Musashi’s Last Day
Musashi died yesterday.
My eighteen-year-old Burmese had been under the care of a veterinarian, and I had an appointment for a follow-up visit later in the week. Musashi had a hyperactive thyroid, which was causing him to lose weight. We were treating him for that condition, but giving him too large a dose of the medicine could have harmed his kidneys, whose function was already impaired. Musashi seemed to be eating well, and I was giving him as much canned cat food as he could eat. I think he had given up eating the dry food that had always been the staple diet of my three cats, but which was harder to chew. Musashi had longstanding problems with his teeth—his health, and perhaps his life, had once been saved by having several teeth removed—and he was taking antibiotics for another infected tooth. I hoped that Musashi was gaining weight, but it was hard to tell, and his weight gain had only been a quarter of a pound at his last visit to the vet.
My cat had slowed down over the past couple of years. He still could jump onto the couch to climb into my lap, but he could no longer jump up to the powder room vanity to take a drink from the faucet, his favorite way of getting water. Putting a stool in front of the sink had been of no use to him, either because he couldn’t figure out how it could help him reach the faucet or because the necessary effort was beyond him. I had gotten used to lifting him to the counter after meals in response to his meow as he stood at the powder room door. I had attributed the decline of Musashi’s jumping ability to his age, and I had noticed that his hind legs seemed a bit stiff. Because he had been having accidents upstairs, I had placed a second litter box in the powder room, so that he would not have to negotiate the stairs to use the litter box in the basement. Recently, his legs had begun to splay behind him as he ate.
My cats had developed the habit of following me into the kitchen when I first arose in the morning, in anticipation of the can of food I usually gave them. Musashi was always there for breakfast and was seldom the first to walk away from the plate of food, but he had recently become a perpetually late arrival, and I had begun to worry that he would not show up one day. Over the past several days, Musashi had been eating less, looking at the food and walking away after eating little or none of it. I thought this might just be feline finickiness, though I had been buying only the canned food he most enjoyed. His ribs were looking increasingly prominent.
When I went down to the kitchen yesterday morning, Musashi was lying in the downstairs hallway and did not follow the other cats into the kitchen. I took the customary plate of food to the hallway and put it before Musashi, but he didn’t even raise his head as Buddha and Ezekiel ate their share. I was becoming alarmed, as Musashi had never seemed so listless. After the office opened, I called the vet to see if I could bring in Musashi sooner, but the earliest appointment was later today. I worried that I might have to consider euthanasia, a new and unwelcome idea. I was able to get an appointment with another vet, but one only a few hours earlier.
Musashi had been quiet, but he was clearly having difficulties. I wiped his nose several times, which had become necessary in the past few days. His teeth seemed to be giving him trouble, too. He hadn’t had anything to drink, but he wouldn’t open his mouth for me to give him water. I put food and water in two small bowls in front of him. He had moved to the opposite wall of the hallway by this time, but he seemed no more animated.
I tried to go about my business, but I fretted about Musashi. He had positioned himself near the stairs, so I passed him whenever I left my upstairs office to go to the kitchen. I talked to him and patted him on the head when I went by, but he mostly kept still. A couple of times, he whimpered at me. Musashi was a fairly verbal cat, and I was familiar with everything he was used to saying. His whimper was sad and forlorn, unlike anything I had ever heard from him.
Later in the day, I came downstairs and found Musashi lying on top of his bowls. Buddha and Zeke were reaching under Musashi’s head to eat his food, which I thought a shocking display of insensitivity on their part. I moved the bowls, but Musashi had little reaction. The next time I saw him, he had moved back to the other side of the hallway, and I checked carefully to make sure that he was still breathing. I felt powerless to do much else.
A bit later, it occurred to me that I could perhaps make Musashi more comfortable. I put a heating pad, as I sometimes do, under the cover of the cat bed and took it downstairs. Musashi was where I had last seen him, but, this time, he was no longer breathing. The end had come quietly, and I could only hope that it had not been painful. I was relieved not to have to make a deliberate decision to end my pet’s life, but I regretted that I had not been there to talk to him or hold his paw or stroke his head. I don’t know what would have been best for Musashi, though dying at home seemed better than dying in the vet’s office.
In the end, we all die alone.
— LED, 1/4/2005
January 3 was a very difficult day for me, which I said explicitly in my first draft of this essay. Rereading what I wrote, it seemed insensitive to emphasize my distress in light of what Musashi experienced, however serene that appeared to be. (It is difficult enough to imagine the inner world of another human being, much less that of a cat!) I hope the reader can infer my state of mind from the present text, even if I have not gone out of my way to explain it.
I began writing “Musashi’s Last Day” on January 4, although I did not finish it until January 15. (I revised it slightly a few days later.) I began writing from the perspective of the day after Musashi died, and I decided to maintain that perspective. My intent had been to write a eulogy, but the end result was something else.
As an adult, I had never lost a pet, and a major concern the next day was what to do with my cat’s remains. I finally chose cremation, but I decided to end the essay without describing how I selected that option.
Musashi was an inspiration for several poems, most notably “Musashi’s Odyssey.” More information about Musashi and about Buddha and Ezekiel can be found in the commentary on that poem.
— LED, 1/19/2005