(Read “A Blind Cat and Fear” here.)
Bluffy had been ill with pneumonia for over a week and the doctor had put him on antibiotics. His constant coughing and gagging had already become familiar background and, while we felt badly that he was ill, we had begun ignoring it because, in a sense, it was a signal to us that he’s still alive and hopefully improving.
On a Saturday morning, early, I’m sitting on the couch in the living room. Accalia – our German Shepherd – and I are the only individuals in the living room and in the background I am vaguely aware of Bluffy’s intermittent coughing and gagging. Suddenly, Accalia rises, moves quickly to the doorway between the living room and the dining room, and then sits, staring at the doorway floor. It takes me a moment to become aware of this somewhat odd behavior and to begin sensing something unusual is occurring and then, almost simultaneously, I also become aware that Bluffy is now silent. Curious, and a little worried, I walk apprehensively to the doorway and find Bluffy lying on his side, motionless, not breathing and I fear the worst. Without thinking, I say pleadingly, “Bluffy? …Bluffy!”
Picking Bluffy up, he is completely limp, not breathing; he is dead. I make the conscious effort to calm myself and try to find an answer to the question racing through my mind, “What do I do?!” I unthinkingly say his name again and almost instantly think, “CPR, CPR …but how to do it on a cat?” First thought I have is to gently squeeze his stomach with a slightly forward movement, somewhat like a Heimlich maneuver on humans. I think he may have choked on something and perhaps I might dislodge it.
Holding Bluffy off the ground, I begin squeezing his abdomen behind his ribs with my thumbs, moving forward toward his ribs. After several efforts, I see a sign of life returning and kneel, placing his feet on the ground but still suspending him with my hands. He still is mostly unresponsive and collapses onto his side, so I continue the Heimlich process. Seeing gradual slight improvements, I continue testing his ability to support himself with each improvement in his responsiveness. After several minutes, Bluffy is trying to stand, but is unable. So we continue the process – Heimlich compressions, test, Heimlich compressions, test, etc. – until he finally stands under his own strength, but he appears dizzy, stumbling, and unable to walk straight. After several more Heimlich maneuvers, Bluffy is appearing less dizzy, he walks forward, and then intentionally lies down but still upright, not collapsing onto his side; the most improvement since first reviving him.
I begin petting him, and when I speak to him he turns his head toward me as if he were looking at me if he had eyes. His breathing is extremely labored, but I feel some small encouragement that he may pull through. Bluffy has not been eating or drinking well during his illness, so I decide to try to get some fluid into him with a small empty syringe. He has trouble swallowing but does manage to drink some of what I give him and I continue this for several minutes until I determine this may be causing more distress for him than doing good and I stop. I continue petting him and monitoring him and do not see much change for a while, so while he isn’t actually improving, he is at least not appearing to get worse.
I work nights and this is occurring just as I am about to go to sleep, as I have to work tonight. I stay up to keep an eye on Bluffy and when my wife wakes up we decide that she will take him to the vet again. The vet takes x-rays of his throat and sarcomas are discovered growing in his trachea, which is the reason for his labored breathing, and it is determined that his only chance for long-term survival is to surgically remove them; the only alternative offered is euthanasia and neither my wife nor I are ready to say goodbye to Bluffy. Perhaps selfishly (I don’t know), we decide on the surgery in hopes of extending his time with us. As you might expect, there are those who denounce us on the basis of financial considerations for our decision, but we put those condemnations aside and decide on the side of love instead. Bluffy spends the next three days in an oxygen cage, which allows him more relaxed breathing up to the time of his surgery. During those three days my wife visits Bluffy and is happy that he seems happy to have her there.
On the day of Bluffy’s surgery, we await word on how things went and when word finally comes that evening, it’s bad news; Bluffy died during surgery due to fluid from the sarcomas entering his lungs and suffocating him. The only consolation we have is that he was completely unconscious when it occurred and did not feel any pain. The sense of emptiness is almost immediate, although the reality takes more time to strike me than my wife. My reaction is one of mostly numbness, perhaps a form of shock, but I am not fully aware of the emotional effects of losing him. My wife, however, feels the effects much sooner without similar barriers to emotional outlet and sinks into a deep depression.
The next couple of weeks are a seemingly endless emotional rollercoaster for my wife and me as we attempt to deal with the loss, which is complicated by our double reality – my numbness and her extreme emotionality. While initial numbness to emotional distress seems inherent to me, it seems the opposite is true of my wife; she reacts quickly. Now, I’m experiencing depression that is sneaky, pernicious, and slowly malignant. I’ve experienced this before but never to this extent.
Finding Bluffy dead and then reviving him, I’m haunted by the memory of that morning, by the memory of Bluffy’s suffering that morning and prior to that morning, by the memory of his courage and the beauty of his inner being. The doorway where he died and I revived him seems almost a sacred place to me now. I replay in my mind the moment when, after he was able to hold himself up, I spoke to him and he turned his head up to me and focused on the sound of my voice. I recall the uncertainty I felt, while waiting for my wife to get up, wondering if he would make it and if I had done the right thing by reviving him or should I have simply let him go; he was already gone and at peace and I brought him back, which ultimately only prolonged his suffering a few more days before he ultimately died anyway.
I am wrestling with feelings of guilt because of the two main reasons I did not simply let Bluffy go. My first thought was I didn’t want to lose him, yet I did consider for a moment just letting him go. Then my second thought occurred. “How devastated will my wife be if she wakes up and finds Bluffy dead?” In a sense, I see both reasons for my revival of Bluffy as possibly being selfish. Obviously, without a crystal ball to see into the future, I could only decide based on the premise at the time that Bluffy had pneumonia and my belief that he may have choked on something that I might be able to dislodge. On another level, I see how reviving Bluffy could possibly be seen as a rare event; a special act of strength and love, the kind I might expect from Bluffy himself.
What drives us to love? I think it may be emptiness. Most humans have a sense of emptiness within them, a sense of something missing, and love (whatever that may be) changes that emptiness. This concept of emptiness only has meaning because of love and love only has meaning because of the emptiness. Darkness and light, wrong and right, opposites create meaning in each other. Awareness of the emptiness enhances the memory of the love. I’m affected by the loss of Bluffy in ways I could never have predicted. On an intellectual level I knew how important he was to me, but that’s not the same as feeling it emotionally.
Each day brings a particular emptiness because Bluffy is missing. As is so often the case, once a loved one is gone we become aware of so many things we underappreciated when they were still here, the specialness we loved but missed so often in our daily interactions. And that specialness is noticed more because of its absence, because of the emptiness. The emptiness, though, is still imbued with that specialness making even the emptiness special. Does that emptiness not make the memory all the more cherished? Does the sadness not, in some sense, pay special tribute to the love and happiness the lost loved one encompassed and brought into our lives?
Bluffy has always been a channeler, a medium, a sort of spirit guide, a link between this world of the profane and something better, bigger, beyond our narrow existence; he’s one of the greatest teachers I’ve known. Everyone who came in close contact with Bluffy experienced this link. The crew at the veterinary clinic fell in love with Bluffy’s highly interactive and affectionate nature in just the three days he was there. It’s no wonder that his absence has overwhelmed us with love’s emptiness. Even in his leaving us, Bluffy’s emotional wisdom has taught me something. In his absence, even as in his life, Bluffy brings me happy thoughts and connections to life around me, beyond me, that I might not otherwise tune in to.
Bluffy is one of the most special relationships in my life and I believe I would never have known him if left to my own devices – my own fear. When we feel fear we often choose darkness over light, loneliness over love. Fear of loss, fear of the “unknown” often leads us into greed, selfishness and wrong decisions. Bluffy was a source of light, a source of enlightenment, a source of love unknown but now known; my fear would have led me away from that light, enlightenment and love.
My wife brought Bluffy into my life, into our life, and I am forever indebted to her for that (as well as those animal shelter attendants who knowingly – perhaps schemingly – introduced her to him, which guaranteed I would also know and love him). And so it goes; one thing leads to another and that one leads to yet another and barriers come down, illusions we chase disappear, and the lies we often live fade away. Courage is the fundamental characteristic required for us to stop chasing illusion, living lies. In his life, Bluffy embodied this dynamic, and now also in his death, Bluffy remains the link, the channeler, the medium, the spirit guide, the great teacher. He is forever with us, and we with him.