by Gina Sestak
Which do you think is harder? Describing an unusual experience - rafting down the Amazon, building a pyramid - in a way that makes it come alive for readers, or describing a common occurrence, something everyone has done? I'm thinking it's the latter.
No one but a traveller who did it, or maybe a National Geographic addict, is likely to notice flaws in the Amazon account, whereas everybody and their brother will notice the inaccuracies in a commonplace account.
I was thinking about this while I planned to write this post about a very ordinary experience, one almost all of us have been through. Death. The death of a loved one. The death of a pet.
My cat Taffy died last week.
Taffy came to me in 1997, after my mother died. He had been an adult stray when she took him in, so I never knew him as a kitten. Sometimes I wondered whether he had ever been one.
Taffy didn't play. He was too sophisticated for activities like chasing balls. If I shook a string in front of him, he would glance at the string, then give me an elegant stare, as if to say, "Are you out of your mind?" Our other cat Dusty (who passed away summer before last) was always trying to entice Taffy into wrestling. He would pop up over the edge of a sofa or bed and bite Taffy's feet, trying to make him mad enough to chase him. [Dusty used to do the same thing to me.]
Taffy did love to be petted. He was insatiable. One time I counted strokes; when I got to four hundred, I gave up. My hand was exhausted. Taffy wanted more. I didn't mind petting him. His fur was very soft. Even on the evening that he died, his fur was soft.
As he got older, Taffy developed health problems. His thyroid went into overdrive and he lost weight no matter how much I persuaded him to eat. Medication controlled the problem to some degree, but it meant a daily battle to force pills into him, a struggle that escalated when additional meds were needed. Last year he went blind. He regained some sight eventually, but seemed to lose the ability to use the litter box effectively. At first he would try, standing in the box but urinating over the side. After awhile, he'd just go in the general vicinity. I started covering large areas with newspaper and trying every odor eradicating product I could find.
Veterinarian visits became frequent. Taffy hated them. He detested being stuck with needles to such an extent that he fought back against the vet, prompting a protocol of calling in an assistant wearing welder gloves every time Taffy needed blood tests.
Thursday before last, I took him to his final vet appointment. Taffy had been lethargic for a few days, not eating much. The vet gave me two options - emergency admission for intensive treatment that might buy him a few weeks or euthanasia. I opted for a third. I took him home to die.
On Tuesday, nearly a week ago, Taffy passed quietly in the night. The vet had given me medication to use if he was in pain, but he never seemed to be in much distress. He ate less and less every day, but continued to drink water almost to the last. He lay on the floor in one of his favorite spots and slept. On the last day, I petted him for awhile in the evening, then went to bed. When I got up in the morning, he was already stiff, still laying in the same spot. At peace.