Hunca Munca
June 13, 2011

Obviously, we were never going to be "ready" for it, but at least we had planned for it. After Hunca Munca's appetite failed more and more, our vet counseled us to really think about letting go for good. By Friday, I had already contacted a few vets who make house calls for this sort of thing, which was a nightmare in and of itself, which left us figuring out when. Hm, let's think about that, what day did we want Hunca Munca to die?

We had to schedule our cat's death. We had to examine a calendar and say stuff like, "Well, you won't be here in two weeks, so it should be next week, right?" and "We can't do it on Wednesday because that's [Bug]'s birthday. But you have that conference on Monday, so I guess...Tuesday?"

It was supposed to be Tuesday. We were supposed to have the weekend with him. The vet was supposed to come to us at 8 PM. We were supposed to have Hunc cuddled in a blanket, safe and warm, and after the vet took him away for the last time, we were supposed to toast Hunc with a special bottle of wine. Maybe we would have even had candles.

It wasn't supposed to be so soon. It wasn't supposed to be now.

Saturday night, I got a bowl of popcorn and a fuzzy blanket for my lap, and I had The Karate Kid playing on TV. My plan was to cuddle with Hunca Munca for a few hours on the couch before we went to bed. When I went to get him from his little nest in Dr. Mathra's messenger bag, I found that one side of him was all wet. He had lost bladder control.

It was after 11, but I emailed my vet to ask her advice. Was this a big deal? Could we wait until Tuesday as scheduled, or was he suffering? Within ten minutes, bless her, Dr. Boltz's response was, "I think you should consider taking him in now to [the pet hospital]." After all our visits and conversations over the past two months, I knew that what Dr. Boltz really meant was, "You need to take him in right now." And that meant no special wine, no house call, no cozy blanket. It also meant that one of us had to do it alone. And without Dr. Boltz who had been an enduring source of wisdom, comfort, and support throughout all of this.

We thought about waking up Bug and bringing him with us but when we heard that the hospital had an unusual number of emergencies that night and was predicting a two-hour wait, we ditched that idea. It would have been hard, anyway. It's not like he would have known what was going on or been scarred by the experience, but he would have been loud and cranky and that would have stressed out Hunc. It would have meant we were distracted by a rampaging, half-slept toddler instead of focussing on our black-and-white baby. Our first boy.

Finally, I told Dr. Mathra that I wanted to be the one to do it. I needed to be the one to do it. I had given him all his meds and taken him to his vet visits during his decline. As hard and awful as I knew it was going to be, I wanted him to know that I was still there with him at the very end. As much as he wanted to shoulder some of the burden and also be with Hunc in the very end, Dr. Mathra let me do it alone.

I pulled the car around to the front while he said his goodbyes to Hunc and tucked him into his carrier along with one of his recently-worn shirts. On the way to the vet, I put "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" from The Aristocats on repeat. Every other time I took Hunc to the vet, his carrier was seat belted in the back. On this night, his carrier was in the passenger seat and open just enough so I could keep my hand buried in his fur the whole ride.

There was a wait at the vet, but they put me in a special sitting room away from everyone else. Clearly, this is the dying room. It smelled suffocatingly of pee. Hunc wasn't comfortable out of his carrier, so I sat on the floor next to the carrier and dug my fingers into his furry thickness as he purred and rested his chin on my hand.

The vet came in with his tech and explained what would happen as well as what could happen: convulsions, peeing, pooping, crying out. We all sat on the floor around Hunc, who had to be scruffed and restrained because he was going to fight that back leg needle. I huddled over his face and kept petting and shushing him and telling him it was all going to be okay. Of course, I was sobbing the whole time, which sort of undermined the whole "going to be okay" part.

The stuff in the syringe was blueish green. Just the night before, I was finally watching the Chuck finale on Hulu and scoffing aloud -- as they injected a super special serum into super special spy Sarah -- that only super special serums are that weird, un-medical color of blue-green. Color me corrected.

Hunc did fight the needle initially and then didn't. Then he reared his head up and his tongue poked out a little from his mouth. I kept stroking his face and telling him to calm down. I didn't realize he was dead. It was fast. Much faster, it seemed, than the way it went with Mica. "Is...that it?" I asked the vet, "Is he already gone?" The vet methodically checked his eyes and heartbeat. Yes, he was gone.

I gently laid his limp head back on the floor and kissed the top of it, smearing him with snot and tears. His fur was still as soft and lustrous as it had ever been. The cancer never managed to dull or mat it. I whispered to Hunc that he was the sweetest cat we ever had and that we loved him. So much. I picked up the emptier than empty carrier and then I stepped over him and left.

Even as I did it, I couldn't believe I was stepping over my cat's body. When he was alive, I never would have stepped over him, because he would have gotten up and placed himself it the exact spot that would cause me to stumble. Then he would innocently look up at me (with that same deer-caught-in-headlights look that he used when he was chewing paper or pulling books off shelves) as if to say, "Well, why did you think you could step over me? I tripped you, so now you have to pet me."

In the car, I jammed down the four driver-side buttons to get all the windows open as quickly as possible. It was 45, but I needed to force out that suffocating, urine-stained room. My head was throbbing and I bawled hard. The 1 AM chill ripped my keening from my throat and squeezed my lungs out.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

I know this post calls for a hackneyed ending where I wisely conclude that you can't schedule death, you can't control death, death has its own timetable...all that pap. Choose your own ending; I have nothing deep or philosophical to add.

It just wasn't supposed to happen this way.

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