Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To Dougal: A Goodbye Letter

Dear Dougal,

You had been sick for so long, though I didn't realise it. You declined so gradually that I didn't notice. It was only after being away for five nights that I realised just how lethargic you were. The vets didn't know what the problem was at first, but after three appointments in nine days, they were able to fit the pieces together. 

Rapid weight loss, swollen intestines, not eating, lethargy, and jaundice.

When the vet said quietly, sorrow heavy in his voice, that you most likely had cancer, I cried. When they took some blood you were so patient and still, but I stood in the corner and looked at the pictures on the wall. I asked them to keep you there to be picked up later, and I left to catch the bus. I walked through the centre of Sandy Bay with tears running down my face. That was last Thursday.

On Sunday I knew that we needed to put you down. You were so sick. You had stayed on the bed all weekend, not eating and barely drinking. Your meows were soundless and your eyes were dark and pleading (though for what your were pleading, I don't know). When I patted you, you purred. Your purr, however, was different. Instead of the deep, loud purr that was so familiar, I needed to rest my ear against your side. When I kissed the top of your head, I could feel you responding, holding your head still and firm. You always loved your kisses.

On Monday it was windy, and you were more lively. You wanted to go outside. We let you, but we couldn't let you out of our sight so we had to follow you as you wandered from waterdish to fishpond and back again, drinking as if it was about to go out of style. You got to say goodbye to your favourite neighbour, though you didn't realise the significance of that last pat and her half-whispered, "Oh Dougal, you're going to make me cry." I think she loved you nearly as much as we did. You used to visit her everyday, even though she never fed you.

When I picked you up to carry you to the car I started to cry, knowing you were never going to return home again. You were so good the whole car trip, lying down on my lap. When my husband changed gears you watched intently. It was so cute. I was busy trying to commit to memory the feel of your weight on my lap. I didn't mind that you would dig your claws into my knee when we went around corners. Rather, I savoured it, knowing I would never feel it again.

When the vet gave you the injection, you sank gently to the table. It was peaceful and surprisingly fast. Your eyes stayed open, big, beautiful and yellow-green. You were wrapped in a beach towel - the one you used to sleep on. When you disappeared from sight under a fold of the towel it was worse than when you died, because I knew I'd never see you again or feel your fur or the weight of you walking across my legs when I was in bed. When you were wrapped up, snug and secure, I picked you up and held you tight. We walked back to the car, through the carpark of the shopping centre. I was sobbing and could barely see where I was going because my eyes were so full of tears. I held you for over forty minutes, until we arrived at my sister in law's home, now your home too. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to let go of you to put you in the box. It was the shoebox Julian's hiking boots came in - big and square. You filled all of it, even though you were skin and bones. 

Julian dug your grave - it was slightly rectanglar and deep and so perfectly done. It's in a beautiful place: a small clearing, surrounded by trees and birdsong. You were heavy in the box as I carried you from the car to the grave. Julian put you in the grave. The hole was so deep that he had to stand in it so as to be able to put you down gently. I didn't say anything. I physically couldn't, though my whole being was screaming "I love you and I miss you already." Pete (remember him?) said something, and I'm glad he did. It wouldn't have seemed right to bury you without anything said. You were a part of my family. I'd call you my baby, my darling boy. My sweet Dougal.

We planted a geranium on your grave. It will have red flowers. I thought about trying to find some of those orange daisies that you used to chew on, but I didn't want to plant something that would turn into a weed. There are stones around the edge of your grave and a cross. The cross is so big! I'm not sure if it's appropriate for a cat to have a cross, but you thought you were a real boy so I suppose it's okay. We are going to get a wooden plaque made to attach to the cross. It's going to be simple - just your name. Dougal.

I'm finding it hard to sleep, because I no longer get squashed between you and Julian. Your food is still sitting on the bench, and your water bowl and litter box are still on the floor. I was going to tidy it up this morning, to fill in time before catching the bus, but I couldn't. I need to do it when I'm not in a rush, because it's part of this thing that's happening to me called 'mourning'.

I know you aren't here to read this, and even if you were here you wouldn't be able to read it anyway because despite enjoying typing (and putting your feet on my touchpad) you never bothered with education (unlike the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood). You also ignored my repeated requests that you learn to speak English. It would have made things so much easier. Admittedly, it was always fairly easy to interpret your meows and enthusiastic purring. 

I knew you so well. You were mine. I didn't mind that you loved lots of people, because I knew that you loved me the most.

You were my companion, my cushion, my waterbottle, my friend. You were part of my family. I miss you so much. I still find it hard to believe that you are gone. I'm avoiding cooking because you're no longer here to sit on the stairs and watch me. I'm going to have to start rinsing out the emptied tins of tuna instead of giving them to you to clean. 

Saying goodbye to you was the one of the hardest things I have ever done. Sometimes when we love someone we have to make choices that hurt. I'm hurting now, but I know that we made the right choice by you. It doesn't seem fair. You were only five or six years old (I can never remember which) and you were so lovely. You weren't snobby and aloof like so many other cats. You would follow me around as if you were a dog (you also loved to chase your tail). You never were good with small children. They freaked you out. You knew when you were being naughty - you would look so guilty if you were caught. It was hilarious. Though you were always well behaved around my knitting and crochet. Thank you.

I don't know how to end this. You know how much I can talk. We used to have converstations. I'm sure that once you came in and complained to me about another cat. It was so funny.

Dougal, you were a wonderful pet. Remembering you makes me smile, even though it also brings tears to my eyes and a heaviness to my heart. I love you so much. I miss you. I will never forget you.





(P.S. The scars you gave me are fading, because I got sunburnt. I wish I had put sunscreen on.)