#027 When the World Goes from Color to Black and White

Dylan seemed good. He was even bouncing up the stairs in his trademark way. We’d finally figured out his meds and had reason to believe things would get even better. I was so grateful for his renaissance of vitality.

He was good all week until Thursday. Adam left to spend the night in LA because of work. Dylan was perfect all day. Then, at around 11:30 or 12 at night, he started whining. He whines a lot, and it’s hard to tell what it means. I thought he was upset about Adam being gone.

Around 2AM, I gave him extra gabapentin, and he stopped until 6AM. When he started again, I kicked him out of my room. I still remember how he looked when I pushed him out the door and shut it on him. He had to scrunch up his body to accommodate me shutting the door.

He got the message, though, and I slept longer. When I got up, he was still upset. I gave him another extra gabapentin with his regular morning dose. That helped. By the time Adam got home Friday afternoon, he was sleeping soundly and seemed good.

He had a poor appetite, though. That was the thing. He seemed good otherwise, but his poor appetite continued through the weekend. We packed his extra foods and medicines into a cupboard to make room for the Christmas tree.

He stood there amongst the boxes watching us do it. Was he worried we were moving, again? In the past year, we’d moved from Tokyo to Lake Balboa to Mar Vista to Orange County. Every move put him off balance.

Was he thinking, “I can’t take another change”? Or, “I’d rather die than move again”?

Tuesday evening, the vet said to bring him in. His regular doctor was busy, but they could take him through emergency, so on Wednesday, I took him.

I didn’t think it’d be anything. I thought it was all just a precaution. A full blood panel, an ultrasound, an echocardiogram. Sure, it’ll be expensive, but sure. The more we know about Dylan’s body, the better.

“It’ll take awhile, so you may as well go home.”

Shortly after I got home, the ER doctor called. The blood test results were already back. Dylan was in acute kidney failure.

“He needs a hospital stay, and he’ll be better. We just need to make sure his heart can handle the extra fluids. They’ll throw off his electrolyte balance.”

The echocardiogram results came in. “He has heart disease, but he’s cleared to take the fluids.”

The ultrasound results come in, too. “He has a kidney stone, but it’s in his good kidney.”

We saw on a ultrasound about five months ago that one of his kidney’s was small and shriveled, but he still had one good kidney. The stone was in his good kidney. The only way out is surgery, plus multiple blood transfusions and a feeding tube. We could try to flush it with fluids, but it’d be a long and painful process, also including blood transfusions and a feeding tube, and not likely to work.

Every option is dangerous for an underweight 17-year-old cat with pancreatitis, GI disease, diabetes, anemia, epilepsy, heart disease, and no working kidneys. He could die on the operating table. He could die in the hospital.

My biggest fear has always been waiting too long. I didn’t want to make him go through what Basil went through; weakness, pain, complete dependence. I’d been afraid of feeling guilty for robbing Basil of whatever life he had left, but then ended up feeling guilty for putting him through avoidable suffering.

So, we made that decision. They call it a decision, but it’s not really. When you’re in that situation, it’s not really a decision. It’s just room to feel guilty and second guess yourself.

In the end, he was on opiates to help with the kidney pain. In the end, he died so peacefully. He seemed to know. He seemed to expect it.

The whole time, I was experiencing a gap between what my mind told me I should be doing and what my body told me I should be doing.

It was like the time I went skydiving. I knew I was going to jump out of the airplane and that it was pretty safe. I’d paid money, took a six hour lesson, and was committed to jumping, so I was going to jump, but I looked out at the empty sky and I experienced a full bodied “NO,” like I’d never experienced before.

Every part of my insides told me to turn around and not get out of that airplane, but it was a three second thing because I got out of the airplane, and it was transcendent.

This time, I was stuck in that place where my brain kept saying, “this is what you’re doing,” and my body kept saying, “NO,” for much longer.

It took hours. We decided to end his life, and then drove to the vet hospital, and then said goodbye, and then did it, and then drove home.

On the drive home, I got the kind of headache and nausea I don’t remember having, ever, at least not simultaneously. Probably because the human body isn’t meant to maintain that level of dissonance for so long.

I’d eaten very little all day, so I was dizzy, too. I was in some sort of altered state. I got really scared that the altered state wouldn’t ever go away, and that life without Dylan was even more hellish than I’d ever imagined it would be.

I woke up a few times that night because I heard him meow. Just as I lifted my head, I remembered, and I was overcome with a feeling of peace, almost like it was being injected into me. He was finally safe and pain free.


Dylan kneading a blanket

Communications from the other side sometimes come to me that way—auditory; words, meows. It’s not in my head. I can tell the difference. A communication is just like I’m actually hearing something audible; not like I’m creating it.

(Much of my graduate school work was the study of mystical experiences. It was important to me to get answers back then. In the end, I concluded that it was real.)

He was telling me that he was ok. He was on the other side and happy. The other cats; Milo, Zophia, and Basil had welcomed him, and he was relieved to see them again.

He’d always been the social cat. He’d wanted get everyone to get along despite all their tension over hierarchy. He was always the first to initiate play or sleeping butt-to-butt. Losing them had been hard on him.

I felt a little bit better on Thursday because I was sure he’d told me he was ok the night before.

Thursday night, I got another auditory communication. I heard a song. It was just a few seconds, like on Name that Tune.

It took me awhile to figure out it was Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. What a bizarre thing. What could possibly be in that song that he wanted me to know?

I went online and played it. A memory of the two of us dancing together. Well, I would dance, and he would “dance” by hopping around the room jumping on things and pretend-attacking my legs with fake bites. We’d get so happy dancing together.

He loved anything bouncy with higher pitched sounds, which is that song, exactly.

This past year, I couldn’t play music for him, anymore, because of his hearing loss. Instead of making him happy, it agitated him. Certain sounds triggered his epilepsy.

Friday night, I got another auditory message. It was another song, but I couldn’t figure it out. I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning searching the web, trying song recognition apps, and asking ChatGPT. I never figured it out.

I felt awful all day Saturday, because I’d failed him all over again, because, let’s face it. In the end, I still made that decision, and there’s always a chance it was the wrong decision. I probably failed him a bunch of other times throughout his life, too, without realizing it.

Thoughts like these are white hot flames in my brain. I don’t want to touch them, but I must. Otherwise, they’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.

As time goes on, I’m less pained by the fact of his death and more pained by the way time keeps moving forward. Every minute increases the distance between me and the last time I saw him. I’m exhausted from missing him. I wake up every morning to find part of my heart is missing.

I studied and practiced Buddhism for years, and I’ve learned that when we surrender to pain, we get on a path towards an open heart, and sometimes, I think there might be a slight shadow—a faint glimmer—as my heart prepares to take a new shape.

I’m grateful for the privilege of having served him. I’m grateful on a practical level (I had the means and opportunity), and I’m grateful on a metaphysical level; I got to love in this way. If I could have another 17 years exactly like the ones I had with him, I would.

Gratitude is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t alleviate grief. I don’t want my grief to be alleviated, anyway. He merits the grief. If it were up to me, he’d have his own holiday.

On it, we’d honor all of the loving animals that have passed.

Some people bond with a pet in a way that expands beyond human bonds. It stretches to before birth and after death. We recognize them, and they recognize us as soon as we meet. It’s an instant, ever lasting, true love.

I know it sounds impossible. We’re not even the same species, but it is. It just is. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself. I know, because I didn’t know before, and it was hard for me to understand then, but now I do.

Note: This post is dedicated to all those people who’ve been devasted by the loss of a pet and didn’t know what to say or how to say it.

Another Note: It’s so hard to post this because putting it out in the world is acknowledging that this is really real.

Dylan. Born on April 6, 2006, Died on December 13, 2023