Dumb Ways to Die was one of the summer hits for my kids. If you didn't know the lyrics, you would think it was a lovely tune, one perfect for whistling. The tune was only one of the reasons they loved the song; they preferred singing lyrics that explained less than ideal ways to cash in one's chips, including: "use your private parts as piranha bate" and "scratch a drug dealer's brand new ride." I enjoyed their thorough enjoyment of the contrast of tune and message.
This week Reese had her cast removed. She broke her arm at the end of September falling from the monkey bars. At one point in the emergency room, Jack turned to me and voiced what I'd been thinking: that it was only a matter of time before the monkey broke a bone. Much like when she cut her own hair or when she takes my car without asking not too long from now, my initial response was a "check that one off the list."
The same day Reese got her cast off, I took our cat, Max, to the vet. Since we returned from a trip away last weekend with friends, he hasn't been himself. He's wobbly, not eating and not getting to his cat box. He would only sleep in the bathroom on the heated floors.
Max is fabulous. Everyone who meets him who has any sort of pet or cat appreciation comments on his markings, or his big, amazing eyes. Ed and I got Max about a year into our marriage, in 1997 (or 1998, not sure). The first winter we had Max he got a virus. I was working in North Seattle, a two hour drive from home. We were both working in jobs just out of college and not making much money. Ed was so worried, he told the vet to do whatever was needed to figure out what was wrong. He called me at work to let me know he spent $300 on tests, about 2/3 of our monthly grocery budget, and later told me it was totally worth it to make sure he was okay. It was one of our first parenting conversations.
Since then, Max moved everywhere with us, including a road trip across the country. At one point, Max thought it would be a good idea to escape the car onto the Chicago streets. Ed played frogger to get him back safely. When we were looking for a place to live in Bellingham for graduate school, we couldn't find anywhere that took cats. Ed was so annoyed, he started listing folks who could take Max for us. I said no way. I am pretty sure I had a similar conversation when Reese wouldn't stop crying for six weeks when a baby. That time, it was Ed who convinced me to keep the kid.
Max is a neat cat, doesn't put up with any shit, is friendly with everyone (often a little pushy for attention), enjoys the outdoors, was pretty crazy in his youth (climbing the screen door and meowing to get outside before we gave in and let him be an outdoor cat), and knows how to settle in for a good snuggle purr; his presence melts away all the other crazy and there's just solid love there. In some ways, I think Max prepared me for Reese.
In the last few years, Max has become Jack's cat. He sleeps under the blankets, right next to him. Max greets Jack after school, and looks to him for attention and food. In the morning, no matter how much I'm yelling about how late we are getting out the door, Jack will take at least two minutes to sit next to Max, snuggle, say goodbye and tell him he'll see him after school.
One the way home from cast removal, we landed on a discussion about the day Ed died. Every now and then we talk about the details of that unforgettable Saturday. I think Jack does it to remember and Reese does it to have the memory. We don't get sad when we talk about it; there is a kind of bonding in talking about the day, or a kind of "wow that happened, and look, we're still standing." After discussing the details, Jack reminded us that Ed died surrounded by people who loved him. At the same moment I remembered how lucky Ed was to have died quickly, unlikely to have felt any pain, Reese said, matter of factly, "Well, that's definitely NOT a dumb way to die." Indeed.
The vet let us know that Max's body is shutting down. His kidneys are failing and it is impacting the rest of his functions. His body temperature was pretty low when I first took him in and he was dehydrated. We brought him back to the vet for a day of fluids to see if that would make a difference. They were able to warm him up. The vet said Max might perk up, though it's pretty clear his days are limited.
We've been holding vigil the last two days. I am so grateful that I had planned to work from home this morning to wait for the heater maintenance person because it meant I could work near Max. Now that the weekend is here, we can be with him every minute.
I'm surprised at how hard this is for me. I am normally somewhat insensitive about pets. In fact, I can be downright judgmental about how much effort some people will go to for their pets. I've always been clear: people first, then pets. It doesn't help that one of the guys I dated after Ed died, who was flying out of town to visit his dying dog at his ex's house, expressed that I wouldn't understand how hard the trip was, because, he said, and I quote, "you don't know what it's like to lose a dog." We broke up shortly after.
I don't know what it is: maybe it's because Max is one of the only things in my day to day life that connects me to those early days with Ed, and with my emerging adulthood. Maybe it's because I know how hard this will be for Jack, who has never not had Max in his life. Maybe it's because Max has lived through everything, spent way more than his nine lives, and was still trucking along just great. Maybe I just really love him and hate that he's about to leave us.
The three of us sat down around Max tonight and made the decision to take him in to be put to sleep this weekend. Jack doesn't want Max to be in any pain. I am continually amazed at Jack's selflessness. Tonight, we're going hold him close in a blanket to keep him warm because he's starting to feel cold again.
I keep thinking about Reese's observation. Definitely not a dumb way to die, to be surrounded by those who love you.