Do you know you're going to die today?


Paxton was nine weeks old when he came into our lives and hearts, and at the time it seemed he would live in both forever. He was a holy terror of a tiny beast, but with age grew mild and relaxed. As a kitten, he could be found bringing a roll of toilet paper from the basement bathroom, carrying a bag of fresh buns up the stairs, or removing shiny Christmas tree ornaments and putting them into his food bowl. He always put things into his food bowl, like he'd decided early on that was where everything of value to him should go. I could also find him in cupboards or closets, as he was a whiz at opening doors, especially to the closet where his food was kept. He loved to jump onto kitchen counters and for the first nine years of his life he refused to drink any water unless it was fresh from the tap. Seriously fresh, as in coming out of the tap while he leaned into the sink to drink directly from the faucet.

Monday’s are never good, but this one was particularly awful. It was the day that would be the last for my sweet 15-year-old cat. If you aren’t an animal lover you may not understand much of this, but here’s a piece of my heart in word form.

Do you know you’re going to die today?

Looking back now I realize Pax had always been a tolerant cat, but he became more so as he aged. He'd put up with me and my daughter and our constant smothering, even when he wanted to be left alone, and he was especially forgiving of my daughter when she would tie a pink bow around him, put him in a laundry basket, and carry him around the house calling him "Mr. Fuzzlebug." And despite never being exactly happy when a new furry family member would join our home, he never took more than a few days to adapt.

This past year Pax started showing his age. He'd been a steady 8 pounds since he was full grown but he was losing muscle mass, dropping him down to 6 pounds. I could see a difference when I looked into his eyes; something was going on. Sometimes he'd be asleep on the back of the couch and suddenly fall off. He'd occasionally make strange noises to indicate pain, though he seemed as surprised by them as we were. And then he started peeing everywhere in the house (except in the litter box), which is what lead us to the discovery that his kidneys were failing.

Everyone clung to the optimistic hope that we could keep him around longer by providing him with a low-protein diet, but in the end a decision had to be made: How long were we willing to live this way, cleaning up cat pee several times a day, living in a house that always smelled horrible? More importantly, how long were we willing to allow him to live in pain? My daughter's answer was, "Forever. We just let him live until he dies." As much as I wanted to agree with her, the hard truth was Paxton wasn't getting any better, and neither was the smell in the house.

It took me a while to finally make the call to the vet after we made the decision. I was at work and because I don't have any privacy in the office I went to the loo to make the call from there, which made it feel that much more tragic. Heart pounding, numb fingers forced to dial the number, I took in a huge breath when the answer came on the other end of the line. "I need to make an appointment to put down my cat." Do not cry. Do not cry. Do not cry. After the arrangements were settled I hung up the phone and my face fell into my hands, tears flooded my eyes. I couldn't get over how easy it was to alter the future of someone I loved.

And then denial rushed in and overtook my every attempt at emotion. I tried to allow myself to feel all the feelings but my mind sped into defensive mode, setting up firm boundaries around my heart so nothing could get through. I was emotional and unemotional at the same time. Monday arrived too quickly and, as usual, Pax was the first one I saw. 

Do you know you're going to die today? 

He meowed his disappointment that I hadn't gotten out of bed to feed him yet. The house felt incredibly somber all morning as we attempted to act normal. Is there anything normal about this? As I got ready for the day I tried to feel...something, but my mind refused to acknowledge my only task of the day and, instead, we took pictures of Pax all morning, gave him treats he wasn't supposed to eat, and hugged him as much as he'd allow. When I put him into the pet taxi he objected more than usual. 

Do you know you're going to die today?

When Paxton was young I used to take him everywhere, including going home for visits (an 18-hour drive, each way). He would meow and wander around the car for the first half hour or so before eventually settling in for the rest of the drive. That day he didn't meow. He sat on the headrest of the back seat most of the way and watched the world whiz by him outside the car.

My heart has never been heavier than when we arrived at the vet. The staff was truly kind. Understanding. My daughter felt she couldn’t be in the room with Paxy, so I went in alone while she stayed in the waiting area with her dad, chatting and trying to keep their minds off what was happening behind the closed door down the hallway. I can’t imagine what that was like for them. Waiting. Not knowing. I hated what this was doing to my daughter. She’d never known life without Paxton.

I walked into the room and saw the red blanket on the table; the blanket Pax would die in. I held him close, whispering how sorry I was. The veterinarian came in, pet Paxy on the head while she told me what to expect from the process. I continued hugging Pax and repeating how sorry I was and told him how much I love him.

The vet asked me to place Paxton on the blanket, which I did with robot-like motions. The technician wrapped him in the blanket so the vet could shave his arm where the injection would go. I watched in silent disbelief; he was calm, relaxed. 

Do you know you're going to die today?

Before they began, the technician asked me if I wanted to come stand by his head. More robotic movements took me to where Pax lay. I knelt down so I could be eye level with him and look into his eyes. I rubbed my fingers along the space between his eyes as the needle went into his tiny arm. The tech explained that she was placing her hands around his neck to restrain him, but that she wasn't hurting him. I barely heard her. I couldn't take my eyes off my handsome boy's face. He was my whole heart and all I could feel was the shattering in my chest, like a glass ball dropping to a cement floor.

As he began to relax from the poison seeping into his veins, his tongue fell out of his mouth. I told the technician so she would help guide it back in. His face slowly fell toward the table. I instinctively put a hand under his chin; worried he wouldn't be able to breathe with his nose pressed against the table like that. And then I couldn't believe what a ridiculous thought that was. He's dying and I'm worried he won't be able to breathe? I immediately regretted this decision. Fuck! How could I have done this to him? All I heard was screaming in my head, begging for the vet to stop. I envisioned myself walking out to the waiting area with a lively Pax in my arms, telling my family I couldn't go through with it. We'd all go home happily and never speak of this day again.

I didn't notice the technician leave the room, but my denial left with her. While I continued stroking Paxton's soft face the realization that he wasn't going to wake up broke through my internal barriers and the pain settled deep inside of me, taking over my entire body, which now shook with overwhelming grief. The vet listened for a heartbeat; there was none. She told me to take my time and left me alone to face the truth.

I'm not sure how long I stayed kneeling in front of Paxton, but eventually I got up and hugged his limp body. “Oh my god! I can't believe I did this to you!” was all I could hear through my sorrow.

We wanted to take Paxton's body home to bury it in our yard, so I found the vet and asked her to help me wrap Paxton in the knit blanket I'd brought for him and place him into the box my daughter decorated. I carried the box with Paxton's lifeless body to the waiting area where the strongest man I know silently walked over and took it from me, then headed outside to place him in the car. My daughter and I held onto each other tightly as we followed, knowing we would fall to the ground without the other's support. We gathered together in a hug near the car and cried into each other’s shoulders.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, taking on all the guilt of what just happened. We stood in the parking lot held together by our arms and our pain before going home.

The ride home was silent, save for the droplets of tears falling from our cheeks. What was there to say? Nothing could make us feel better about losing Paxy..

The entire day was filled with more tears than any of us had shed in years. At feeding time that night, filling our other pet’s food bowls felt like a complete betrayal. Paxy’s bowl was left empty

Knowing I had to make the decision rather than let him go on his own is the worst. If there were any other way to save him, to spare his sweet little furry life, I would have done it. And if there was any way to bring him back to me, healthy and happy again, I would. 

But I can't do either and my heart will forever ache because of it.

Goodnight, Paxy. Sweet dreams.