Is it archaic to believe that God should decide when life should end?
When I was in my late teens, one of our cats, Toby, became very sick. We coddled her, we nursed her, we fed her by hand, and we did everything in our power to make her comfortable. When it became obvious that we could do nothing else for her, I took her to the vet… and he raged at me. Why had I let this cat live so long? Why had I not had her euthanized before?
I felt like an abuser. Like a monster. By loving Toby with all my heart, and trying to keep her alive as long as possible, I’d made the last days of her life miserable.
I swore I’d never act that way again…
Yet here I am, doing the same thing.
Our oldest cat, Hermione, is obviously at the end of her ninth life.
We don’t know how old she is. Her daughter, our beloved Sprite, is seventeen, so we think Hermie is at least eighteen, but she may be older.
After many years of being a beautiful, big, beefy cat, Hermie started losing weight about five years ago. Her health still seemed strong, though… she ate voraciously, jumped around the furniture vigorously, and bossed everyone in the household firmly… Jeff and me, as well as Sprite and her “kittens” (they’re sixteen now).
About five months ago, she took a sudden turn downhill. She could barely move her hind legs. Her meow was weak. She seemed disoriented, until she saw me with an ice cream sandwich, which she immediately tried to take from me.
Jeff and I kept her in our arms all day, not expecting her to make it through the night.
She did, though… and every day for the next few days, she seemed to get better.
She walked slowly and haltingly, but she didn’t fall.
Hell, that’s how I walk.
She jumped from one piece of furniture to the next.
I can’t do that.
Her appetite was good… and because we were concerned about her weight, she got more treats than all the other cats combined… roast chicken… good tuna… lots of vanilla ice cream.
In the ensuing months, she had good days and bad days, just like any creature of an advanced age might be expected to have.
But now, even the good days aren’t so good, and the bad ones are downright heartbreaking.
Common sense and decency tell me we should put her down, but I just can’t.
I’ve made other end-of-life decisions in the years since Toby. When an operation revealed that our beloved Jack Russell, Dylan, was riddled with cancer, we allowed the vet not to bring him out of anesthesia. We put our darling pit bull Roscoe down too; I don’t even want to think about the pain of holding him as the doctor injected the final drugs into his leg.
I’ve even participated in end-of-life discussions concerning beloved human beings… Should heroic measures be taken to extend their lives artificially? Should their DNR requests be honored even as they gasp for breath, and beg to receive treatment? Should life-prolonging machines be turned off… and if so, when?
Believe me, there’s nothing as traumatic and disgusting as selecting a convenient date for someone you love to die.
Perhaps the day will come when someone has to make those decisions for me. Even though I’ve made it clear I do not want my life to ever be prolonged past my point of usefulness, I can easily see my loved ones disputing the right time to pull the trigger.
I hope to God they don’t have to. I hope to God I go quickly and quietly, with a minimum of fuss. Jeff’s grandmother died that way; she stretched out on the couch for a nap, and never woke up. My mother-in-law always said, admiringly, that her mother had “died like a lady.”
Meanwhile, I’m not God. I don’t want to be the person who determines when anyone’s life should end… not a person’s, not a pet’s. Not anyone’s.