Goodbye to All That Cat

I don’t know where to begin so I am going to try to just start anywhere. I am terribly sad to say that Schwartz died unexpectedly Sunday; so there you have it.

It was absolutely unexpected. He had been perfectly healthy his entire life and I was counting on him to help me with Eggi’s whelping at the end of the month. I don’t even know how to write this. I tell so many Schwartz stories how can this be the last? I take so many pictures of him, in this post I am only posting the most recent, from the beginning of May onward. Take? Took. Sigh. Took.

I want to say Schwartz is a particular cat, which is to say Schwartz was a particular cat. But this is ridiculous. He was a cat, and all cats are particular. I am still convincing myself that he is no longer here. He was here a minute ago. The doors to our closets are still carefully closed, to keep him from going in and peeing on our exercise clothes (dirty or clean). Just now, I shut the backdoor when I went out with the dogs, because I didn’t want to let the cat out. The abstract cat, I guess. Last night we left the door to our bathroom ajar, in case he wanted in or out. I did pilates virtually, and left the door open for him. He never misses a session. Misses? Missed.

I continue to see him out of the corner of my eye, in the kitchen, on the stairs, in my husband’s office, on the pile of finished projects in the sewing room; there he is, the Void, lurking just beyond what you’re looking at. I almost fed him this morning. You want me to call him? He’s around here somewhere.

Schwartz noisily announced meal times and liked in recent months to have a little parade for breakfast and dinner and had been asking for his food to be put down here or there rather than in the one spot by his big big water dish as he had in years past. Having three dogs meant Schwartz always had to have his dinner and breakfast when they were locked in their kennels having theirs. He was always a good eater, though anything he left in his bowl the dogs would find immediately upon release from their kennels, the hungriest dog title going to either Captain or Eggi (Fellow is more a food stealer of opportunity than a premeditated taker of cat kibble).

So if Schwartz was eating less it would have been hard to detect in the hubbub of dogs cleaning up whatever he left on his plate.

I had noticed in the last few weeks or so that he was starting to lose weight, and maybe not getting around quite as well; but he was, after all, 16. 

Among his particular feelings, Schwartz despised being put in a crate, going for car rides, and especially being taken to the vet, so we were a bit behind on ordinary wellness checks and vaccinations. (There are at least four other stories about Schwartz going to the vet: here, here, here, and here). He was an indoor cat, though, and seemed to be not especially at risk of contracting something.

He loved sitting at the human dinner table and having his share of roast chicken, lamb, eggs, pork chops, steak, bacon, pepperoni or sushi. He liked to be brushed until he didn’t. He consented to being picked up and carried, but would rather not. I recall that in Seattle he was a lap-sitter, but somewhere along the way he stopped asking, preferring to curl up near a person working on a computer. He was very good over the years at being well. And was never sick, not with anything, ever. He had an entanglement with a sculpture which almost killed him and pulled out a nail panicking over being in a crate, but that was the extent of his medical history. And the nail grew back after about five years.

He liked to try to run outside whenever we stood on the front porch to watch a thunderstorm. He loved sprawling on my sewing table. He liked to bite the dogs on their shoulders and hocks. He liked sleeping on the dog beds when they left one empty, and sometimes peed on a dog bed because he was a cat. He liked cat nip. And sun puddles. He posed for pictures, including Christmas shots with the dogs under the tree, and helped me write a children’s story. He liked drinking water from the far side of a large ceramic bowl. He slept next to the Bacon Provider, and took up half the bed when my husband was on business trips.

He seemed eternal.

Like the void itself.

Like the one character, Úrsula Iguarán, in One Hundred Years of Solitude that you forget about and then when she’s still there again and she’s like really, really old but you’re like, oh, yeah, her she never died, did she? Our oldest housepet.

Last week, I realized Schwartz missed a day of pooping. I cleaned his litter boxes daily (yes, two, side by side, because cats have very particular needs and that was what worked for him) and there hadn’t been a poop in a bit. This wasn’t he first time we missed a poop, because, of course, on occasion when he couldn’t be bothered to go IN the litterbox he would go BY the litterbox, and the dogs, having a keen taste for cat food also have a keen taste for cat excrement.  But anyway, not pooping. And when I thought about it, maybe asking for breakfast and not digging into it. So, I got him a vet appointment, but seeing how it was going to be some ground to cover (him not having been seen by a vet in so long), I thought I would wait for a good time slot with my vet.

As you know, I’ve seen a lot of vets lately.

There was nothing until Thursday (today), which I felt would be fine. I was offered something sooner with another vet and I did not take it. While I was scheduling I made an appointment for Captain to have a checkup; he’s turning 14 this month, and has a quiet, persistent cough that has resisted all our attempts to treat it so far. A worrisome thing, but not as worrisome as the cat.

Saturday, Schwartz did not even go through the motions of asking for breakfast and then not eating it. It occurred to me then that it may not have been a picky cat thing of wanting something different and that he was sick. He napped the whole day. I checked on him. He seemed relaxed and peaceful, and not uncomfortable. Sunday morning I found him in an odd corner of the laundry room, and he complained at my harshly. He was in real pain. I realized my error and got ready to rush him to the emergency room.

I stuffed Schwartz into a kennel without any protest, another sign that he was in distress. 

At the emergency vet hospital they did an ultrasound, found some masses in his abdomen. The ER vet suggested he was pale and needed a blood transfusion and hospitalization. She estimated the cost for me around $4,000-$5,000. I thought about what he would want, what was reasonable, and what was realistic. I asked if they could stabilize him and let him come home. The ER vet countered with wanting to do bloodwork and a chest x-ray; I thought that sounded like a good plan. Maybe then he could come home.

I went home to wait for the vet’s call, and the call came quickly. All Schwartz’s blood values were critical; he was headed for septic shock. The ER vet again suggested he could have a transfusion and be hospitalized, and have a diagnostic ultrasound Monday morning.

I said it sounded like it was time to let him go. I asked them to wait so we could come and say goodbye. I woke my youngest child, who wasn’t up yet, and so did not even know the cat was sick.

The receptionist looked as stricken as we felt, and showed us to a room. My youngest (who is 24) had never been to the vet before, and I blabbed at him about how in veterinary medicine you get estimates, alone with a diagnosis and care plan. I thought about other times I’d been at this vet hospital. I’d been lectured by a young vet in this very room about ear infections in dogs when I’d been dealing with them for a decade and knew as much as he did. 

A tech brought Schwartz in, bundled in blankets, with an IV port in a hidden leg. We put him on the table and loved on him a while, and then I told the stricken receptionist that we were ready. The vet come soon enough armed with a handful of syringes which she laid on the table. She explained what each contained. That it would be painless. She asked if we had any questions. 

In life, Schwartz was demanding and sometimes loud and uncompromising. He died with his eyes open, after suffering with secret cancer for weeks or months, and hidden it.

We are all smarting from the loss of him. I had tweeted that I was at the ER vet and that the news was bad and have been so overwhelmed with the kind, sad replies that I haven’t been able to bring myself to post the news anyplace else.

I keep seeing him here in the house. His litterboxes are still set up. I have several bags of his favorite food in the pantry because I didn’t want to run out in the pandemic supply chain interruptions. Every place he liked to sleep in the house (the top bunk in the guest room bunkbed upstairs, the windowsill in my bedroom, my grandmother’s green chair in the living room) still has the matted layer of cat hair. Eggi and Fellow still look for his food dishes, but Captain seems to know it’s not worth the trouble. He alone remembers that there can be pets here one day and gone the next. 

5 thoughts on “Goodbye to All That Cat”

  1. 💔💔😢😢 It is so very hard to lose them even if you have a lot of advance warning – even harder when you don’t. Condolences to all the Berkes. He sounds like an exceptional cat and character.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I missed your tweet about the ER vet and his passing but I read your post when I got an email notification. All the heartbreaks I’ve had before and all the ones yet to come were wrapped up in this essay. I’m so sorry. I’m glad you were able to document and share so much of his life with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh.,Maggie! I am so very sorry. What a beautiful tribute you have written for your beloved Schwartz. Each word contains such love and is replete with so much meaning. Taken as a whole, it is so beautifully and poignantly written expressing so much love and conveying so clearly how much Schwartz was loved and how every little nuance about him was treasured. Your exquisite photographs also convey all of this and more. Your final photograph nearly broke my heart as I’m sure it did yours. Sending you all the sympathy and compassion the Void left in your heart can hold. From my heart to yours . .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a very fine cat Schwartz was. I have followed his antics with delight and understand all too well the desolation you must feel.

    Like

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