There’s Nothing Harder

One of the most heart-wrenching moments in the film Terms of Endearment is when Aurora Greenway is sitting by her daughter Emma’s hospital bed.  Emma’s husband, Flap, has fallen asleep.  She turns to look at her mother, and as Aurora gazes back, Emma raises her hand to her face, biting her fingers, and gradually, gracefully, her hand drops as her eyes glaze over.

Aurora, immobilized with shock, turns her head away as a nurse enters the room and awakens Flap to tell him, “She’s gone.”  The news jolts him awake and he stands up as Aurora goes to her daughter’s side.  She clings to him, staring in disbelief at the bed.

“Oh, God–I’m so stupid–so stupid! Somehow I thought–somehow I thought when she finally went–that it would be a relief!” Leaning over her daughter, she kisses her for the last time.  “Oh–my sweet little darling! There’s nothing harder!”

This morning my cat crawled to the back door to look at the trees and birds.  He had never wanted to go outdoors; we have a porch where he liked to sit in the sun and commune with a feral cat friend of his.  But today, when I found him, he was lying next to a puddle of his urine, almost unable to move.  I washed him and dried him, and carried him to my room.  The vet had given me a bottle of Tramadol to ease his pain, but I knew by now there was nothing left to help him.  All the expensive, useless drugs I had stuffed down his throat, rubbed in his ears and injected him with had done nothing but make him hate me.  I wrapped him in a soft towel and laid him on my bed in the same spot where I had put him ten years ago, the day we adopted him.  For awhile he lay breathing quietly, and then he struggled to stand up, wanting to jump from my bed to the window, something he had done a thousand times.  He was too weak to make the leap.  I picked him up from the floor and set him in the window.  I was sure then that he was preparing himself for the inevitable.  He watched the birds and looked at the damp green spring world.  He lay there breathing the sweet rain-cooled air before he got up to try unsuccessfully to jump back to my bed; again, I picked him up from the floor.  The sad, confused look in his eyes broke my heart.

I settled him down, gave him some more Tramadol, and he seemed almost asleep.  My ex-husband, who had a lecture scheduled in a town near the border, came in to check on him. For the first time in weeks, our kitty yowled.  “Bowr…Bowr…” he cried, his name for my ex.  He laid his palm on the kitty’s little head, said goodbye to him, and escaped, leaving us alone.  The moment he heard the door slam and the key turn in the lock, all the hope went out of his eyes.  The person he loved most had walked away and left him with me, whom he no longer loved at all.

I had read about the signs of death in cats.  They have seizures, drool, arch their backs in a hideous way–all which he did for the next fifteen minutes.  I held him in my arms while he alternately stiffened and relaxed, groaning.  I wet his mouth with drops of water, and that seemed to calm him.  Then he began to pant and I knew the end was near.  His eyes were wide open and his ears were still alert, still listening, still perhaps hoping to the end that my ex would come back to see him.  Even though I kept whispering, “It’s okay…it’s okay,” he knew I was lying.  It wasn’t okay.  It would never be okay again.

I took him in my arms, holding him over my shoulder to help him breathe.  I clung to his warm, trembling little body, ravaged to skin and bones by the cancer that had taken his strength and his life away.  With one final gasp, gradually, gracefully he went limp, his head dropping to my shoulder, and I knew he was gone.  Just like Terms of Endearment, I had thought his death would be a relief because his suffering would be over.  But the expression on his face showed the intense fight he had battled with death.  All his life he had kept in shape.  For an indoor cat, he was in Olympic condition.  He used to do calisthenics every morning before breakfast.  No doubt it was the strength of his heart, the only muscle in his body that hadn’t weakened, that kept him going so long.  He fought as hard as he could, but it was no use.

I leaned over him as I laid him down again, feeling for his breath, his heartbeat, but he had already begun to stiffen.  His eyes remained open.  I stroked his velvet ears, their peaks alert to the end.  Burying my face in his soft fur, I wept and fell to my knees, pounding the floor, unable to believe yet that he was gone.

Through my tears, I had noted the time.  He died at 2:14 PM.

The towel on which he had died was damp and smelled of death.  He deserved a better shroud, something he loved.  I had a silk blouse he used to sleep on in warm weather.  I wrapped him in it, covering all of him but one ear.  I wanted to be able before we buried him to touch that soft little part of him, remembering how much he loved how it felt when we scratched him behind his ears.  Gently I caressed it again, feeling the uselessness of the gesture, and again I wept for the loss of his sweet soul.  “I’m sorry,” I whispered.  “I’m sorry.”

Carrying him to the living room, I sat on our favorite chair, the one he used to fly over every day during his workout.  For hours, it seemed, I rocked him, kissing his little head, and feeling numb.   All I could do now was put him somewhere soft, and the answer to that was the pink satin couch that had been covered with a coarse red cover for the last ten years so he wouldn’t scratch the upholstery.  At last he could lie there once more on a place he had been refused nearly all of his short life.  I yanked the covering away, revealing the pink satin once again, and laid him on it, wrapped in my silk blouse to lie in state until tomorrow.  His burial will be at a friend’s country house.  My ex said it’s the most beautiful, natural place he’s ever seen anywhere near this town.

Looking at my kitty lying so still, so quiet, I started to cry.  All I could hear were those words playing over and over in my mind.

There’s nothing harder….


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