We decided the time had come for our old girl. A rascal by name and demeanor, she had carried on rather valiantly 10 years after her sister, plagued with one infirmity after another but well cared for by Drs.Sundahl and Gloor. Before my hip replacements I used to look at her as she eyed a perch, set her feet, considered the pain and finally leapt to safety and thought, “If you can do it, I can.” She did and I did.
God, that cat was tough. As the arthritis worsened, her resolve turned to steel. Despite it all, her blood tests kept coming back “marvelous.” She kept eating, peeing, scratching in the box in the middle of the night loud enough a few times to bring me out of sleep, 28-ounce, 34-inch ball bat in hand, ready to do damage on any unfortunate intruder. Her last morning on earth, the old girl demanded her breakfast in the loud irascible voice of her youth.
Alas, the vocal chords were willing but her 19-year-old hip joints and spine were not. Cats hide pain like hit-by-pitch ballplayers, but there was no hiding this. She hurt and she was tired. We knew it was her time.
I held her head in my two hands as she lay on the towel for the injections. The first eased her pain and made her drowsy. If I had any misgivings about our decision they were dispelled by the look of relief in her eyes. Then came the fatal needle. It took a long time to administer.
I stroked her cantankerous head between her ears and looked into her eyes. Her life oozed away. And that’s when I discovered something I could never reason by myself.
I knew precisely when it was over. I knew an instant before the doctor, who was listening to her heart in the stethoscope, told me. She was there, then she was gone. I saw life leave just as clearly as you see someone walk through the screen door.
I thought in that moment, no wonder people believe in the soul. I saw the evidence with my own eyes. I saw life; then I saw no life. Her body was there. She was not. I don’t know if I’m describing this so you can understand, but I knew the instant her soul was gone. I knew the instant life left.
I realized something important. We are not our bodies. I am thankful to the old girl for teaching me such an important lesson with her last breath.
I have always thought Bob Dylan’s prescient song, “I shall be released,” meant to tell me something special. “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released…” Released from what? From prison? Well, what I watched yesterday morning was my old Rascal released from the prison of her painfully arthritic old body. I understood life as I suddenly understood death.