Holding a Hand

On a day-to-day basis, I’m fairly composed and not overly sensitive to things that remind me of Megan, her illness, or the fact that she’s gone.  Shelby acheives honor roll like clockwork, and though it reminds me of how proud Megan would be, and I wish she was there, it’s an “it is what it is situation”, where I can be happy for both of us and go about my day.  I can hear and talk about others that are sick, watch shows or read about widowers or illness, or drive by the hospital she was treated and died in, and it doesn’t really phase me.

 Chalk that up to years of becoming desensitized to it all.  Long-term illness has a way of letting you begin grieving long before it is “required”, so that you are already well into the process when the time comes.  Although Megan’s death was “sudden”, in that we didn’t know precisely what day of the month it would occur, it wasn’t a “surprise”.

So, when a neighborhood stray cat was evidently hit by a car, at first, I thought not too much of it, and decided, with Sarah, that we needed to take care of it with a clear head and confidence.  Out came one of the largest triggers I’ve had since Megan’s death.

Long story short, the cat was paralyzed, lying under a van with eyes wide open.  The front paws would twitch periodically. it was breathing, but fairly obviously in shock and brain-dead.  It was dying.  So, Sarah and I made the decision that it would be best if its suffering could be ended as soon as possible.

 We gently wrapped it in a towel and carried it to a quiet place.  I could feel an uncomfortableness that I had really only felt once before, and we agreed that Sarah would “do the deed” as humanely as possible.  Details are not needed at this point, save to say that what could possibly have been hours or even days of suffering were condensed into about 10 minutes.

I stayed with Sarah and the cat, and at one point, held its front paw, feeling for any sign of life..  

Memory swept in.

I was instantaneously transported to Cleveland Clinic, on November 19th, 2014.  I was no longer holding a cat’s paw as it’s breath and heartbeat slowed, and it gently left this earth.  I was holding Megan’s hand.  Watching an EKG read 90 heartbeats per minute, then 30, then 3, then, 0.  The soft fur of its paw felt no different that the soft, pale skin of Megan’s palm after 6 months in a bed.  

I lost it.  I stayed with Sarah, but i was bawling uncontrollably.  She knew why i was triggered...I mean, it’s pretty obvious, even without stating it.  She asked me to go inside, but I couldn’t.  At that point, it would have felt like not only leaving her to do something undesirable, but also as if I was leaving this defenseless being.  When it was finally over, just like that blustery day in November a few years ago, my composure returned, and we buried it in a safe place.  

 It still wasn’t over though.

Throughout this period of time, We asked Shelby to stay inside.  She knew what needed to happen, and she was just as stoic as ever with it.  She loves animals, but it’s not like she wants to see them suffer either.  Just the same, she avoided the finality of it until we had finished burying it.

I asked her to come outside and talk for a bit.  I attempted to explain why this all needed to happen, why it bothered me so much, and solicited her thoughts.

Shelby, being Shelby, simply said “I know, it’s OK” and gave me a big hug.

Then THAT triggered me.  She did the SAME thing when Megan died.  She said her goodbye, left me in the room with Megan’s parents until it was over, and when I went out to the waiting room where Shelby was afterwards, she gave me the same hug and said the same thing.  I was again transported back to that day in November 2014, and all of the confusion and sadness I experienced.  

It wasn’t drawn out like it was when Megan died.  I knew that tomorrow, I’d be fine and back to normal.  It was, after all, simply a stray cat, and not my wife that we let go of.  But the feelings that came flooding in were just as intense.  They were just as heartbreaking, because of the reminder of what I witnessed a few years ago.  Three years from now, if we have to put our dog down as she reaches a point where it is more humane to do so, I won’t be thinking about this cat, but rather, Megan.  I’ll be remembering feeling her hand go cold and limp, all the while, knowing that it was the right thing to do.

Just because it was the right thing to do doesn’t make it any easier though.  Holding a hand, or even a paw, and suddenly realizing it isn’t holding yours is a tough thing to do.


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  • commented 2017-05-03 06:29:15 -0700
    Wonderful. But please, please, please in a situation like this take the animal to a vet. This was probably someone’s pet, and they are looking desparately for him. Many pets are microchipped, and if so the owner can be found. This will help bring closure to the owner of what happened to the cat. Pet owners grieve, too.
  • commented 2017-05-02 18:49:07 -0700
    Mike..I get this…my John died at the Cleveland Clinic too…I was with him until his last breath and heartbeat…reading this made me cry…..going through what you and I went through will never be forgotten…..and these triggers are okay…..because we are still alive and feel and remember..thanks for sharing…I am sure this was hard to write.