The Latest Blog Posts From Ryan David
The following are daily journal entries of mine that document my very painful and personal experience of having to end the life of my 15 year old cat, "Cheese", who was more like a child and faithful friend to me. Writing about this experience was somewhat insightful and therapeutic for me, so I thought reading about my raw experience might possibly be cathartic for others...
Fathers Day. Cheese hasn't been acting normal this past week, his appetite is gone, he's lost some weight, and he's laying down in places he doesn't normally lay down. Yet, when I hold him in my arms, he purrs blissfully as though it's all he wants. I've heard people say that a pets love is not truly unconditional, because you feed them, so of course they show you love. And I agreed with that, until now. Because I have a cat that doesn't want anything at all, not food or water, nothing, except to be held in my arms. Just to be near me is the only thing he seems to ask for anymore. Now if that's not unconditional love then I don't know what is.
I have an appointment to take him in for a check up tomorrow.
I've always hated taking him in to the vet out if fear that either they're going to misdiagnose him and get me all worked up about something that's not serious, or that they're going to actually find something serious that causes my whole world to collapse. Either way, I don't look forward to seeing the vet with Cheese, which probably causes me to avoid considering it as an option when I may need to.
I took Cheese to the Vet to get checked up, they took blood and did an x-ray, and the vet told me flat out that she didn't like what she saw in the x-ray as she showed it to me.
His right kidney was very small, the left was extremely enlarged, which she said may be from a mass (tumor), his intestines were pushed to the right side of his body, and his colon was enlarged (which was abnormal considering he hadn't eaten anything for a few days). She said if she had to guess, it looked like lymphoma. She said the blood work would help narrow it down and rule things out. I should get the results tomorrow.
I was teaching a class about friendship and the importance they play when it comes to our health, and ironically just as I was explaining how pets can work wonders as companions for people, my phone rang and it was the vet. I answered in front of the class and all she said was, "I have the blood work, it's not good".
I finished my lecture, somehow, and went straight to the vet to get the news. She said that his kidneys had basically completely failed and that there is no coming back from where he is at. She said his body is probably holding toxins and is very acidic because his kidneys don't work, and the acid has possibly caused ulcers internally. She said just think of the worst hangover you can imagine, that's probably what he's feeling. She recommended putting him to sleep sooner than later.
I cried just about the whole drive home. Going in and out of having thoughts, to seeing myself have the thoughts. It was a strange experience. I don't remember the last time I was overcome with a painful emotion like that. I found myself attempting to experience it, and simultaneously coaching myself on how to experience it.
We watched The Lion King together that night. It's tough falling asleep with someone or something knowing your remaining time with them is so limited, it feels wrong, like a waste.
I didn't want to go to sleep.
Because he hasn't eaten in days and he is mostly out of it, just laying around staring off in a daze or sleeping most of the day, I'm considering taking him in tomorrow after my class, and then driving over to bury him at my mom's. I spoke to two of my best friends, and after sharing stories with me of when they were faced with the same decision with pets of theirs, they both encouraged me to take him in before he starts to visibly suffer and it's even more painful for both of us. And even before that I'd been contemplating having to take him in and put him to sleep on and off over the last 24 hrs. But how do you plan a funeral for someone that's still alive? It is the most difficult, uncomfortable, counter intuitive thing I've ever been faced with.
Then out of nowhere, he ate a little food...and I understand that may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it makes it much more difficult to pull the plug early.
He seems uncomfortable for sure, but he's not crying in agony. He still jumps up on the bed and the chair, he's still drinking, he's still purring, and he just ate. How do I know it's time? How do I know how much time he could have left?
I'm writing this while he lays next to me, almost in a coma-like daze, and I wonder if it's the last time I'll ever see him lying on my bed like this for the rest of my life. That is a thought and an image that I don't know I will ever be able to rid from my mind.
Symbolically, tomorrow is the last class of the semester and I give my final exam at 11:45 am.
I will put in grades after class and play it by ear.
Bitter Synchronicities & Goodbye
As if the last day of class, the final exam, and the longest day of the year (summer solstice) weren't enough, as I was grading my exam in the faculty center on campus, it was just me and the guy who has worked in there for years. We didn't say anything more than hello, then on my way out as I was saying goodbye he randomly told me it's his last day, that he's taking another job. I wish him well on the new chapter in his life, and as I was walking to my car I remembered that a few years ago Mike lost his son to brain cancer. He's the only person I spoke to today other than my students and the vet. Synchronicities are something else.
Earlier this week when I first started contemplating when to possibly put Cheese to sleep, I considered Thursday and I said to myself if it rains on Thursday, that will be a sign that it was time, or the right thing to do, but at least a sign. Yeah it's a bit superstitious-like, and weird, I know, but there's just something about the rain. Well the day was half way over and it hadn't rained yet, actually it was a beautiful, sunny day, but something in me felt like it was time. After I finished with my stuff on campus, I came home to put grades in, packed a bag, and called the vet and told them I would be there about 3pm.
Then I put Cheese in the car along with the Hurricane blanket and a box in the back seat, along with a picture of me. As we drove to the vet he had his head down more than any other time that he's been on a drive with me. He was very weak. Still a soldier though, and along for the ride, wherever we were going, he was down to ride, no matter the destination, which was always unknown to him. Something I was thankful about this time.
About halfway to the vets office, with the sun shining bright, it started to rain.
When I parked at the vets what I wanted to do was get out, carry him in with my sunglasses on, walk in to a room, get the two shots, and leave within minutes. Of course that didn't happen.
I walked in and had to wait in the lobby, with Cheese in my arms, for the room to be set up, and then they had to wait for the doctor. That probably took 10 minutes. Then they showed me to the room, something that felt more like a small 6x6 solitary confinement cell, where I stood and we waited alone another 5 minutes or so, at one point being interrupted by the girl at the front desk who came in and asked me to sign something. Something I was obviously in no state to take the time to read. I could have been signing my life away, but was most likely actually signing my son's life away. She left, and after a few more minutes the doctor and some young girl who looked about 16 (I'm guessing her assistant) came in with the first shot. A sedative injected into his back without letting go of him because I wanted to keep him in my arms the whole time. As the vet finished, she said, "he's just going to gradually fall asleep over the next 5-10 minutes, and I'll come back to check on him then".
About 20 seconds after they walked out, he set his head on my left bicep, and was out.
I then waited for about 8 more minutes with him asleep in my arms. I began to wonder if that was it, if that was the shot and he was gone. But I still noticed his shallow breaths.
The doctor and the assistant returned with another syringe, this time she said she needed an arm or a leg. I didn't want to let go of him, but I had to set him down on the table long enough for her to shave a patch of hair off of his left leg, find his vein, and proceed to inject him with some kind of dark fluid that would eventually stop his heart. She said it would take a few minutes, but before I could pick him back up to hold him while he took his last breaths in my arms, she wanted to check his heart beat before she left. After moving the stethoscope around a few times as though she was searching for something she couldn't find, she stopped, looked up at me and said, he's gone...or something like that. I'm not sure what the words were because I heard the look on her face before she even opened her mouth, and it told me all I needed to know. It told me what I never wanted to hear. My boy was gone forever.
I picked him up off the table and as I was holding his lifeless body in both of my arms all I could manage to say was can you put the blanket over him before I leave. My glasses never came off.
Having prepared mentally as best I could for what steps to take next, I kind of went into auto pilot. I walked to the car with tears in my eyes, set him down in the front seat so I could arrange the blanket in the box that would serve as a coffin in the back seat, and then placed him curled up in the box and wrapped him with the blanket. I then drove for 2 hours in silence, alone, to my mom's on Marco Island. When I got there I brought the box with Cheese in it into the garage, asked my mom where the spot was that she picked out for me to bury him, which was under some kind of 12 foot freshly planted flower tree on the side of the house next to the fence, asked for a shovel, and began to dig.
After digging my son's grave (something no parent should have to do), I placed Cheese in the hole, curled him up as comfortably as I could shape his body that had already begun to feel stiff, and placed that picture of me under his cheek, so that he could always lay his head on my chest in peace as he had done for 15 years of his life. I then did my best to make sure his eyes were closed before placing a shovel full of dirt on top of his body, one at a time.
When his grave was filled, I sat down near by, numb, as my step dad placed mulch over the dirt and did all he could to contribute to the funeral like ritual making his grave site presentable. I put a stone at the head of his grave site and my mom set some flowers next to the stone.
I wanted to bury him because I wanted to feel a sense of closure, and returning him to the earth naturally seemed like the best way for me to feel that. But once his body was under ground, all I really felt was another wound open that would eventually need closure as well. That new wound is the finality of him being somewhere that there is no coming back from.
A wound that I don't think can ever fully be healed. I think death (of a loved one) is one of the few things in life that changes you for ever. Time will tell.
I sat around next to his grave for most of the rest of the day and night, feeling like I would be abandoning him if I left, as though he knew I was there next to him. I still felt like he did.
I ended up going to bed early with tears in my eyes, tears that didn't go away as my head hit the pillow and the reality set in that I'll never reach over and feel him sleeping next to me again for the rest of my life.
Just spent the day in a daze, numb, everything seems frozen. Really hard to think ahead.
I hurt most about the fact that his personality is gone forever. I can get over the selfish part of me wanting him around for unconditional love, and as company for myself, and for that look that he gives me that I know was only for me, that went straight into my heart and soul. I can get over the selfish part of me that wants him around to speak the unspoken language we had together.
But the fact that his personality can't live on and bless the world with such good and beauty and love, I'm having a hard time with that. Not to mention the fact that I had to be the one to end all those things.
I feel like I lost a best friend, and sooner than I should have or ever thought I was going to.
I don't know how else to categorize this. I've never been here before.
I know he wasn't healthy or even maybe happy, and maybe even in pain, although it wasn't totally obvious how bad he was hurting, even though it was clear he wasn't close to normal. And I know somehow it was better to have him go to sleep peacefully in my arms with his head on my chest forever rather than suffer a painfully violent end in agony. I know all that.
But my instincts were to take care of him and make him better, to fix his pain and make him healthy - death just doesn't work as a solution for those things. It just doesn't sit with me, if I'm being totally honest and I don't try to use rationalizations to alleviate the cognitive dissonance.
How much of my pain stems from the fact that I wanted the impossible, which is, I wanted him to live as long as me. Or at least to break some records or something. I don't know.
But the last thing I wanted was this, that he goes early, and because of my doing.
It's hard not to vacillate from thinking I proactively did the best thing, to I did something unnatural that feels wrong.
I had two thoughts today. The first was earlier when I was looking down on his grave and thinking that it's only his body that died, he and his spirit and his life live on, but they have to take a different format now, they need a higher vehicle, and the wind was blowing and the sky was beautiful, and the birds were flying, and he was under a tree that was growing, and I thought, maybe that's it...maybe he has just transcended in a way that he has become a part of everything now. Maybe he now he is alive in all other forms of life around me now.
I felt slightly connected with him again in that moment, although it was somewhat fleeting as an experience, the feeling and concept stuck.
The second thought I had was that I think religion was born out of the conscious experience of death. In other words, I think that as people started to experience death as soon as we were sophisticated enough to try and make sense out of it, we began to try and create explanations for it so that we better understood the process as best as possible and could put our minds, memories, and imagination at ease.
I mean the fact is, without some sort of alternative reality to believe or buy into, death is really the most inconceivable part of life. Besides, just think about it, people are more religious when it comes to dying and death than in any other aspect of life.
Life Is Suffering
As I lay in bed contemplating my experiences this week and thinking about my day, I opened my phone and stumbled upon a short YouTube video about the story of the life of Buddha. It was very insightful and hooked my curiosity because of what Buddha experienced after leaving the palace and encountering real life as a young man, before he was "Buddha".
I searched for more on the life of Buddha and ran across a full documentary. I began to watch it, but it was 2 hours long so I eventually paused it and fell asleep.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the life of Buddha and the message that seemed to be sent to me to listen to the words of Buddha today. Not in a religious sense, just in terms of how it all applied to life.
I listened to the entire documentary on the life of Buddha on my drive from my moms house in Marco Island to my dads house in Ocala, and the parallels between the messages I heard in that documentary from the life of Buddha, and what I had been thinking about and meditating on in relation to the experience of pain, loss, and suffering were profound.
It was exactly the message and guidance I needed at this moment to help put some of the questions and unknowns into a perspective that allowed me to at least consider meaning.
The first thing I noticed was a parallel in the story of Buddha and Friedrich Nietzsche's, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. That was interesting being that I have been reading about Nietzsche's life and philosophical works lately. Then I realized what seemed to be lacking from Buddhism, and also what was lacking from Christianity, and coincidentally that what one had, the other was lacking.
My analysis was this; Buddhism was all about the individual taking full responsibility for their lives and achieving personal enlightenment. The problem is, we are not solitude creatures, we are social creatures. And for much of Buddha's path to enlightenment, he spent it either alone or with absolutely no responsibilities that involved other people in any way, much less his own. And when I think about the path to personal enlightenment, I think of exactly that, a personal path that doesn't involve other people. There's nothing wrong with this fact, it's just what the way consists of. However, if you are looking for a path to a spiritual connection with some sort of meaning that involves faith or answers or transcendence in the context of a social experience (which we all happen to exist), and not a personal journey of personal insight, enlightenment, and awakening consisting of nothing more than a profound understanding of your relationship with yourself, the Christian Church comes to mind and may be your flavor of choice.
In my estimation, it looks as though these two practices, faiths, paths, belief systems or religions (although I hesitate to call Buddhism a religion) actually both compliment each other and can provide meaningful guidance about core aspects of life that can enhance the human experience.
I came away with the understanding more than ever that although death is inevitable, it is a part of a more beautiful process, one that I am actually familiar with, but have possibly lost touch with at times because of emotional experiences that consume my thoughts.
What I realized is that mindfulness focus on the present and mastering the experience of life with an attitude of gratitude each and every day, and being able to see the miracle of life in each and every moment, is a way to transcend suffering and the fear of death.
I realized that Cheese is and was a part of something much bigger and although his body has returned to the earth, his spirit or energy or consciousness is woven into the being of all life and everything that surrounds me.
After spending the last 7 days with my family, I finally returned home today for the first time since burying Cheese. As I drove home on the interstate through a massive storm, I couldn't help but think of spending time on my back porch, or in bed, while enjoying the sound of the rain and listening to the thunder, with Cheese either sitting next to me, on my lap, or laying at my feet. He'll never experience a storm with me again.
As I unlocked my front door, I imagined him inside perking up at the sound of my keys, in anticipation of seeing my face, and me seeing his. Instead, I walked inside to an empty home...with an obvious void that felt as deep as the grand canyon, and as vast and cold as Antarctica. I think the conscious grieving and intentional in depth processing helped, but I'm still numb. I mean I can function, but only on the verge of sadness.
I struggle not to look for him or call his name. As I lay in bed and type this, after the first day in 15 years of being home without him, I struggle with the silence that surrounds me. A silence that was inevitably interrupted by hearing the cat door open, followed by a brief pause as he made his way towards the bedroom, and then ultimately the sound of his toenails on those tiny paws of his slowly tapping against the tile in the hall way, as if he was wearing tap shoes while walking to the rhythm of an old man's stroll, eventually seeing his silhouette come around the corner only to stop and make eye contact with me, as if to say, "Hey Dad, I’m here", and also to catch his breath...before making his way over and hopping up on the bed, to then either come over and stand on my chest, lick my arm repeatedly as a way of giving me kisses, or stepping on me and walking all over me to go find a comfortable spot on the bed next to me to settle in to and fall asleep for the night.
This is the first day of many long, empty, lonely days ahead, that will never end like that again. This is the first day of my new life, as I attempt to create a routine and a life that doesn't involve or include my boy.