The Day My Life Changed 2/7/15
I discovered this past weekend what a fortunate life I have lived until now. I am two months from being 50 years old and I have just suffered my real first loss. Understand, I have had other failures, setbacks, pitfalls, and so on. But none of those things was unrecoverable. I lost a job, I got another one. I lost a man, I got another one…or not. As hurtful and even demoralizing as those losses were, nothing prepared me for the loss of my pet cat Maximus.
His full name was Maximus Desimus Meridius and yes, I named him after Russel Crowe’s character in Gladiator. I had just purchased my first home and all I had was a television, a VCR and some throw pillows. I didn’t have cable, or satellite television and streaming had not yet been invented. Every night I would come home from work and prepare dinner for me and Max. After we ate, we would sit down in front of the tv and watch the only video I owned, Gladiator. Max really seemed to respond the character, Maximus. Every time one of his epic speeches would come on, Max would stretch and preen in front of the tv. I think his name was Marcus when I brought him home, but I changed his name after two days.
I had Max for 13 years. I am single and child-free and always have been. For most of my adult life it was just the two of us. He went on vacation with me, and suffered through two of my work relocations. Each time he would hit the ground and adjust to his new digs like the gladiator he was. He was a regal looking short hair domestic gray cat with piercing green eyes. He rarely spoke, except to greet me when I can home from work each day. Two years ago I brought home a Boston Terrier named Daphne. And although Maximus vehemently protested her arrival, he eventually dealt with it in his own fashion. He interacted with her on his terms, and even stood on hind legs to box with her when the occasion called for it.
I added Daphne to my life because I wanted a companion outside of the house. I needed to end my sedentary existence, and having a dog to walk and exercise with fit the bill for me. Maximus did not enjoy leaving the house especially as he got older and Daphne was just what the doctor ordered, literally. Maximus remained my steady indoor companion. He greeted me daily, he woke me with a paw to the face every morning, and he laid down beside me every night until I fell asleep. He would purr so softly and look at me with those steadily blinking green his eyes. He loved me and I loved him.
A couple of months ago I started to notice that we was getting thin. I chalked it up to his age and his nightly sparring sessions with Daphne. But then, just two weeks ago, after the Christmas rush was over, I noticed he was really thin. His face seemed sunken and when I picked him up there was no fat at all on his bones. When I saw his hip bones protruding I became alarmed and called the vet for an appointment. I immediately went to the internet. Did you know they have WEBMD for Pets? Well, they do. I put all of his symptoms in and most of the information seemed to indicate a thyroid problem, a kidney malfunction, or diabetes. I envisioned returning from his appointment with a bag full of medication and a monster bill to complain about.
I was in the vets office for nearly 3 hours. Every condition was ruled out and eventually the vet admitted she had never seen lab results like his. All of his organs were functioning properly, and yet his white blood cell count was three times the normal level and his sodium count was off the charts. She left me in the exam room alone to go and consult with the local veterinary hospital. I looked at Maximum and he just stared at me unblinking. “ Are you leaving me?” I asked him. But I quickly shook the thought out of my mind. It was Max and Me, it always had been and it always would be. In all of my imaginings, I had never imagined my life without him, and I was reluctant to start in that moment.
Eventually, the vet cried “uncle” and admitted that she thought something serious was wrong with him, bur she was not equipped to diagnose it. She suggested taking him to the animal hospital where they would hydrate him, return his sodium levels to normal and possibly administer an antibiotic. I gathered Max into his pet carrier and fought the tears that threatened to spill down my face. Upon arrival at the hospital the doctor took him into the exam room. When she returned she told me she had discovered a lump in his lower intestine. That lump combined with his lab results meant cancer. Cancer. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I asked what the next steps were? I expected her to describe a course of treatment. Instead she said, “We can hydrate him and make him comfortable so that you can take him home.” I stared at her and asked “ Then what? How do we treat him.” I could see the pain in her eyes as she understood that I did not understand. “ We could operate, but at his advanced age he probably wouldn’t survive and if he did he probably wouldn’t survive the chemotherapy. We can make him comfortable so you can take him home.”
What happned after that can only be described as a nightmare. But I knew instinctively that I could not take him home. If taking him home meant watching him waste away to nothing, or possibly find him dead one morning, I could not do it. I could not take him home and watch him die. They brought him into the room with me, and I held him in my arms. As the sobs came hurtling out of my throat I told him I loved him and how sorry I was. My baby was leaving me. I cried like I have never cried before. I didn’t even recognize the sounds I was making and my body was shaking uncontrollably. After a few minutes, I took one last photo of him, and I left him there to be euthanized.
I can not even begin to describe the sorrow I am feeling. I can’t believe he gone. I still think I hear him and I expect to see him come strutting into the kitchen at any moment. I am sad. I am also feeling guilty. What if I made the wrong choice? Should I have brought him for a few more days of life? Why didn’t I go the vet earlier? Why didn’t I know he was dying? My emotions swing from overwhelming grief to paralyzing guilt and everything in between. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared for how it would feel. Nothing in my life up to this point prepared me for the feeling of utter loss I am experiencing. He was my life for 13 years and now he is gone. He is gone and he is never coming back.
It has been three days and I am finally able to recount the story. As painful as it is, I want to capture the memory and the emotions to analyze at some later pojnt. They are going to send me his ashes and I will make a memorial for him. I know I need to gather myself and function like an adult with a job and responsibilities. I need this pain to subside, but I don’t want to forget him. I don’t want his memory to ever fade. I look forward to the day when I can remember him without crying and hurting deep down. I want to carry him in my heart, because he was the love of my life.