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Posts Tagged ‘burying a pet at home’

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LOSING CASEY (2006)

We are a family of cat lovers, and the one we love most is dying.

His name is Casey.

For over a year, Casey has not been well, but we are stubborn owners, and we have faithfully medicated him and pampered him to prolong his life. We have tried to believe in miracles, and sometimes, Casey has almost convinced us we should. Finally, he has developed an illness that is stronger than we are. He has cancer, and we know his time is short.
Once a giant furball of nearly twenty pounds, he is now less than half that. Steroid medication is the weapon of choice as we fight this newest enemy. It boosts his appetite, but only makes his death all the more inevitable: despite having a voracious appetite, his body is wasting away.

We’ve finally agreed that soon we must call our compassionate veterinarian and arrange to end Casey’s life. We’ve decided to keep Casey here on the property he loves. We will build a cedar box to hold his body and bury him under a shade tree at the back.

Casey hasn’t moved much in the past two days; has, in fact, just stayed in his bed downstairs and left only to walk the short distance to his litter box or his food and water. But tonight we decided to take his bed outside and let him enjoy the outdoors for a while. We placed the bed on the deck, his food nearby. We did not expect him to stray. We underestimated his will.

Within five minutes he managed to leave the deck and we found him lying in the thick grass near the neighbouring farmer’s field. It’s always been a favourite spot of his, a place where he could spy mice or butterflies, a place where he could explore for hours. I shook my head when I saw him, amazed that he was able to walk that far. My husband told me not to worry, that Casey wouldn’t go anywhere else, and he left for his soccer game.

Several times I checked Casey in the next half hour, and he hadn’t moved. When it started to grow dark, I went outside to bring him in and spotted him turning the corner around the shed near the neighbour’s field. He was no more than seventy-five feet away. He was moving slowly, and I didn’t expect him to go far.

I was wrong.

By the time I got down the deck stairs and to the spot where I had seen him, he was gone. There was only one place he could be, and that was in the farmer’s field of tall hay. In the distance, I could hear another farmer who had already begun harvesting. All I could think about was the idea of Casey dying deep in that field, then being chopped up by a harvester.

I began to call his name, walking up and down the fence that divides the farmer’s land from ours. Our other two cats, Cleo and Gypsy, came as if to join me in my search. I grabbed a flashtlight and a bag of dry cat food from inside the house. My left hand shook the bag of cat food up and down, the universal call to cats to come and eat. My right hand held the light, and with it I pushed the deep foliage and hay aside best I could, aiming the beam towards the dense roots. It was too dark to climb the fence and try to make my way through the hay myself. Instead, I called his name over and over, shook the bag harder and harder. I listened for his “meow,” but in the past few days it had been barely audible. And I realized that if he found the strength to make his way into the farmer’s field, he likely didn’t have strength left to answer by meowing, let alone make his way back to our home.

Suddenly grief overwhelmed me. The image of the dead baseball players walking into the farmer’s cornfield in “Field of Dreams” played through my head. Casey was walking into his field, and would not come out again. It fit in perfectly with the almost “mystical” quality we’ve always seen in him, the feeling that he was more than just a cat.

I searched for over an hour, until my bad knees were cursing me and my tears had exhausted me. Then I came inside, accepting the death Casey had chosen, but dreading having to tell my family. I sat at my computer, wanting to say something, but feeling too tired and a little foolish for my emotional outburst. And I said a prayer, just a little one asking that he come back, so we can be nearby when he dies, so that we can lay him under the shade tree.

Resigned to the loss, ten minutes later I walked back outside to call my other two cats inside for the night. The deck was dark. I flicked the outside light on, and there was Casey, in his bed, looking up at me as if to say “You needn’t have worried. I made it back.” I picked him up and cried my relief into his fur.

I ask myself why the death of a pet can be so hard. Perhaps it is because those of us who believe in an afterlife don’t see death as permanent; we tell ourselves we will see our loved ones again. But no one talks about the pets that have won our hearts throughout our lives. No one mentions an afterlife for them. There is no promised reunion.

People will say it is silly, that I must be unbalanced, or at the very least neurotic to have such a reaction tonight. After all, he is only a cat, they will say.

But then I remind myself that they don’t know him, so how can they possibly understand?

EPILOGUE

A few days later, we knew it was time. As much as he wanted to get outside and lie on the grass, Casey could no longer walk.

He was upset on the way to the vet, but too weak to protest very much. When we brought him to the back of the hospital, near the operating room, he sensed something was up. We placed him on the examination pad and he even lifted his head, wondering about the light that was shining down on him. He was very alert, looking at each of us as we spoke to him. The end was very peaceful for him.We wrapped him in the towel we’d brought and took him home.

My husband had already finished his coffin just before we left. My son found a large amount of blue velvety blanket cloth, the kind they use in expensive hotels. We took apart an old pillow to pad the interior and I cut the blanket to line the coffin’s top and bottom.

I shampooed his fur and blew it dry to make it fluffy. I told myself that people would think I was nuts, but doing it felt right. He deserved it. He was the most fastidious of cats before he was sick, and I’m sure he hated feeling so dirty and unkempt in these past few months.

Casey barely fit into the coffin. He died at little more than 7 pounds, his normal weight being close to twenty. He was such a long cat that the coffin couldn’t have been an inch shorter.

We picked flowers and lay them in the coffin around his head and feet.

My son and husband dug a grave next to the hedge at the side of our property where Casey liked to sleep, the same place he’d disappeared to that night. The ground was really hard and it took hours to get it deep enough.

By the time he was buried, we were emotionally exhausted. Maybe it’s because we give ourselves permission to mourn our pets the way we want to, whereas when we lose people we love, we try to put on a brave face. We worry more about upsetting the person who is dying, as well as others around us. We also are fully aware of the person’s suffering, and we can’t bear to see that. And if we are religious, we find comfort in knowing they are going to a better place.

It is different with a precious pet. Watching Casey suffer, knowing that he didn ‘t understand why it was happening, was heartbreaking. Part of us went with him. We can only hope that it’s true what some people say, that our darling animal friends are part of our afterlife, and Casey is there waiting for us, eager to play again.

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