Two weeks ago our beloved cat Benny -- all of 6 years old, fat and pampered -- was attacked by our neighbor's dogs while playing in our backyard. We rushed him to the vet and he seemed to get better for a few hours. Royal and I began to plan the fence we'd build in the backyard to protect him. The fattening foods he would be allowed to eat. The window seats we would put in all the windows for him to watch the squirrels. Our baby was hurt, but surely he would get better. And we would atone for letting this horrible thing happen to him.
The next day the vet called and said we should put him out of his suffering. Now who will put Royal and I out of ours?
I don't think I really understood the meaning of the word "suffering" before. I've suffered through a bad first marriage, an unwanted pregnancy that thankfully ended in miscarriage (but resulted in two weeks of intense physical suffering), bad bosses who undermined me, boyfriends who thought they could control me. I've suffered the misery of being separated from the man I loved by many months and many thousands of miles. I've suffered from years of depressions, sometimes so debilitating that I couldn't find the energy to even brush my teeth. I've been broke and sick, bereft of friends, miserable with jealousy, curled into a little ball on the bed wondering if this was all there was to life. But until now, I had never suffered this kind of heartbreak.
For people who don't love their pets like children, this all probably seems silly and incredibly melodramatic. The practical side of me sometimes pokes up in my head to say, "Benny was just a cat. Not a child you wanted and lost or a best friend who died. Just a cat." Only he wasn't. He made demands like a child, he listened to me and comforted me like a best friend. He didn't mind the depression or the weird songs I'd sing (although his little face would wrinkle with disapproval). His only task in life, besides ruling our house with an iron paw, was to love me. He had a squishy belly I loved rubbing my face on and practically drooled with ecstasy while being brushed. I loved him so much and I can't bear the thought that I won't see him any more.
Sometimes out of the corner of my eye, I do see him. He was big and white, with a black tail and ears, and sometimes I see a slow-moving bundle of white move past the doorway or I imagine I hear his particularly plaintive meow. As painful as those moments are, when I realize not only is Benny not there but he will never be there, I dread the time when I will cease to see him at all.