Our most heartbreaking days can sometimes bring the most tender moments.
Just over two weeks ago, I took my cat Franjelica of 13 years to the Vernon Woods Animal Hospital to be euthanized.
The quickness of her illness was heartbreaking. In mid-March I noticed a slight protrusion above her nose. I took her to a veterinarian in Stone Mountain, recommended by a friend, who thought it was a bad tooth. During surgery to extract it, they discovered the protrusion was a tumor, likely malignant.
Franjelica was always a sweet fragile soul. I knew any kind of radiation or aggressive treatment would be cruel and out of the question.
I decided to bring her to Vernon Woods, a vet much closer to home. The doctors told me they had never seen a tumor arise so aggressively, and on the face. It had become a raw open wound that would at times fill with pus, bleed, dry up and repeat the cycle.
As uncomfortable as she was, Franjelica never complained. Not even as her eyes began to close up a bit due to the size of the tumor.
The Vernon Woods doctors periodically gave her antibiotics and an appetite stimulant. They told me what to expect: The tumor would start to bleed and may burst as part of the process.
That didn’t necessarily mean it was the end. Franjelica would let me know when it was time to let her go, they said.
The doctors were limited in what they could do because I had not yet had a biopsy done, thinking what would be the point if I wasn’t going to have her under go aggressive treatment. [I finally had the biopsy and it was indeed an aggressive sarcoma]
Between visits in the following weeks, I’d place worried calls when she’d start to bleed.
I’ve been through both long and slow illnesses with family members that led to death, and the emotional toll with Franjelica was not much different in intensity. We stayed connected to each other during her declining process. She’d comfort me and stay close whenever the pain eased. When it increased she’d retreat under the bed for a while.
During her illness she would tend to stay in the guest bedroom, so I did too, not sleeping in my own bed for three weeks. Then one day, while I was on the living room couch she came out and jumped up to her new resting spot. So that became where I slept too.
As it exhausted me, I knew she had to be exhausted too.
Finally, something in me knew it was time. On a Wednesday evening, I considered taking her to the vet the next day to be put to sleep.
We actually had a good night on the couch together, bonding and communicating through our minds and spirits. I tried to communicate to her what was to come.
The next morning she went back under the bed in the guest bedroom.
I started to wonder if I would be doing the right thing by taking her that day. I called Dr. Stephanie Hunter at Vernon Woods, who told me yes I would be doing the humane thing, because it was only going to get worse for Franjelica.
“I wouldn’t euthanize her if I didn’t think it was time,” she said
I made an appointment for that afternoon. As the time drew near, I struggled emotionally over whether I would be forcing things since she was under the bed. What if I have a problem getting her out? Is it right to pull her out against her will to take her to die?
As it was, I pulled her out from under the bed pretty easily.
Parked in the car outside Vernon Woods, I took a few minutes to once again talk to Franjelica and tell her that I loved her, and who she would see in heaven.
My family friend Clarice met us there. Inside, Dr. Hunter and her technician Shanna, were extraordinarily gentle with Franjelica, touching her as if she were their own pet.
Shanna wrapped her paw in a pink bandaged for the intravenous injection. “I thought she’d look pretty in pink,” she said sweetly.
Franjelica laid comfortably on a warm towel that Dr. Hunter said had just come out of the dryer.
Dr. Hunter gave us plenty of time to spend final minutes with her. Clarice, a practitioner of Reiki healing, gently laid her hands on Franjelica’s neck and back. Franjelica turned her head towards Clarice, who she had never met before, seeming to acknowledge that she enjoyed her touch.
When the moment came for the euthanization, I was of course heartbroken and flooded with tears. But in addition to my friend Clarice being there beside me, I was very much comforted by the presence of Dr. Hunter and Shanna.
After Franjelica passed, Dr. Hunter told me to take as much time as I needed with her. She then started to caress Franjelica on her head, neck and back, saying to herself how sweet Franjelica was.
Dr. Hunter told me to not to worry about the final bill. They would mail it to me. “You don’t need to think about that today,” she said.
I looked back as we turned to leave. In sync, Dr. Hunter and Shanna, gently raised each corner of the towel that Franjelica was laying on. I knew she was in good hands.
A week later they sent me a condolence card and her clay paw print.
I couldn’t have asked for a more gentle and loving homegoing for my sweet Franjelica.