His life, and his death, were enveloped in love

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I’ve written about all sorts of things over the last 20 years, but my recent column about my cat, Milo, who was rather suddenly incapacitated with kidney failure generated more email, well-wishes and thoughtful suggestions than any in recent memory. We pet lovers are a strange breed, aren’t we.

Because so many people commiserated and corresponded with me, I felt I should let them know how the story ends. Grab your box of Kleenex. It isn’t happy.

Despite a barrage of medication and daily trips to the vet, Milo continued to deteriorate. The regular squirting of medication and food down his throat, although being done to help him, weren’t really accomplishing much more than adding to his misery. He’d actually started gagging when I’d walk over to pick him up, and cry piteously when I did.

Milo’s deterioration was swift and severe. I specifically remember on Halloween weekend, he was eating and acting pretty much normally, albeit becoming too thin. Less than a month later? He’s gone. Yes, fellow cat lovers, our little Milo passed last Friday. It didn’t play out as I’d imagined, but play out it did.

I knew that the time had come to put an end to his suffering, because clearly all I was doing was extending his misery. The vet had reluctantly admitted that there really was no hope for recovery, and we decided we’d make Milo as comfortable as possible, and as soon as my daughter could come home, we’d do what we had to do. Bringing my daughter into that conversational loop was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I could feel her grief and disappointment seeping right through the phone into my heart.

It was really rough. Milo and Angelo are members of our family. I realize, logically (and reminded myself frequently) that, for God’s sake, this is a cat. A cat. And then my eyes would start leaking again. And, truth be told, I cried more over Milo than I have over some of my own friends and relatives who’ve passed. And, I’m certain my daughter cried more.

Only a fellow animal lover is able to “get” that.

So, my daughter, the vet and I settled on a date. But that very same day, when I returned home from work, Milo was much worse — vomiting and unable to stand, and cold to the touch. I knew, not in my head, but down in my solar plexus, that he wouldn’t make it through the night. And even if he did, the most humane thing I could do would be to call the vet first thing in the morning and end it. It couldn’t wait for my daughter to get back home. The scales had tipped.

It was too late to call the vet that evening, so I decided that Milo’s last moments would literally be wrapped in love. I scooped him up in a soft towel and he struggled at first, as even being held had become painful, but I took him over to the recliner and laid back with him on my chest, just like I did with my babies, his head right over my heart. He relaxed, limp and heavy, just like my sleeping infants had, and his breathing grew shallow and labored. I caressed his head and ears, talked to him softly from time to time, and dozed off and on for several hours. Each time, Milo was still lying there, barely breathing. Suddenly, I snapped awake at 1:30 a.m. Milo was still with me. Barely.

It was a work night, and I had to get just a little sleep. I took Milo into the kitchen and attempted to give him a little water with a tiny syringe, but for the first time, he actually grit his teeth together so I couldn’t put it in his mouth, turned his head and half-moaned, half-wailed.

“Okay, Milo,” I told him softly. “I won’t make you swallow anything any more.”

I figured if I could just get a little sleep, I’d pick him back up and hold him in a couple hours. I laid him in a padded basket, said, “I love you, Milo,” and went to bed. At 4 a.m., I went to check on him, but he was already gone. And, rigor mortis was starting to set in. I later googled this, and discovered that it takes rigor mortis three hours to set in. This means that Milo literally passed over within moments of me setting him down. Once I let him go, he let go. And how’s this for an ironic, mystical twist: My daughter later told me that she had trouble sleeping that night. She was up until 1:30 a.m., when she went to bed and fell right to sleep. And she didn’t even know that Milo had taken a turn for the worst. I wasn’t going to tell her until the morning. On some astral level, we were all connected that night. We all knew the time had come to rest.

I’ve since done some research and discovered that what Milo most likely had was polycystic kidney disease, for which there’s no cure. I let go of my guilt, realizing there really wasn’t anything I could do for him. But I temper my grief in knowing he never knew an unkind moment in his whole life. He knew he was beloved. And the last thing he experienced on this earthly plane was pure love, and the last words he ever heard were “I love you.” There are people, let alone animals, who haven’t lived — or died — as well.

R.I.P. dear little Milo. May the catnip in heaven be endless.

— Email Debra at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com, www.edebra.com and www.ipinion.com

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