We entered into Cally’s 17th year in late 2009.
[aging seems to involve returning to younger habits! Sep 2009]
She was a bit slow and creaky, but her mood was growing increasingly kittenish. She had become more vocal and more snuggly in the prior few years, and her mood was great. There were a few health issues, but for the most part the health concern was “How long can a cat be old safely? When do I have to do more?”
[Scruffy, but hungry and active. Sep 2009]
Our fur was a big scraggy, but I was also never a good groomer, so it had been that way for a while. Her weight was lower, but she still held a good bit of pudge underneath the fur. All in all, she seemed the same as always – just a bit slower, fluffier, and more demanding.
Fast forward to Spring 2010 and she had a notable decline. Up until this point, her aging was nearly imperceptible to me – I still saw her as a collection of the previous few years of memories, so I did not notice her drop (I was also not taking nearly as many every day pictures, which I use now to compare season to season for everybody.)
When her energy lulled and her fur was nearly pure scraggle, we talked to the vet.
[The window bed becomes the primary source of warmth. June 2010]
[This bed is now used by Rocky!]
Thyroid to start with. Heart worn out — because thyroid. Lungs worn out — because thyroid. Conjecture from the vet and I discussing possibilities [this seems accurate, but we weren’t watching so we cannot be sure]: the hyper-thyroid issue had actually balanced her out with a little extra oomph, but that extra oomph had burned her out faster.
We had a couple options – leave the thyroid alone because it was holding her up, or treat it and try to cut the discomfort instead. The decision was something more of a guess — a good guess I feel, I appreciate my vet because he’s extremely good at discussing unknowns as well as knowns.
We chose to treat. And started with medication for the thyroid and heart, with the goal to follow-up on anything else we could notice. [Planning warning: Unless you regularly compare photos/diagnostic weekly sheets/etc, you will probably not notice much. Cats are *really* good at hiding symptoms.]
The vet warned me that we were at a point that was basically considered terminal – while things were generally working, her system was not maintaining, and the medication would likely unleash a few problems that were in check. This was part of our choice.
I had one trip planned, a large one that we needed for some business projects we were contracted to. I went, and she did well both before, during, and after [she was used to these trips]. I was very concerned about going on the trip, scared to death I would lose her while I was gone [I had lost a couple rats while on family vacations — it still hurts].
But we did good, and when I got back, I canceled anything else I could in order to focus on her for the summer.
[A video of Cally Snuggles and elderly meow, Aug 2010]
[“I still don’t see why I can’t just go with you.” Aug 2010]
Late August 2010
Once summer heat really hit though, things changed. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe my leaving accelerated things? Maybe — as I’ve seen with other older kitties — the deep bone warmth of the summer sun let her relax finally, and feel comfortable letting go. (I would prefer to die warm than chilly, and it does not seem a stretch for cat mentality to concur.)
She stopped having energy.
[Slightly smaller, slightly scragglier, slightly quieter. Still snuggly. Aug 2010]
From August to September, I can never remember well. I did not take many photos, because I feared the pain that would come later. That was a mistake, I wish I had a few more of her – both to remember her more completely, and to remember how things changed by looking at photos. I find it helps tremendously to look at her versus Rocky as we watch Rocky’s elderly traits slowly come on.
She ate less – I moved food and water closer to the spots I sat and she napped. Added more food and water locations so she didn’t have to trudge as far.
She had trouble holding her urine and would often not make it to the box. I got more boxes and kept them closer and lower to the ground. She would walk towards the box very slowly — I would help gently carry her into the box. Her hips would give out while trying to go, wetting herself — I would clean her up and start holding her hips for her.
Her snuggles were strong, her kisses were intense, her purrs were loud, her ear nibbles were just as satisfied. She still bit my cheek really hard to let me know she was hungry.
She had been sleeping with me all night — instead of a few hours and then to her own spot. She had begun to spend all day next to me. I loved her attention — but couldn’t tell if this was too much for her. I was confused at the time — is this pain? Is she saying something? Am I missing something because I love her attention so much?
We also later found out that her lower lungs had been filling with fluid at this point – her heart was erratic and weak – her stomach was not working right anymore but we did not test to find out why.
I firmly believe now that she was just taking time with me. All of our families felines have a tendency to go be alone/hide when they’re feeling unwell. Even Sasa – Mr. Daddy’s Boy – will go sit in a warm quiet hidden spot when he’s not feeling well. Then he’ll come ravage my ear [so I get hints with him] — but nobody else does this. Cally knew I would help more, and wanted to be with me more.
[A final picture, thankfully taken by Kassie on webcam, because I was so intent on Cally that I never captured her final strength. Sep 2010]
Cally was a strong woman, and stood by me till the very end. At no point did she ever stop taking up her porcelain kitty positions. At no point did she not try to go the direction she needed, even if she could not make it alone.
The last week I would do differently. Cally stopped being able to sleep well. Sometime during Aug/Sep we had a pupil stop dilating properly (later determined it was likely a Stroke had occured). Her breathing became labored. Her eating stopped being a priority. Any of these have become strong indicators to me to consider letting go now.
But I didn’t let go then. She stayed with me and kept trying. My mother visited, and Cally got to snuggle her one last time.
Sitting on a call with Kassie, Cally walked up to me and flopped and looked at me. It was late and she kept trying to lay down, but she’d shake awake and cry softly. I thought she just needed time to rest, but she couldn’t sleep. I don’t know how many minutes or hours I just felt locked into the though of what can I do, what should I do, can I keep her just a bit longer. I cannot even recall these moments without wracking pain in my heart.
I don’t know if I came to, or if it was Cally’s final effort to lift her head to give me one more look, but I knew it was well past time.
My mother drove us to a 24-hour place (that moved to a better location and was the one that helped with Sasa as well).
The final vet visit, 2010
They had to take her from me, I wasn’t allowed back yet. There was so much waiting, soooo much waiting. Waiting to know something. It was well into late night, but the 24hr vet was full – a lot of chocolate eating, a lot of loss, a lot of pain in the room.
I don’t know how many years went by in my head while we sat there, but eventually they let me go back to her. On the meds and in a oxygen cage to help her breath, my baby. [It’s really hard to continue here]. My baby could smell me! She could lift her head, lick me. She laid upon my hand and purred ever so softly. I missed those moment so much, we hadn’t been comfortable for at least a couple weeks.
It was then that I know I waited too long. She shouldn’t have to feel that bad. It shouldn’t require that much help to let her feel ok again.
Her lungs weren’t working. Her eyes weren’t working. Her heart wasn’t working. Her stomach wasn’t working. The list went on. They vaguely offered possible surgeries, but the greatest hope was a mere smattering of time and definitely more pain.
The decision to let her go was never hard once I understood what was happening to her. Adapting to the fact that there was a reality without her was what broke my soul and shattered my mind.
They took me to a room – it was so incredibly hard not to just stand there with my hand on her face forever. It had a couch and chairs. I sat down and they brought her in with an IV in her arm. They set her on me and gave her more comfort meds.
My baby purred and laid her head upon my belly one more time. Everything I know about her told me she was comfortable. Ready. The nurse let the last injection into the IV. Cally quietly laid leaned back to look at me and went soft and quiet.
My baby was gone, but never to leave me.
It wracks me entirely to remember these moments. Every sound in the house was Cally…. but then it wasn’t. Every movement in the corner of my eye had me turn my head to see my baby — to remember she was not physical. I would remember she would be hungry, or be coming to nibble my ear. Only to be alone.
She’s always with me – and much of her scent was kept (used to let the kittens get to know her). I keep her images around me and look at them often – and I look at her last images as much as her best images. She was every part of her life, and celebrating her last years, months, days has been as important to me for understanding.
Cally was with me for nearly 18 years. She went through joy and hell with me. She should not have had to survive that last week, but I’m grateful for every moment. When I have this experience now, I believe I make choices better for them than myself. Cally gave me her last energy to help me learn this for others.
[I miss you, Cally. May 2019]
[June, 2006 – age 14 and you’d never know it]