above that this is your wife's way of "punishing" you; I just don't think that's it. Or maybe I just don't want that to be the case. Because that's just too... much.

I hope you will find a way. I have nothing good to offer to help you in your struggle, other than prayers for much strength, endurance and peace.

I remain your fan, and was very glad--in the midst of my own darkness--to see a new post from you.

getting better said...

I cried reading this, your wife sounds heartless how can she be so childish that she'd get a life taken just because the cat made an accident over no thought of what was his, by weeing in her gym bag, owners are surpose to give unconditional love to animals thats's why they make the decision to take full responsability for a pet and they give unconditional love back. Thank god he had you, you was brave, she was spineless not going in the room the first time. You showed you had a heart and your showing it now by feeling the way you do right now.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say I am so sorry for your loss. I had to make the decision to put one of my cats down this year and it was the hardest thing I ever had to do, holding her while she went to sleep. It was a truly awful ultimatum your wife gave you but at least you were there with Desi for his final moments, he wasn't alone.

I don't know what to say as to how to deal with your feelings towards your wife, I put myself in your shoes and I don't think there is anything that would make me feel better about the situation, it appears such a cold hearted thing to do. I tend to agree with Melanie that maybe you need to tell her how you feel about it and maybe hear her reasoning. Saying nothing may just build resentment, but then again maybe you are not yet ready to talk....Thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how honest I should be with you because you are already depressed but sometimes all the medication and consoling pats on the hand aren't really what a soul needs. You are probably internally desperate to allow yourself to feel the anger but if you express it things will get ugly, you will be made out to be the bad guy and all the shit you both keep on lock down will come out and hit the fan. So you try to suppress it and repress it and sometimes medicate it away. But the truth still sits there and glares at you anyway and at some point you have to deal with itstraight on. The truth of the matter is that she was finally inconvenienced enough and sees this as a practical matter. Your feelings are your problem in her mind, not hers. Maybe it is that way between you for a lot of things. I'm not going to speculate, you know your own business. You might be afraid that if it all hits the fan you will end up alone and so you endure more than you want to and this causes more depression. Maybe as a child you also had no voice because the way you dealt with this reeks of learned helpless response from childhood. Maybe I'm wrong. Years ago my husband rashly decided to have our bigger dog put down the next day for knicking our other dogs ear in a squabble. There was a lot of blood but it ended up it was just a surface ear lobe tear and not an attack. Nothing I could do could change it and it was his dog blahblahblah, but even my vet said that since it is a restricted breed and he might be getting old and grumpy, he couldn't say whether or not we should do it. ANyway my husband was so cold and callous about it and let me be the one in the room as the beautiful creature looked trustingly at you and then lost its last breath and collapsed for all the wrong reasons. The memory will always haunt you but it was right to be by his side, however it was so wrong to have him destroyed for something as fixable as fleas. Your soul needs to absorb what you learned from this. How you were bullied into it and why you don;t fight back/why you don't feel the right to be livid. You have to allow yourself to feel everything and only that will work it out. I had decided that moment with being forced to put the dog down and how callous he was about it all, not even being in the room with his supposed best buddy,and I could hear him laughing in the hall with the nurses, well I knew that I no longer loved this callous person and we I talked about separating soon therafter. Long story short a book called "living with the passive aggressive man" found its way to me serendipitously and for the first time I saw what I was dealing with in my passive aggressive spousal unit. More importantly he recognized himslef in this book and it changed his life. He is a new man but it took time. This book might apply to her if she is passive aggressive. The book ended up teaching him alot about humself and it took him years to win me back, I was so done. We are now very happily married and in love but we had so much of our individual BS to work through. It won't start happening this way for you unless you have the courage to take those important stands and say what needs to be said. The remedy for fleas is never euthanization. Being callous and emotionally manipulative is like bullying. I am sorry about Desi but all you can do now is not let his death be in vain. Let it teach you something very very important.About who you will be as a result of what happened. How you have grown from this incident. Or you could medicate it and numb it down which is a bad idea.

Barbara altman said...

I understand why you cried. I have two cats and I can't stand to think of losing either one of them.

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S. Jones said...

First, thank you for being honest in your blog. It is certainly brave.

Secondly, I have a cat and am frequently in conflict with my roommates about him. I couldn't imagine putting him down for something so trivial as peeing in a bag. My other cat had frequent UTI's when she was younger and we realized it was because of her food.

Finally, I think you shouldn't have any more cats with your wife if she can't handle that animals sometimes do things we don't like. Would you kill your child because she peed the bed? It is cruel. I am sorry, this is a tragedy that will take some time because it isn't just an illness or act of God. In your situation, you both will have to face some personal guilt and blame and, eventually, forgiveness.

Good luck.

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Jessy said...

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. I too am an animal lover, so I can totally relate.

Robert said...

It can be really hard losing a pet - I had to have both my dogs put down some years ago, when both my mother and daughter were very seriously ill. It was a heartbreaking decision to have to make. Sometimes we don't get over things, but we can get used to them..

Anonymous said...

The loss of a loved one is always difficult. However, although you do not agree with your wife's motive, you need to remember why she is your wife in the first place. She inspires you and you deserve to have peace. Remember all the things that have been successful in your life before you rely solely on the death of your cat to feel pain.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could put your wife down.