“I’ll cuddle her through”

chaka catChaka died yesterday at the vet’s. She was 19 and had become stick thin in the final stages of renal failure. Since Monday she hadn’t eaten and her coat was flat and dull as an old fur in a junk shop. Colleen looked at her sitting in her open carrier and picked her up, ‘I’ll cuddle her through,’ she said.
Words matter. Those words mattered. If you can hope for anything at a time such as this it’s an indication of genuine tenderness and connection. Quietly, softly, Colleen took Chaka to the next room to insert a cannula before bringing her back for me to hold in those last moments while the drugs went in. Then quietly, softly, she left me alone with her for those outside-of-time minutes that hang between life and death while seeming to be neither and both. I left without paying; they trust you to do that later when you can speak again, handle the pragmatics again.
Chaka came home for the others to see. The more I understand about animals, the more important I think it is to let them make whatever sense they can of a loss. They all looked and sniffed then the older ones – a dog and two cats – moved on; they’d seen it before. The two kittens though, just one year old, kept on approaching, kept on sniffing and looking, kept on creeping towards her as though she were a strange and alarming thing they were trying to understand. Familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It’s their first death; they will have learned something, understood something, and although I can’t know what, I’m glad I gave them that chance.