The Last FDM

So I think everyone in the house is able to make it a few hours at a time now without crying.

On Thursday I was nauseous and desperate for a night of sleep to help blur the stark, raw images of her euthanizing. It’s been a few nights’ sleep and it’s a little better, but still achy and new.

One of Topaz’s favorite things was to bring you her “prey.” Of course, she was an indoor cat her whole life and I don’t think she ever got within 15 feet of anything larger than an insect unless it was on the other side of a window. But to her meet her obligation to take care of us, crappy hunters as we were, she routinely brought us her conquests.

Many, many years ago we bought a package of fabric mice – fuzzy black things with pink yarn tails. These were her favorite toys ever. No later acquisition ever made her as happy, and so we kept them despite their age and rattiness (no pun intended) because we couldn’t bear to take them from her.

But, when the FDMs (fake dead mice) couldn’t be found, she’d make do with any lightweight, fuzzy thing. For instance, any one of a set of felt rocks I bought at an art fair year before last.

Pictures are hard right now. I had this when my dad died too, and I didn’t really think about why at the time, but I’ve dialed it in now.

What a picture is changes after you lose someone. While they’re alive, a picture is a bridge – a placeholder. It’s seeing them until you see them again, whether that’s a few moments or a few years away. A picture is the in between until next time.

After they’re gone, that is not what a picture is any longer. It isn’t a bridge, on an in-between because there is no next time. It is an avatar. It is the only way you can see them now. And when you’re coping with the seemingly endless ways in which reality has changed, that is just one more thing that is different. And I realize that it’s a bit of protective mechanism for me push dealing with that particular reality shift off for a bit.

We’re all stumbling through un-writing the world-with-Topaz. Seventeen years is a long time for anything, and the habits that we developed to keep our cats safe and sound are pretty deeply embedded. It will take some time to un-think them. The lump under the covers is not Topaz, and that tiny stab when we remember that it can’t be Topaz, and will never again be Topaz, will sting for a while. The rush to shut an open door is no longer necessary, and the motion we see from the corner of our eyes, or the unexpected sound will never be her again. And only four days without her is not long enough to suppress those reflexes.

Also painful is the sense of erasing her. We no longer need her food bowls, or her litter box. And putting those things away feels like we are erasing her from our home. It is not logical, but it is how it feels. I noted that perhaps this is a good reason to have more than one pet at a time. We not only lost Topaz, but we lost the only pet we had and the way that makes the house feels empty is disproportional to her diminutive size. Aidan noted that while that was true, the pet left can pine, which is something to think about. That being said, I’m pretty sure that the night we took Nimbus to his new home Topaz cracked open a bottle of champagne.

And so we come to the last FDM, which wasn’t an M at all but one of the aforementioned felt rocks. Two weeks ago while I was tidying the upstairs bathroom I heard the tell-tale muffled meow and behind me was Topaz, proudly presenting me with her prize – a blue felt rock. As part of this ritual was telling her that she was the best hunter of fake dead mice in the universe since she wouldn’t be satisfied that we properly appreciated her until she received her praise, I showered her with compliments and stroked her head.

And then I realized that she hadn’t brought me an FDM for some time. The picture above was from February, which meant it had been six weeks since she’d “hunted” for us – and that was a bizarrely long time. And I realized, rightly as it turned out, that it might be the last time she dropped anything at my feet, satisfied that she was fulfilling her catly duty of hunting for us to make sure we didn’t starve. So, I tearfully snapped a shot of it so we’d always remember.

Despite the challenge with photographs, spotting the one of her with the rock above has helped me. One of my deepest pain points after letting her go was the desperate fear that we acted too soon. Not for me, not because I wasn’t ready to let her go yet. But because I feel deeply my obligation to do right by her – that we agreed to care for and love her, and always make the best decision for her that we could. And the fear that she had good, happy days left that we stole was wrecking me. Had I seen any sign of acute pain, the decision would have been easy, but I never did. Yet she didn’t have an illness we could treat – she had progressive, terminal cancer. Every day the tumor was going to grow and potentially metastasize. But still the worry that we were making the decision before she was really ready was profound. Cats can’t tell you how they feel. I knew she wasn’t in desperate pain but I could tell she was uncomfortable…but I also knew that she still had days where she seemed rested and was happy to see food in her bowl. So had it really been the right time?

Then I saw that photo and compared the Topaz we let go to that one in the picture. In only two months, the tumor had displaced her right eye, and I’m sure she was blind on that side. Her jaw was becoming misshapen and while it didn’t seem like it hurt her, eating was harder and harder. She’d lost weight, where she was tiny to begin with. And I realized that while in my head she is still barely more than a kitten, in truth she was very old, and was becoming very sick. Seeing how much the cancer had affected her in only two months confirmed that a bad event could have been days -if not hours – away. And that sparing her living through anything painful or frightening was more compassionate, more loving, than holding on for the possibility of a few more good days.

The blue felt rock is still in the bedroom – it’s in an odd place but Michael and I have decided that that’s just where it lives now. And somewhere in the house are two more from the set of five that she’s hidden. One day we’ll move a piece of furniture or a cushion and find them. And we’ll cry, and remember how silly she was with her FDMs, and be grateful to the universe for letting us be hers for such a very long time.

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