I am laying on a beach.
It’s not a particularly nice beach. It’s got sand, and water, but that’s about it. It’s lonely; no birds are circling around. It’s cold; there’s a breeze coming off the water, and it’s a little chilly.
I am laying on a beach, on my towel, where the waves can reach me. They come rhythmically, but with a timing I cannot predict. Some are gentle, swirling up underneath my back. Others are forceful, crashing over me with a violence I am not prepared for.
I could move, if I wanted to. All I have to do is stand up, pick up my towel, and move back to where the waves cannot reach me. But I just feel… heavy. Tired. Sad.
The tide comes in. I am swallowed by the sea. The waves continue to pound overhead. I should really move. I finally stand up, and make for dry land. The waves pummel me as I strive for solid footing. Every step is treacherous. Why did I stay here? I don’t want to drown. I want to breathe.
I make it to dry land. The waves continue to break upon the beach behind me. I towel off, and go down the boardwalk. Check out some shops. Grab a bite to eat. Wow, this is a really good donut.
Then suddenly, as I’m enjoying this little round delicious sugar bomb, I feel guilt. How could I possibly be enjoying this moment when there are waves I need to feel on the beach? I throw the donut down, run back to the shore, and dive headlong into the oncoming crest.
It smashes me flat. But somehow, that feels right. I don’t enjoy it, but this is where I belong.
At 2:45pm on Thursday, June 8th, 2023, my wife and I put our beloved cat Pixel to sleep. He was one week shy of his 5th birthday.
We took Pixel to the vet on the 1st, and discovered that he had bladder stones, 2 of which had caused a blockage. We were going to try and bring him home on the 4th, but he got blocked up again early that morning. He had an emergency cystotomy on the 5th, and we were able to bring him home the evening of the 6th. He had a somewhat normal day on the 7th, just wandering around the house and trying to be as much of his normal self as he could. I spent the 6th and 7th sleeping in the office with him in my sleeping bag, so that he didn’t have to worry about being alone as he healed.
On the 8th, we realized Pixel hadn’t eaten or drank anything since early that morning, and he was extremely lethargic and didn’t want to wake up from naps. We took him back to the vet, and discovered that he now had 6 or 7 stones causing another blockage. We made the decision to forego another rough and potentially complicated surgery, and let him rest.
Pixel knew it was time, I think. At home, he’d pawed at my lap for attention and basked in some belly rubs before stealing my office chair and drifting into his deep slumber. At the vet, he crawled straight into my lap after his x-ray, and stayed there until he took his last breath.
Pixel was an amazing cat. He was an orphan, off by himself when we saw him, and we knew we had to bring him home with us. He melted the cold heart of our eldest cat, Bearcat, and was the bridge between him and our 3rd cat, Beau, when he joined our family. He was mischievous, always diving into open closets or attempting “freedom runs” onto the patio when we slid the door open. It took a long time for him to enjoy and seek out cuddles from us, but once he did, he’d share every bit of his warmth with your lap. If you ever met Pixel, there’s no doubt that he flopped down in front of you demanding you pet his belly. Pixel taught all of us how to love everyone unconditionally (but still hiss at a motherfucker who needed to be hissed at [this was usually Beau]).
My final happy memory of Pixel is maybe one of my favorites of him ever. He was laying on the couch sleeping, and our daughter V (who is 15 months old) was sitting next to him. She reached over and gave him a few pets on his side. I said to her “V, can you give Pixel a big hug?” and with no hesitation she went face-first into his belly, giggling and hugging him tight. It was so precious, so perfect, and I couldn’t ask for a better lasting memory that I’ll cherish forever.
I have never felt grief like what I experienced Thursday, or what I’ve been struggling with ever since. Not when my mom passed, not when my dad was going through a bunch of severe medical stuff, not when my childhood dog died… they all sucked, and I felt sadness, but Pixel passing just ruined me.
I did a speed run of the grief stages Thursday at the vet, and then have been going through them again slowly over the last few days. Denial that this was as serious as it was. Anger at the vet for not getting all the stones during the surgery. Bargaining for just one more day, one more meow, one more belly rub. Depression about… well, everything.
They say that grief comes in waves. I’ll probably get better throughout the week, and then I’ll see the notification of Pixel’s birthday this coming Thursday and get sad again. Or I’ll hang a photo I have of him. Or I’ll go to close a closet door and instinctively check to see if he jumped in. Or I’ll fire up Zelda and find my horse Snowball (what I was adamant about naming him before we settled on the name Pixel [also, fun fact, his original name was Ralph]).
I’ve found myself feeling a lot like the guy on the beach these past few days. Friday I went to Target, trying to go about life. I had a podcast on that made me laugh. I was, in that moment, happy. And then I was like “oh shit, how can you be happy, your cat just died” and I went spiraling downwards.
I know that’s not what Pixel would’ve wanted for me, or for us. Pixel was a beacon of joy. He was there when we were sad, or mad, or sick, or busy, or tired, and he gave every ounce of his energy to bring us back to level. He made me laugh with his antics constantly. All he ever wanted was to share his joy with everyone he encountered. We were so lucky to have him with us for 1,744 days, and I’ll cherish those memories of him forever.
Am I ok? Hell no. Shit sucks, I’m sad, and I’m gonna be sad for a while. But I also know that I don’t have to punish myself for moments when I don’t feel sad by diving headlong into the grief. We just have to handle the waves as they come, and not stand on the shore waiting for the tide to come in. As the Dr. Seuss line says, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Pixel brought me joy every day; the best way to honor his memory is to continue to live joyously.
Farewell, little buddy. You’ll always be my first kitten. You were the best cat. I love you so much.