Thoughtful Thursday: Letting Go

August 19, 2010

Thoughtful ThursdayBased on her age, I should have known it was coming, but it still caught me by surprise a couple of weeks ago when my cat was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The vet didn’t know whether she might be able to live with it for many months, or only for a very short time.

Only a couple of days before the symptoms started, she’d been in perfect health. Remarkably perfect health for a cat of her age. Sure, she’d lost a little weight in the past year or so, but she seemed to be able to do everything she’d always done. She seemed the same.

Then she stopped eating unless we put wet food right in front of her. Even her favorite, tuna, previously an extra-special treat when DH would share a morsel of his own food with her, remained half-eaten.

Then she stopped drinking.

Then the other signs that the vet had warned us about started.

I took her to the vet before I went to work. I had about an hour before a non-negotiable meeting. I thought I’d be bringing her right back home.

She’d lost almost two pounds since the week before, a huge percentage of her body weight. One course of action involved months of invasive treatments, which were more likely than not to fail and which, even for a young cat, would be hard to endure. At her age, it would have been patently unfair to subject her to such treatments. Not the vet’s recommendation, and not mine either.

The course of action we’d been expecting, live out a little more time at home (days? weeks?), evaporated when the vet said, “If you were to euthanize her today, that would be a humane act and I would fully support that.”

I called DH, and “today” seemed like the only logical option. He came to the vet to meet us, and we proceeded. More on that next week.

We said goodbye on the day we did because our cat had been getting worse, and because the vet had an opening. It could just as well have been the next day, or the next. She wasn’t doing well, but she wasn’t yet in terrible shape.

As we waited in the exam room, waiting for the vet and giving the cat a hundred goodbye kisses, I asked DH why it had to be today. What if we brought her back the next day? He wisely answered that it would be selfish to wait, that she wouldn’t get any benefit out of another day and she might experience great pain during that time. We would get a few more hours with her, but they would likely be heartbreaking.

Afterwards, I kept thinking of my mother, who has always held on so strongly to pets, refusing to let go. Many of our family’s pets have lived far beyond what seemed fair to them, only kept around for the humans’ benefit. Even as a kid I knew that by holding on, she was not serving the animals’ well-being, only her own. And yet, as I drove hurriedly to make my meeting, sobbing, I understood my mother’s actions more than I ever had. Knowing when to let go isn’t as easy as I’d always made it out to be. I wondered, “What if we’ve made a horrible mistake and she could have been fine?” even though I knew there was no way. The thing about a definitive decision like this is that there’s no turning back. If you decide to wait, you can change your mind and proceed with the letting go. Once you have decided to let go, at least with death, the decision is irreversible.

Because I had DH there to be decisive and compassionate, I was able to put the cat’s needs above mine. If it had only been up to me, I don’t know what I would have done. Would my mother’s influence have emerged, causing me to wait just one more day, and just one more after that, and maybe one more…? Would I have learned from her mistakes and let go at the right time? Is there ever a right time?

How do you know when to let go? Do you think you do a good job of deciding when the right time is? This could apply to death, to relationships, to dreams, to anything.

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19 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Letting Go”

  1. a Says:

    I’m sorry it was time for your cat to go. I’ve been there…only it was a dog, and it was 2 years to the day after my dad died. I was the one who made the call. The vet said that we could do all kinds of testing for a lot of money to find out that the dog had a damaged liver for which we could do nothing…or we could put him to sleep. It seemed like the only correct choice.

    I’m pretty pragmatic, so while it was awful, horrible, rotten when my dad died; I was a little happy for him because he had spent years in pain, and months in pain, embarassment, and despair. The pain was gone. Same with the dog, I guess.

    As far as the other aspects of giving up, I’m not very good at that. I give up relationships when it seems like I’m the only one who’s putting in any effort. But if I’m the one who doesn’t want to be there anymore, I have a hard time withdrawing. Dreams are merely put away, to be resuscitated if possible. I let go of things when I don’t feel sad thinking about them going. That can take some time.

  2. Jules Says:

    So sorry about your cat. I’ve watched two deal with illnesses that, despite how beyond upset I was, ended so they were better off. My parent’s cat (kidney failure) even in obvious pain, was still trying to play with her toys and purr – it amazes me how content she looked, maybe she knew it “was time?” I just wish cats would show illness sooner (perhaps in time to be fixed) but I digress.

    As for relationships and such, I guess sometimes it’s hard to move on and just give up all the time you’ve vested into such. I could say the same for dreams as I’m having a hard time of letting a particular one go right now.

    Death – it’s always sad to a point, but if the person lived a good life and went peacefully, I tend to see it better than a tragic circumstance.

  3. emk808 Says:

    I am notoriously bad at letting go. I would hang onto boyfriends I knew didn’t love me, but I just couldn’t let them go. Even now there’s one ex who I can’t get out of my head because I had no closure to that relationship. But it affects me more with humans than pets…then again, I’ve never had such a close relationship with any pet since I never owned a cat or a dog. (Rats and guinea pigs just don’t love humans the same way, you know?) But anyways, I never know when to let go.


  4. I am so sorry about your cat. The decision of when to help them out of their pain is such a difficult one. I have had many cats over the years, and have had two cats develop cancer and live for a year or so with treatment and good quality of life before declining to the point where we decided to euthanize. Knowing when is so difficult. You will always second guess yourself as to whether they could have had another day of laying in a sunny window and getting kisses, but you are right, it would be somewhat selfish and heartbreaking. You did the most kind and loving thing you could for her today, but I know how devastating it is to say goodbye to such a dear member of the family.

    One of my current cats has had a couple of non-terminal illnesses that have been very very expensive. I raised him from a very sick feral kitten, and he has truly been like my baby. I get sick to my stomach when I think of his eventual death. He is 5 years old, so hopefully he will live a long, long life. I think that having a wonderful, compassionate vet who will help us honestly assess his quality of life will be the only way I will ever be able to make that decision when the time comes.

  5. Kristin Says:

    I am so very sorry your little kitty is gone. I honestly can’t tell you how you know when it’s time to let go. You just have to listen, and see, and be a good person.

  6. Amanda Says:

    I’m sorry about your kitty. We went through a similar thing last year with my very old baby. Although she was very old, her end came somewhat quick and unexpectedly. In the end, she was still happy and herself, albeit and extremely frail and failing version of herself. There is no right time really. You just do the best that you can. You do the best that you can all the time, but when something is truly painful like that, your best is all you have. When we were putting my cat down we had to wait an extra day because of a holiday weekend. So she lived an extra day and I’m glad that she did, and I think she was too. In the end, we did the best we could.

  7. luna Says:

    so sorry about the loss of your sweet kitty. it’s so hard, letting go. we held on to our first dog together probably for too long, because we were looking for there to be no sign of her left and every day she showed us something that just made it impossible to let go. our next dog, well she left us far too soon and we never had to think about it. when it was our old kitty’s time, we just knew. it’s always so hard, all the same.

  8. WiseGuy Says:

    Around the time I was 18-19, I landed in a mess which got messier because I did not pull out at the right time. If I had done so, life would have been a little less complicated. I am far away from those days now, but I can now safely said that I did not really make a good choice about letting go, when there were several milestones where I should have just hit ‘exit’.

    How do I know when to let go? By instinct, some forecasting and a weighing-in of consequences.

    I don’t think I am perfect at it.

    Having answered your question, I just wanted to offer condolence for the passing of your cat.

  9. WiseGuy Says:

    My tenses are all mixed up. Sorry.

  10. Rebecca Says:

    I’m sorry about your cat 😦 I know I would be heartbroken if anything happened to mine.

    I’m bad at letting go. I cling and cling and cling and hope things will change, and they rarely do.

  11. SamIAm Says:

    We made the decision last week to put my 16 year old cat down. Before we were able to make the appointment the next day, she died peacefully in her sleep. Maybe she knew that I had finally made the decision to let her go, so she knew it was okay to move on. No matter how it happens – it’s hard. I’m sorry for your loss.

  12. Ana Says:

    I’m so sorry about your kitty. I don’t even know how to answer this, because I haven’t been in the position recently (and I would say that my past relationships were far enough away that I have significantly changed since then). I consider myself pragmatic on the one hand, but sentimental on another. Oh I’m sure it is difficult and different in every situation.

  13. jill Says:

    Aww I’m so sorry about your cat 😦 *hug*

    I’m terrible at letting go. Absolutely terrible. I still think of things from the past with remorse or guilt or sadness and I feel like I can’t let those things go, even though there is no going back.

    I’ve never had to come to that place with a pet but two of my cats are 14 so it may be soon. I really don’t know how I would react in that situation. If the pet wasn’t eating or drinking I think I could make the decision not to wait – I would want to avoid the animal suffering.

  14. strongblonde Says:

    i could have written this post. we had the same type of experience with miss cleo last month. seriously.

    recently i had to let go of something else i hold so dear: control. yesterday i had to give up my wedding ring to be repaired, we changed car seats and got rid of the buckets, upgraded phones (which resulted in me losing my entire calendar, photos, contacts, etc–even though i was assured i wouldn’t), and today….my hair. i got 8 inches cut off.

    and i am sorry about your kitty.

    today i lost it. i just couldn’t deal with it all. the hair is what pushed me over the edge. i felt it was time to let go. time for a change. in retrospect, i was upset about everything else and wanted to have control over SOMETHING, so i cut my hair. i hated it immediately after. now it is just okay and i know it will grow back. i felt like one of those silly girls on the make over show that cries when her hair gets cut.

    anyway. i let go of control. but only because i was forced to. and then i tried to take it back and only pushed myself more over the edge. 🙂

  15. Ziggy Says:

    Im so sorry about your cat. Earlier this year, I had to make the decision to put down my 8 wk old puppy who i had bought from a breeder online (big mistake looking back, I know) who I hadn’t even met yet; he got really sick the day before he was supposed to be delivered to me. I had him sent to the ER for the weekend and really thought they would figure out what was wrong and all would be well. However, one very expensive weekend later, they still didnt know, and wouldnt know for weeks. I was heartbroken over a pet a I had never even met or played with, but whom I considered my baby already bc of pictures and video and anticipation of him being mine. I had to call the animal hospital several times before I was finally able to give the OK. I cried for days and I think I still feel guilty about, like I should have done more, but I was in a different country and did the best I could from where I was. I can only imagine how you feel after raising this kitty for so many years and nurturing her and just having her there in your lives, Im so sorry…

    ~Ziggy (visiting via weebles wobblog)

  16. Mel Says:

    Oh my G-d, what a chilling, thought-provoking question. With pets, I’ve only had to put down a pet once and it was so traumatic that I’ve simply never had another pet so I would never have to go through a similar moment (and I am so sorry about your cat).

    With people and relationships, I can only think of it in terms of when it’s not a good interaction because I think it has to be up to the person in terms of death. But for me, it has always been because the relationship is giving me more anxiety than the act of ending a relationship would give me.


  17. So sorry about your cat. I think I’m pretty good at letting go – people always say I’m a realist (but I’ve become much more emotional since the whole IF story…) but I haven’t had to test it that often in real life, so I’m not sure. When it comes to dreams, I sometimes think I gave up a few too easily – others I will never let go, even though I pretty much know for sure that they will never become a reality.

  18. coffeegrl Says:

    I’m so sorry about your cat; what a heart-breaking decision to be presented with so suddenly.

    I think I’m usually quite good at letting go. From an early age I learned to deal with death; I had already attended several funerals for loved ones before I was 12 years old. I think I’m generally able to find peace without an undue amount of suffering (although I confess that the thought of losing my parents who are now in their mid-60s really scares me so maybe I’m not as good at letting go as I think I am?). As for relationships, that’s not really a problem either. If I feel that a relationship is toxic in some way, I can’t see the benefit of maintaining it. I’m not sure I always know the best way to end things, but I know when it’s time to let them go.


  19. Because my mom died unexpectedly, I have become a terrible let-goer. I don’t hold on to anything and if there’s even a faint tug at the other end of the rope, I let go. Motherhood has really changed that for me. I still don’t cling, but I’ve found I don’t detach at the first hint of trouble anymore either. I’m glad for the years that I did, though. It made dating a lot easier. 🙂


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