I’m not writing about literacy today. I’m writing about BJ the cat, the subject of my first children’s book, “How BJ Diana Came to Live at the Z House.” It’s been a few weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to write this tribute until now.
The eighth grader who lived down the street found the tiny black kitten in the fields by the high school 22 years ago. She brought the cat to her mother’s home and named the little cat, Bonnie Jean ─ Marilyn Monroe’s real name. They called her BJ.
I knew none of this until I met the cat. There’s quite a story ─ covered in the book that I hope you will read. But today is about the end of her life — the last three days of her life.
She had been slowing down for months. Her kidney disease had been progressing. There were months of supplementing her diet with baby food to quell the vomiting. And for months, a ravenous appetite, as if she couldn’t pull enough sustenance out of her food. And so much water drinking ─ from bowls placed strategically throughout the townhouse: third floor bathroom, next to her food bowl, and by the front door. She especially liked to lap warm water from the shower stall floor after I ran the hot water for her.
Now she wasn’t interested in eating. The doctor told me this was a sign to look for. She started napping behind the curtains in my bedroom. And tucking herself against the wall in the corner of the bedroom.
Following one especially long stint of sitting on my stomach and gazing intently at me one night while I watched television in bed, she folded her small body under the crook of my left arm and didn’t move all night. She was warm–but not a comfortable warm. And she was moving slowly when she woke.
That was the day I noticed she was not vocalizing. She was moving back and forth between two new spots I never saw her in before ─the back of my bedroom closet behind the laundry hamper, and next to a metal file cabinet in the back of the closet in my son’s old bedroom.
It was night time when I searched for her and opened the door to my son’s closet. She answered a quiet soft sound to tell me she was there. But she wasn’t coming out.
We never had a family pet die naturally. Euthanasia seemed the better way to help our pets when their diseases took hold. But I planned to let BJ go naturally. I had been coming home from work at the end of each day wondering if she would be alive or dead.
In a consult with the veterinarian, he advised me to rethink the plan. When the kidneys stop working, she’s going to feel nauseous, he said. And this is painful. She’s already retreating; this is the herd reaction, to protect herself. You probably have only a week, he said. Don’t let it go too long.
I thought we would have more time. I thought we would have a full week.
But she spent two nights in the closets. It was two nights since she left her place next to me, where she had slept for so many years. She was telling me it was time. She quietly, so quietly, made the most awful decision for me. I had to agree.
She was 5 lbs. the last time we went to the doctor weeks earlier to have her sharp nails trimmed. She was down then more than 1 lb. from two months earlier. And after her nights in the closet, not eating, she must have been down more. She felt light and limp.
The last night she’s tucked into the closet in my son’s old room. For a moment I wonder why she doesn’t want to be near me but I know this is not about me. This is about taking control of her waning life according to cat rules, herd rules.
There’s no complaining, no loud crying which she has done for so many months earlier, unwilling or unable to sleep well at night ─ impelled to hunt fur mousies–carrying them around the house, crying plaintively and yowling at them and at her aging predicament perhaps. Then, you would have thought we lived with lions.
She lost her hearing two years ago. I could yell her name behind her head and she would not turn around. So I knew it was quiet inside her head.
This last night, I kneel by the closet where she’s resting. Slide open the door enough to see her and confess to her that my heart is broken. I don’t want her to be old and sick. She’s awake and listening. I share the plan with her. In the morning Noah’s coming over and we’ll give you a sedative – a pill crushed into honey – and press it along the inside of your mouth a couple of hours before we drive to the doctor’s. I don’t want it to be too dark for you tonight ─or for me ─ so I’m putting the light on in the hall so you can find your way if you want to move around. I’m putting a little bowl with baby food and water outside the closet if you get hungry. Then I apologize for crying because I don’t want to scare her. And ask if there’s anything I can do to help her. She doesn’t answer. So I tell her I love her and will come check on her during the night, which I do every hour.
The pillow she always sleeps on next to me is empty. This is the Tony Little pillow with the microballs in it that I purchased from the Home Shopping Channel because my neck was hurting so much. After I purchased the pillow ─ that really helped my neck by the way ─ BJ immediately started sleeping on it. So I gave it to her and purchased another for myself. For years, her Tony Little pillow has sat next to mine on the bed.
While she rests in the closet that night I tuck her pillow into the cat carrier so she will be comfortable on the last trip. While we wait, I write some words to try to remember this night.
The diminishing cat at 22 is readying herself to pass
She cannot keep up with the herd running inside her
She is safer behind the laundry basket in the closet
I cannot help her through this waning she tells me
It is best to be still she tells me quietly
At dawn we press the honey sedative against her gum and she is calm, so calm. After a while we drive to the veterinarians.
It is 8 a.m. when the assistant ushers us into the examining room. Usually the cat would be straining to get out of her carrier. She is so still now. Her favorite veterinarian, the woman, is with us today. I gave her the BJ picture book for her children years ago, so she knows her early story.
There’s the next sedative shot – and the cat doesn’t stir really. We have already slid the Tony Little pillow, with her nestled into it, out of the carrier and she is exposed on the examining table. Black fur on a stark white pillow.
The doctor kindly assures us BJ isn’t feeling anything as the little electric razor shaves away fur on one paw where the IV will be attached for the final dose.
I take the little piece of fur to add to the fur pieces saved from other pets – Mister Boogie, Dolly and Pepper.
Then in goes the final fluid to take her away from us.
The doctor asks what we want to do with her body. We want her ashes.
Then she asks about the pillow─ do we want the pillow to take home? We decide to keep the pillow with her body.
The doctor lifts the Tony Little pillow with little BJ gone now, and leaves the examining room as I wonder where her precious cat spirit has gone.
We leave with the empty carrier case, knowing it was time because the cat told us it was time.
To our beloved little BJ: We learned many important lessons from living with you for 22 years. Especially, if you don’t like the home you’re living in or the situation you’re in, get out and find something better. And when your vulnerable time comes and you can’t keep up with the herd, find a safe place and wait for those who love you to help you. You will always live safely and with great love at the Z house.
Paperback – July 19, 2012
How many homes does a cat need? A bold black cat sets her sights on moving into the Z house, where Mom Z and her son, Noah live. Mysteries unfold as the Z family tries to get to the bottom of the young cat’s puzzling behavior.