Purring and No Right Time
By Jennifer Schelter
He’s purring, is this the right time?
I’d talked to everyone, my sisters, the vet, best friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, clients, and boyfriend, to try and figure out, the one hideous question: When is a good time to put your best friend, your cat, Shumba, to sleep?
On Tuesday my friend Yvette said, “There will never be a good time. There will never be a good day. That’s not happening.”
On Wednesday, I sat with Shumba on my bed (and Jonathan sat with us too) and told him everything I could possibly think about how I loved him, where we had traveled together over the last 14 years and how, from the moment I saw him, I wanted to protect and love him ever, and that I had never thought about him leaving before me.
All week, I kept checking my iPhone as if I could find the “it’s-time-to-do-what-you-don’t-want-to-do” decision maker that would help my guilt and anguish in when to put him to sleep.
I called my vet, Dr. Lieki at Montgomery Animal Hospital and told him Shumba’s stomach was filling up again.
He said in a definitive soft voice, “If he was a human being he’d be on morphine in the ICU. He’s definitely in pain and he won’t show it. You can keep him alive but you have to understand, you are keeping him alive for you, not for him or his quality of life. He’s suffering, but he’ll never show it. You’ve done everything right by him. It’s the right thing to do.”
Cats don’t show pain because they don’t want to be prey. They don’t want to look weak and edible in the wild.
There are so many things I want to tell you about how much I love and appreciate your support and all that Shumba has taught me and reconfirmed about living, but for now I want to tell you this:
From his nose to the top of his head, before it crested and dropped down the back of his neck, spine, to his hips and tip of his tiny kinked tail, is what I call a felt prayer; a refuge, a please touch place. Shumba was a felt prayer, a touchstone. A comforting, repeated ritual of touching a companion.
I touched the stretch of 4 inches from the fritz, smooth, shorts of his nose to the sig-zag weave of his apricot, rust striped forehead, going up and over his head like a streaming current of fur, millions of times.
It was the magnetic warm pull of his tide of goodness, his fur, and patience eddying comfort into my veins.
The kitten now sleeps.
That which animated him, was gone in 30 seconds. His beautiful curious contentment of softness and weight remained.
We stood around him. I sat on a chair my arms around him, Jonathan, to my right by the door, Noelle, friend and coworker, my Dad and Sue, my neighbor.
I told the vet that I was sorry I had been grumpy with him, back in August.
I thanked him for telling me the truth and for doing his job so well. I thanked my boyfriend, Jonathan who had been the only man Shumba ever wanted to sleep on and curl up with. Who had protected and watched over him and made sure he was safe under the cars; his favorite place to keep neighborhood watch.
I thanked Noelle for inspiring me to pay attention to Shumba by writing about him these past few weeks. It had made me pay closer attention. I would have missed so much had she not encouraged me.
I thanked my Dad because I lived with him briefly for 6 months, 4 years ago, and he had welcomed Shumba into his house, and even onto his white sofa.
I thanked Sue for always taking care of Shumba when we went away and for whatever she did that had him fatter and happier when we returned.
I told everyone that we had been a family of 2 for 14 years and that he was my baby, and my beloved.
Before we left for the vet, Shumba was on the couch, soaking up the sun and love, curled up on a cream colored fluffy blanket, with his chin to the sky, leaning into Sue’s gentle touch.
He sat, like royalty on the blanket I’d gotten for myself (and for yoga students to be cozy in sivasana).
And with all present, just like a good sivasana, and letting go, I read Shumba this poem by Roy Croft. Even though it has a marriage vow feel to it, and a felt sort of weird reading it, I knew it was perfect for how I felt married to the gift of Shumba and all we had shared:
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.
I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Or every day
Not a reproach
But a song.
I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch, (I changed this to “With your touch and feel”)
Without a word,
With out a sign, (I thought to add, “With your meow, purr and sigh”)
You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
Everyone sat silent and I didn’t want to go to the vet or the appointment. I wanted to call the whole thing off. Like a bride, I had cold feet.
Shumba let’s just stay another while in the afternoon sun.
Luckily, everyone there helped, whether they know it or not, to stop delaying the inevitable, and make bearable, the unbearable leaving.
Dr. Lieki said, “Are you ready?”
“Do you want a chair?”
He pulled the chair from the corner and I sat with my head next to Shumba’s head the way I always do.
“Okay,” he pulled the catheter open, and said, “I’m going to lay him down.”
Shumba lay down and I said to him softly, petting him with my hands and voice,
“Every body loves, you, everybody loves you. Every body always loves you. I love you and Jonathan loves you and Sue and Noelle and Dad and everybody loves you. You are so beautiful. You are so magnificent. Everybody loves you.”
And I held him like a long breathe, fogged in tears, and pet him like the prayer he has always been.
His tongue hung out of his mouth. I shook and was held in everyone’s standing.
And then the vet said, “His heart has stopped. His eyes won’t shut.”
The vet left the room.
I kept on, “I love you. Everybody loves you. I’ll miss you. Everyone body loves you. I will always love you. I will miss the feel of you. Everybody loves you, always.”
He was warm and dead and still.
It’s a tremendous, hideous gift: the loving that guts you.
He was gone. And what ever animates, the spirit, the life force, what ever you want to call it: Shumba was gone.
The first thing I wrote on my hand when I got in the car was, “I will miss the feel of you.”
His spirit: adventure, warmth, curiosity, snuggling, regal, loyal, playful, in constant pursuit of life and eternal sniffing out of grass, cat nip (even that last morning) and licking himself clean for a good sleep, for the next meal, for sitting next to the frog statue in the garden, for the calm watching awareness of peace.
So the spirit of holding Shumba and others standing and holding me, changed me yesterday. I see for the first time, how support can hold you to do what must be done: Loving and letting go. Doing what you must do.
So many people have been there for me, in comments, in person, in emails, knowing what it’s like to loose your family members and animals.
Jonathan said later, after everyone had gone and we were eating pizza by the fire,
“Who would have thought that it took Shumba to get all these people together? I don’t want this to sound wrong, but I had a really good time being with everyone. I never would have thought that under such circumstances it could have been so good, so perfect, and you know, so good. I hope we get together with people, you know, and do this more often.”
I knew exactly what he meant. There is an abundant supply of prayers answered in circumstances we don’t want when there is love and support. There’s an abundant supply of warmth in the making of imperfect, perfect times when there is love and support.
Before Noelle left, she said, “In the bag I gave you is a candle. Light it when you write. Shumba is in peace.”
I lit it to write to you.
And I can feel the spirit of Shumba because you have supported and surrounded me in your tenderness, smile, love and numerous stories of how love has crucified you at times too. Or you have lost a cat you loved, or a dog you cherished.
The tender surge of common shared ground, knowing that each of us will stand or sit in each other’s shoes and hold the prayer, the gift of the dying and be behind each other for the simple love of more living.
I’m listening now for his swish-clump, swish-clump up the stairs or his face to turn and greet us as the door. Or last night, where are you on the bed?
I’m like a veteran back from war, who loses a limb but feels it’s still there. I swear I felt his weight by my legs this morning.
I feel him follow me downstairs and around the living room chair in to the kitchen.
Jonathan said, “I saw his spirit, or what ever you want to call it, the animator, leave him. I don’t know where it goes, but Shumba left. His body remained.”
Time for new adventures, he is telling me.
Time to keep on exploring.
Time to stand at the door until it opens.
Time to sniff out side the frame.
Time to step out.
Time to go for a walk beyond the fence.
Thank you, love and prayers,
PS. Keep sharing your love, keep sharing these posts with anyone you think it may warm and hold and inspire to be held in support.
PSS. Write back soon!