I have addressed death in the time of COVID when loved ones die in ICUs with no family at the bedside, alone. By now many of us have experienced the isolation and helplessness and desperation of these unusual times. But death becomes all too real when you read the obituaries.
And then when death visits your home.
Our cat died last week. Chloe was nineteen (we think) when we had to put her to sleep after a diagnosis of an uncurable and untreatable tumor.
About seventeen years ago, two cats, most likely sisters, and about two years old, were found abandoned on a brutal Minnesota winter night in a ditch on a country road. A kindly person knew that the animals would undoubtedly freeze to death so she lovingly transported the little critters to a local animal shelter. They were not deemed “adoptable” because the shelter leadership did not want to separate the sisters.
My family and I are lifelong pet people and well known to the shelter community and were invited to see these “little girls.” Each of you now know the rest of the story.
Peggy and I brought Chloe and Emilie into our home where they have been loving companions for us and our now adult children. Once agile, almost like a ballerina, Chloe was no longer able to leap onto the kitty perch in the sun room where she spent her nap times. Her once pristine coat was matted, and weight loss was obvious.
In these times of COVID, we handed her off to a kind yet faceless individual in the vet’s parking lot. The technician was gowned, gloved, and masked and took our soul mate into the institution for examination. We could not enter because of the risk of contamination. So, this particular day we sat in the parking lot not saying a word to each other until the veterinarian called on our cell phone.
The news was grim. We made an appointment for her to be put to sleep. We determined the time was right and lovingly thanked Chloe for the joy and peace she gave us. We were with her as she took her final deep breaths and as the medicine administered gently took her to a new place.
Out of courtesy to friends who knew our loss was imminent, we connected with many of them through email and text messaging. We explained what happened and included photographs of our beloved friend. But then something remarkable happened.
Whether in my grief, anguish, or through tears, I obviously had entered several phone numbers for texts incorrectly. And here is what happened.
One return text message went something like this: “I do not know you. You do not know me. But I got this message in error. I am sorry to hear that your cat was sick and had to be put to sleep.” Several hours later another message: “Got this text by mistake. May your pet rest in peace.” And there were several other messages with the same theme.
Think about this. Total strangers who happen to connect because of a botched text message over a now deceased cat expressing condolences and sadness over the event.
Once again, there was an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness but also a feeling of community. Yes, people do care, people are decent, and in spite of a pandemic, we really need to reach out to each other and to our pets. We are their life and they are part of our lives.
I’ve often spoken and written about the healing power of our pets. The medical evidence is clear. And Chloe in her final dance brought community to our door during a time of profound grief and loss in more ways than one.