It wasn’t a pretty sight. I mean, I was eight months pregnant. And crying. And of course when you’re eight months pregnant you’re beautiful. And you may cry a lot. But this was not that.
At eight months pregnant, I was standing in a sterile room at the veterinarian’s office. I was crying over my kitty Moses. He had a fatty liver and the complications from that led to an infection that spread to his brain. This all happened so quickly. I fed him by hand twice a day for about a week, but he wasn’t tolerating it. And now he was sedated because he had become rabid. My poor Mo-Moish (as my then 2-and-a-half-year-old pronounced it).
Why was I the one doing it? Why not the husband? The husband was with the toddler who was asleep in the car. And I wanted to do this. I mean, everything in my genetic DNA was programming me to nurture right now. To imminently give birth and keep a small adorable thing alive. This cat was an unknowing extension of my unborn child, and I needed to be there for this.
I wept like you do when you have to put your kitty down. Picture it however you want to; I was super pregnant, weeping over the corpse of a cat. It was horrible.
“Mo-moish?” Miles asked when we got home.
“Mo-moish died. That means he can’t come back.”
“Mo-moish?” he asked again, as if asking again would make me answer differently; perhaps with words he understood.
“Mo-moish is gone.”
For nights, the grief of our other cat, the beloved hairless wonder named Esau, filled the house and surpassed my sadness. A Peterbald cat who “talks” as a feature of his awesomeness, Esau wandered the house moaning like a mother who had lost an infant for days on end. He wailed and paced and grieved as I prepared for a new baby who would be born in this house of a grieving hairless cat, a toddler who did not understand, and a very hormonal me.
The vet alerted us that since Esau attaches more to humans than even other cats, introducing a tiny sweet-smelling baby might mean he would find his new bestie. And indeed, he did.
When I labored on the living room floor, Esau hid. But as soon as the baby was born, Esau was, indeed, very attached. He napped next to the new baby the day of the bris right up next to his tiny head. Throughout the years of baby Fred’s life, Esau slept next to him many a night. As it turned out, Fred inherited his namesake’s distaste for cats to some extent; I would catch him like my grandfather z”l, whom he is named for, shooing away the cat when he didn’t want to be bothered.
And so, as it goes with so much of parenting and so much of life, all of these hidden lessons emerged as life carried on as I made other plans.
Pet loss sucks. Losing Moses with no real advance notice was very, very difficult. It has a definite sense of unfairness about it, that kind of loss. And although you can never truly prepare for loss, sickness and degeneration are things we process as we prepare in our own way for loss. Losing your furry non-human child is not the same as losing a human. But the bond and the companionship and the memories are powerful and meaningful.
Pregnancy makes you everyone’s mother. At least I felt that way. I felt so much emotional capacity. I cried for squirrels on the side of the road smooshed by cars moving too fast to stop. I cried for homeless people on the freeway off-ramp—they were someone’s child.
I don’t often feel like a grown up, but a pet dying makes you feel like a grown up pretty darn fast. And being the mom of a toddler and about to pop with No. 2 makes you feel like a very mature person when you’re also juggling euthanizing your cat. I didn’t want those lessons. But these are the ones I’ve been given.
Moses is but a memory now. Miles sees pictures and remembers how he used to turn on the faucet for Moses, who was fond of drinking straight from the bathtub tap. Esau was laid to his eternal rest a few summers ago. We wept tears onto his leathery bald skin as we delivered his final kisses as he passed from an enlarged heart—almost twice the size it should be.
Indeed, our pets are our children who can’t speak words. They teach us compassion and friendship. Our cats raised my sons with me and alongside me. We all are a family. We will always be a family.