We were lucky that we had a chance to say goodbye after Inka was diagnosed with Cancer last month. She was on steroids for several weeks post-diagnosis, and my husband Ezra and I decided this was the last measure we’d take (no chemo, no surgery; she was 13 and lived a life of adoration); we’d shower her with attention until we saw suffering on her part and then “pull the plug.” Even with our total agreement, it was gut-wrenching watching for heavy breathing and signs of discomfort. We hated playing God, and there was relief when Inka’s breathing was so ragged one morning that we just knew.
As Ezra got ready to take her to the vet for the final time, I told Risa that it was time to say goodbye. We circled Inka, telling her “I love you,” doling out last pets and kisses before she left. Even in that moment, with tears pouring down our faces, I was able to recognize the gift of having a chance to say goodbye. When my father died in a car accident many years ago, it was sudden and traumatic, and I went through the whole experience in shock. Inka’s ending had grace and dignity; it was even calm. She actually walked right into her cage for that last trip; I believe she knew it was time.
Here’s something we did wrong: We did not explain to Risa how exactly the vet would put down Inka that morning. We forgot that an eight year old has no idea. One night last week, Risa told me with tears streaming down her face that she had a terrible nightmare about the vet shooting Inka with a giant gun. I felt awful, and told her right then that Inka was given medicine that made her sleepy before she died. I added that Inka experienced no pain, had no fear, and was being pet by the vet at the time she died. I may be off on one or two details but saw immediately how relieved Risa was. It was an important reminder that when we don’t give our kids the information, they fill in the blanks for themselves and imagine the situation 100 times worse.
We are all still dealing with Inka’s death, and it’s hardest when she isn’t sitting with us on a kitchen stool at breakfast, or we see a dark-colored pillow and believe for one moment that it is her. I think of Inka each time I open the door to the hallway and expect her to come tearing around the corner to sneak out. She didn’t want to go outside, I learned over the years; she just loved the thrill of a well-executed escape. She kept that same innocent expression as I carried her back to the house. We will continue to miss her, and I hope that wherever our old cat is, there are endless thousand-piece puzzles to be jumped upon and ruined.