The Jabbanese Empire: Saying Goodbye

The appointment is for 5pm, and it’s 1:30pm now.

He’s sitting next to me in the little heated dome my husband bought for our other cat (and promptly had to buy a second one, because Jabba kept kicking Lestat out and taking it for himself). Occasionally, he purrs. He has once crawled out, half-heartedly, to sit in my lap. Sometimes I put him there and he lies there limply for a bit. I pet him, and he purrs a little bit more.

He smells like cat piss, because it’s reached that point.

He’s 13 years old, maybe 14. I forget exactly. People tell me that’s a good run for a cat. It doesn’t feel like enough, not when Lestat is over eighteen years old and – notwithstanding some arthritis and early cataracts – still in robust health. Sure, Lestat has slowed down a lot. He needs help to get off the bed as well as get back on it. He cuddles under the doona more now because he feels the cold in his joints more and more as the years go by and the winters up here in the ranges just kick him in the teeth – but he’s healthy. He doesn’t have aggressive lymphoma the way Jabba does.

The dome is right next to me, a fluffy little covered cat bed that Jabba hasn’t emerged from since we brought him home from our friend’s place. We were on holiday. He was losing weight, but the chemo seemed to be helping. He was mostly symptom free.

Apparently the drug we chose wasn’t aggressive enough. We came back, and in spite of my friend’s best efforts, he still wasn’t eating much, and his face was swollen. I panicked. Took him to the vet that day; then the specialist the next day.

The lymphoma had spread to his neck. There was a shot we could try, that could make him feel a bit better. Improve his quality of life for a couple of months. It was horrible to see him so miserable, burrowing into my belly for comfort, so I said yes.

As sometimes happens, it didn’t work.

Sometimes I look across at him, and he just looks like he’s sleeping normally instead of lying still, too sick to move. Sometimes I look, and he’s purring again, and I can’t quite grasp that he’s beyond help. He jumped off the couch before, and looked around in confusion before falling over, and starting to crawl. Then he just stopped moving, one paw splayed out sideways. I picked him up, and gently put him back in his fluffy dome.

Those moments are both awful and a relief. They’re awful because he’s so sick, and he got so sick so quickly. It seemed like one minute he was alright, just a bit skinny, and then he was uncomfortable, and obviously miserable, but he was still sort of okay – and now he’s pissing himself and he can’t move.

But those awful moments are a relief because I’m making the right decision. I haven’t known whether I’m making the right decision since we first found out he was sick and we didn’t know what was wrong. I can look back and see moments where I feel like I made the wrong call – we should have done the MRI earlier, and not worried about the general anaesthetic. Maybe we should have tried a more aggressive protocol for chemo. It might not have worked. Maybe it would have.

But we didn’t do those things.

What do I do now? How do I say goodbye? My last dogs died when I was in high school and early uni, and I wasn’t around for either of them. I didn’t learn until afterwards, and the last one – Max – died of natural causes, old age, all by himself. When Baron, our first dog, was put to sleep, I was seven years old, and again I didn’t know about it until it was done. I didn’t even know he was sick. In fact, when Dad said “I had to put the old boy down,” I didn’t know what he meant. My brother started crying, but I just looked at Dad and said “Down? Down where?”

I hate euphemisms sometimes.

My budgie died when I was in year eight, but I wasn’t anywhere near as attached to him as I am to Jabba. I know that people can have a very strong bond with their birds, and I certainly liked him, and I cried when he died, but there wasn’t this same sort of ache.

Jabba just stuck his head out of the dome, resting on the side of it (he can’t really raise his head. He could yesterday), and looked at me. I pulled him out to lie on my lap and he seems content. I do expect him to piss on me at some point, but that’s okay. I think on your last day in the world you’re allowed to lose control of your bladder and no-one’s going to hold it against you.

It’s 1:46pm. Husband is coming home, and we will probably leave for the vet at about 4:45pm. So I have three hours with my cat, in the house. What do I do? I’ve put the dogs outside so I can just sit quietly with him on the couch. It sucks for them – it’s raining and it’s been raining all day – but they’ll have all the tomorrows to be inside and be cuddled and walked and played with, and Jabba won’t, so I’m just shouldering the guilt and moving on with it.

I’m petting him, and watching TV half-heartedly. I can’t quite find it in myself to do anything else. Occasionally I pause the show to pet him, get that rewarding little purr that he has always been so generous with, and wonder how I let it get this bad before I decided to let him go. I wonder how I could have let him go without it getting this bad first, without being sure it wouldn’t get better.

I was never a cat person. I like cats, but I’ve always been a dog person at heart. I don’t quite understand how cats work, even though I find them fascinating. Jabba was the first cat I completely loved. He attached himself to me so thoroughly that I couldn’t help but love him back.

There will never be another cat like Jabba. Not one so sweet and needy and talkative exactly like he was. I’m so glad I got to have a cat who killed a toy mouse and brought it to me (I threw it, thinking it was a game, but apparently it was a present), who pounced on the mattress when I turned it while making the bed, who loved to play with dried spaghetti and crawl all over me in pursuit of my breakfast bowl; who let Amos know that there was a Zone of Clearance beyond which dogs would not be permitted, but tolerated him from a distance of greater then three feet; who even in the last few weeks would sit at the little baby gate separating Dog Territory from Cat Territory and sing the song of his people until I gave him yoghurt; who would cuddle onto my lap in forty degree heat, debunking the myth that “Cats are aloof and don’t care about affection; it’s just your body heat that they’re after,” while I sweated profusely but didn’t kick him off.

They’re all different. I know I’ll have to go through this at least three more times, and the thought is so awful, but for now, it gets to be all about Jabba.

Who, for the next few hours, is still my little fluff elemental; and always will be.

Addendum: Jabba died in my lap about twenty minutes after I wrote this. At least it’s over now.

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