Our cat, Prussia (known formally as Prussia the Cat, or PTC) had been ailing for a few months. And over the last week, her decline was fast.
“She looks really skinny. And her breathing is labored. Also, I think she peed on the floor over there. She’s definitely getting much sicker. We should bring her to the vet.”
But Prussia had other plans, deciding to go outside and burrow underneath our back deck.
“This is exactly what the cat we had as a kid did when it was ready to die.” Chris’s face fell. “I think that’s what Prussia is doing now.”
We waited all day for Prussia to come out, but she didn’t. We looked under the deck with a flashlight (the deck is very, very close to the ground, with barely enough room for a very skinny cat to hide), but couldn’t see her. And even when we put food on the deck, and called for her, and brought out toys that normally enticed the cat to make an appearance, but she was a no show.
“I think she’s dead. Poor cat. If she’s not back by tomorrow morning, we should tell Birdy.”
The following day, after waking up and scouring the yard (and searching underneath the deck again) without finding a trace of Prush, we sat Birdy down to tell her what had happened to her cat.
“Birdy, Prussia was very sick. And she wasn’t getting better. She died, and she won’t be coming back.”
Birdy took the news like three year olds do (or so I was lead to believe, after reading countless articles about explaining death to small children – be direct, be very honest, and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” when they ask difficult questions.) – she bounced on her bed and said, “Can we get a new cat? One with a really big head and a giant nose?”
It wasn’t until late that night, after Prussia had been missing and assumed dead for over 30 hours, that the mostly-dead cat showed up on the back deck, staring at us through the screen door.
“Chris? Chris, can you come out here?”
And when he came out to the kitchen and saw PTC on the deck, his jaw about hit the floor. “But she’s … that’s … ” and before he could finish, Birdy came skipping out of her room and said, “Hey! That’s Prussia! She’s not dead anymore!”
But it was clear that Prussia was in a bad way. She wasn’t purring, she wouldn’t eat, and she was barely able to hold herself up, deciding instead to collapse slowly against the kitchen floor, breathing heavily and looking so sad.
Chris and I talked about what the best course of action would be, and we decided to take her emergency animal hospital. If there was anything they could do to help Prussia, we wanted them to do it. And if there wasn’t anything they could do, we wanted Prussia to be cared for with compassion and kindness. So we got out the cat carrier and we all said goodbye to Prussia, petting her on the head and giving her a last snuggle. “Bye, Prussia,” said Birdy, touching the cat gently on the nose. “See you when you get home from the hospital! Love you!”
Ultimately, after talking with the doctor and finding out that the tumors had spread to her lungs and to her chest, there wasn’t anything we could do to “fix” our cat. And, according to the vet, Prussia was suffering. As much as I make jokes about the cats and how annoying and daft they seem some days, they are wonderful little critters and part of our family, so to have to say goodbye to Prussia, so soon after saying goodbye to Abby last summer, was horrible.
Bad is having to explain to a three year old that their cat, the one they like to crawl around on the floor with and have long conversations about trees and bugs with, is dead.
Worse is when that same cat shows up, a day later and close to death, staring at us through the screen door, and then bringing her to the animal hospital for evaluation, giving our kid the impression that “death” comes with a varying definition.
And the absolute suck is when you have to make the impossible decision to have the family cat euthanized, and then re-explaining to Birdy how the cat is dead. Again. Only it was harder than the first time, because she had just seen the cat, and the cat “seemed fine.”
“So we will get her from the hospital and she’ll feel all better!” Birdy said, as we tucked her into bed that night.
“No, honey. She’s not coming back. The veterinarian couldn’t fix what was wrong with her body so she’s dead. Do you understand what that means?”
“Yeah. So she’s gone, forever?”
(At this point in the conversation, we’re trying to ignore the fact that we said this exact same thing to her that morning, only to have Prussia rally and come back for one, last hug.)
“Okay.” She raised her arms over her head. “So can we get a new cat?”
“Not right now, Birdy. We can play with Siah and be her friend still, though. And if you feel sad about Prussia, it’s okay. Mommy and daddy feel sad about Prussia, too. It’s okay.”
“If you have questions, you can ask us.”
“Okay.” She paused, wrapping her Bim around herself. Her view of the world expands every day, as do her concepts of happiness, sorrow, and peace. I waited for questions about death, and what happens when we die. I thought she might ask about where people go. I wondered if she’d ask about her own mortality, or that of her parents. I prided myself on answering her questions honestly, and directly, and without any confusing imagery.
“Mawm, when I get bigger, will I have boobs under my nipples?”
Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. And boobs.