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March 4, 2014 / Karen R Adams

doing the hard thing

Lasanother met week I helped my daughter help her aged and ailing cat pass from this life.  Oscar (the oddly named female cat who joined our family 18 years ago) had been declining for a while, and Kirsten had been doing everything she could to bring comfort to the time Oscar had left.  For the last year, whenever I stayed with my feline and canine grandchildren while Kirsten traveled, I dreaded having Oscar die on my watch, because then I would have to tell my daughter of the loss of loved companion.

That’s a hard thing, telling your child that someone she loves is gone from her life.  If you’re a parent, you have no doubt done this, deliberately saying something that you know will cause your child pain.  I remember it was no comfort at all to know that hard things are part of life when I watched her crumple to the floor when she learned of the death of Oscar’s sister, nearly 17 years ago.

It’s also a hard thing to end a life.  I guess it’s almost always a complicated thing as well.  Kirsten and I talked about this trip to the vet, about the possibility that it would be time to help Oscar take this step.  Of primary importance to my daughter was that Oscar be comfortable.  If that wasn’t a real option – by any standards we could define, then we needed to not just tell Oscar it was okay with us for her to move on, but that we help her take that step.  And while I had Kirsten’s permission and support to make that decision, I was still the one who would have to do the hard thing.

I knew as soon as I saw Oscar when I picked her up that she already had two feet out the door.  If she had been living in the wild, she would have died long ago, which demonstrates, I think, how entangled our animal companions get in our lives.  They choose, in a sense, to be our mirrors, to bring us the gifts of Cat or Dog or Horse.  In doing that, they absorb some of us, and that awareness of our love for them makes it hard for them to just slip away.

All the way to the vets I told Oscar that soon things would be well, that we loved her and it was okay with us that she let go of the body that was failing her and return Home.  I was hoping that she would go during the drive there, then I wouldn’t have to do the hard thing.  I knew it was the right thing, insofar as there is ever a right thing, but it’s hard to decide to pull the trigger.

It turned out to be a bit harder than I thought, because one of the gifts of any being that has known us for, say, 18 years, is the witness they’ve been to our lives.  When a witness dies, it’s like that part of our lives is truly gone, because there’s one less person who can remember it with us.  And this was Oscar, who was warm and furry and alive, once round and vital and strong, now emaciated and weak but still asking for head scratches and comfort.  It made my stomach clench up because this was a decision that was hard and fast.  Once I gave the okay and the vet did her job, that would be it, no take backs, no more wondering and thinking and waffling.

The alternative was harder, and meaner somehow.  The vet told me we could do palliative care that would buy Oscar some undetermined time.  Time for what? I thought.  For her body to continue to fail?  For us to have her around longer and watch her become miserable?  How could that be good – for any of us?  In the end, the hard thing wasn’t hard to do at all.  Because this was a gift to Oscar, to ease that last step from this existence to the next.  And so I did it.  I did the hard thing, and I did it for me, for Kirsten and for Oscar.  Be well, darling Oscar, sure in the knowledge that you enriched our lives.


Oscar, I hope you are where there are endless air currents and dust motes to enrapture you, and that you know that you take our love with you.

ma trip 035


Leave a Comment
  1. Carey / Mar 4 2014 8:45 pm

    A beautifully written piece, Karen. My sympathies to you and Kirsten. RIP Oscar

  2. BrainTwig & Listening Spirit / Mar 5 2014 8:51 am

    Dear Karen, As a fellow kitty lover I honor your loss. I have two kitties guys – also orange – but both male. I have a deep love for them and your beautiful piece touches me.

    I offer a spontaneous poem:


    We all lose something we love
    it’s the nature of things
    their passing
    shows the way
    for our own inevitable crossing
    making life more precious
    vital moments
    each one a point
    that marks itself
    in the web of life

    The empty feeling
    within the heart
    is not a scar
    but an invitation
    to our own humanity

    There is a life-giving gift
    that comes from sorrow
    grieving bears fruit
    the sweetness of life
    becomes all the more palpable.

    In love and friendship,

    • Karen R Adams / Mar 5 2014 9:05 am

      thanks, Noel, that was *exactly* my point about the whole experience. beautifully said.

  3. Laura Finney Miller / Mar 5 2014 1:28 pm

    Moved me to tears. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful, if complex, moment.

    • Karen R Adams / Mar 6 2014 9:10 am

      thanks, Laura… and complex = rich, doesn’t it? 😉

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