Saturday, March 22, 2014

Goodbye, Toby

Saying goodbye to a pet

This has been a rough week.  On Tuesday, we came home from appointments to find our little Toby pretty sick.  It seemed like he might have had a stroke.  We considered taking him to the vet, knowing that there was probably only one (very sad) treatment option available.  The kids were very, very vocally opposed to that one, so we made him comfortable and showered him with love and kisses.  Much to our surprise, he was still alive on Wednesday!  He had a pretty draggy day, but by Wednesday night he perked up a bit.  Thursday was a bad day, but after thinking he wasn't going to survive Tuesday night but here he still was, we decided it was time to go to the vet.  Luke watched the littlies while Neal and I took him, but everyone said goodbye just in case the news wasn't good. We took a few more pictures (the kids decided on Tuesday they wanted to make a scrapbook, so we were taking "goodbye" pictures to remember him by), and left.

Our regular vet thought that with aggressive treatment, he might have a chance - she was sure he was in diabetic ketoacidosis (we didn't know he was diabetic!) but had seen cats in the same shape recover.  She wasn't guaranteeing he would, but she held out hope that it was possible.  If we wanted to try to save him, we would know either way within 24 hours - he wouldn't be healed that quickly, but we would know if recovery was possible.  We decided to give it a try - if only to be able to honestly say to the kids "We did everything we could." We took him to a local vet hospital, where they drew labs and reality hit.

He was really, really bad. The labs showed had so many things wrong with him.  Any one was "bad yet treatable," but the combination just was too much. He  had lost half his body weight - a side effect of hyperthyroidism and diabetes, and was so anemic that dehydration made him look "better" than he was, and he would have needed a blood transfusion just to survive getting fluids. He had an unknown GI problem that needed addressing (based on X-rays it was likely an obstruction).  Finally, he was in liver failure, kidney failure, and diabetic ketosis. (His sugars should have been around 100 and were in the 600s.) It was just too much for one kitty, and there was only one thing left to do.

 And yes, it was hard.

 We stayed with him the entire time - it was so hard, but again, we were able to say "We stayed and saw he didn't suffer." It was really sad, but peaceful.  We kissed him goodbye and pet him as he slipped away.  They let us bring him home - that was the deciding factor.  If we could not have, we would have just brought him home and waited it out.  The kids wanted to bury him here, and I think they really needed that closure.  The vet wrapped him for burial, and we came home.  We had called the kids them that it wasn't looking good, but we didn't tell them the final outcome, choosing to wait until we got home. 

Once we were home, we gathered the bigger kids up, told them Toby had died, and asked if each one if he or she wanted to help bury him.  (Damien was already in bed, so we left him there.  At only three, he really doesn't understand.) They all chose to come out.  Neal had started digging a grave - he went out around dusk on Wednesday when the forecast was for rain overnight, because our fear was Toby would die just as the monsoons started, and we'd be digging in the rain and the dark!  We all took turns holding Toby's body and hugging him goodbye.  Of course the big boys were upset, and we knew Celia would be near hysterics.  Jude's reaction to his turn shocked us.

When we warned them back on Tuesday that the end was near, Jude seemed fine with the idea, even checking in, "Is he dead yet? Can I see him die?"  He was almost excited, in a macabre way.  However, I think once the finality hit him, it hit hard.   For a little boy who never wanted any cat to sit next to him, he stunned us with sobs and screaming "I don't want to let him go."  He finally let Neal put Toby down, and then insisted on helping fill in the grave.  (If we weren't so upset, this whole scene would have been funny, since every time somebody turned to comfort another person, it left Neal saying "I need the light back over here!") Jude cried through the euology Celia wrote "just in case" when we took him to the hospital, and was really subdued until bedtime.

processing grief when a pet dies

On Friday, we opted to follow normal routine, hoping it would distract the kids.  Celia's stomach is her weak spot - when she's anxious and upset, she starts throwing up, and by mid-morning at school, her body couldn't hold on any longer.  Because we were at our Friday hospital appointment, Neal went to get her, gave her the meds the doctors have prescribed for acute issues like this, and settled her on the couch at his office until I got home.  Jude seemed quiet all day, but not too upset.   When we pulled in our driveway, though, he started crying.  I asked what was wrong, and he said "I don't remember where Toby is buried!"  I told him to wait for me to get Damien out of the car, and I'd show him.

a memorial stone
We walked over to Toby's grave, and he looked at it.  We had planned to put a tree stump over it, to keep other animals from digging at it, but between dark, flashlights, and rotting stumps, it didn't work.  We put two tree branches like a cross over it, until we could do something more permanent.  I had promised everyone the night before we would get a garden stone with Toby's name to put there.  Jude asked me how it would get here, and I said I'd order it online.  He decided that we could NOT wait for the "Package Man" to bring one - Toby needed a "rock" right that minute so we would know where he was.  I offered that we could write his name on one of the garden stones, and that suited him.  He went into the garden for a rock, carried it into the house, and used a paint pen to write TOBY on it.  Then he went back out, put it on the grave, and said, "That's better."  He's been checking with us that it's still there, but I think it helped him process.  I feel horrible that Jude is sad, but in a way, I'm happy - because he's expressing an emotion.   He is very rarely emotional, so it's good to see him overtly processing his feelings.

While I'm sorry for all of them to feel this loss, I feel so badly for Luke - while Toby was everyone's cat, Luke named him.  The farmer who gave them to us wouldn't separate them because they were littermates, so they were named after Toby the Tram Engine and his coach, Henrietta. (from Thomas & Friends).  Luke is almost sixteen, and he was barely four when Neal brought them home.   Placid even at six weeks old, Henrietta sat on the seat in the truck, while curious and wild Toby rode home seated on Neal's shoulder.

Dying is part of living, I know.  Grieving as an adult is difficult, but it's so hard to watch kids grapple with these new feelings.  Sometimes, being the grown up is no fun.  We just keep reminding them it's ok to cry because they miss him, but he isn't sick anymore and Toby isn't mad - he knows how much we loved him, right up to the end.

Toby was a great cat, a great friend, greatly loved, and greatly missed. 

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  1. Oh, Meg. I'm so, so sorry. We lost one of our cats last year, and it was just terrible. I really am sorry for your loss, and I love all these great pictures of Toby. You can tell he was a special soul.

  2. I'm so sorry. We had to have the cat I grew up with put to sleep when I was in college, and it was very bad. Since then, there have been two other pets that went that way in my adult years, and it's never easy.
    I hope everyone can ease through the grieving process this week and settle into a "new normal."

  3. Oh, Meg, I am crying after reading your beautiful post. What a gift Toby was to your family. Seeing your husband cradling him in the doctor's office brought back memories. My childhood cat, who was such a joy like Toby, was very ill and that was our only choice, as well. I was married at the time and my husband and I cradled him along with my parents. I no longer lived with him (he was too old to move with me once I got married), but still loved him dearly. Even though we weren't children, we still had a little burial. It just brings closure, I guess.

    I will pray for you and your sweet children as your grieve. I know St. Francis is now cuddling Toby. :-) God bless, Lisa


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