August 30, 2005 at 7pm, Elijah passed, almost 10 years to the day from when we first brought he and his brother home from Harmony House. I write this the day after as a way to find some solace from my unimaginable grief and to pay tribute to our beautiful Mr. Grey, our Elijah Lee.
In late January of this year, I went to Bellingham, Washington to be at the side of my cousin Tim who was dying of a brain tumor. He died February 13, 2005. The second day I was there, I got the most unbelievably terrifying and shocking call of my life. Sean, who was back in Chicago, had been in an accident and I needed to get home as fast as I possibly could. I did. Sean was in a coma for 9 days and over the next months made a hard but absolutely miraculous recovery from a traumatic brain injury. On this day, he is, as he says, 98% back and I feel inexpressible gratitude and love towards him for working as hard as he did to come back. I can’t imagine life without Sean. He means everything to me.
A large part of his healing was support of his family and friends. A large part was the unconditional, inexhaustible love he got from our two cats, especially Elijah.
When Sean came home from the hospital not actually sure of where we were going or what ‘home’ looked like, Elijah and Equus were at the door. They saw him and both started ‘talking’ and purring and rubbing him. For the next particularly hard several weeks, when Sean basically couldn’t get out of bed because of the intense pain in his head, Elijah and Equus quietly laid with him – Q sometimes with me. Elijah simply never left his side. When Sean was at his lowest, I saw him hugging and petting Elijah and actually smiling as Elijah purred and looked him straight in the eyes and laid his paws on his arm. The comfort and help in healing that Sean got can’t be expressed, really.
Two months ago, we started to notice some changes in Elijah. He found a new place to sleep and started to become obsessed with our fireplace. We thought this was just quirky behavior of his age or possibly delayed stress – now that Sean was pretty much back to himself, the cats, and really I, were all experiencing our stress for the first time. So, we watched him. He was eating fine, playing hard, laying in the sun on the windowsill during the day and in the crook of Sean’s arm at night.
Last week, things changed. On Friday night, August 19, he threw up and there was blood in it. We took him to the vet the first thing in the morning. Dr. B. found blood in his urine and a very high white blood cell count. He took some x-rays and showed us that Elijah’s liver was very enlarged. He gave us antibiotics, anti-nausea medication and IV fluids and said we’d see how he was doing in a week. He seemed concerned.
Elijah was doing well at first, but then started to go slowly downhill. Saturday night, the 27th, he took a drastic turn. He vomited directly after I gave him some medication and then started to cry in pain. We tried to comfort him, but it was obvious he was suffering horribly. I called the vet’s emergency line and was told to try to make him comfortable and cease all oral medications. He said that I should use a dropper to drop some chicken broth into Elijah’s mouth. The pain passed. I dropped chicken broth in his mouth and he seemed almost happy. He laid with Sean, then with me, then back with Sean. He didn’t seem in huge pain, but he couldn’t get comfortable. I think we both knew that the situation was grim at that point. The next day, our vet met us at the clinic, opened it for us to drop Elijah off for fluids and a look-over. Elijah never came home again.
Dr. B. called us Monday and told us that Elijah was gravely ill. He had blood in his stomach, his urine and his liver was full of cystic growths and badly damaged. He had stopped eating. He was comfortable, but very sleepy. Dr. B. said that he was running a few more tests and had stuff out at the lab, but needed us to start considering what we wanted to do.
Sean and I had one of the hardest talks of our life that night. We both cried and comforted each other, but finally decided that if Elijah was terminal, we would not draw out his death for ourselves, but we would put him to rest before the pain got any worse. But, we both hoped for a miracle.
It didn’t come. Yesterday morning, Dr. B. called and said that the final labs showed obvious signs of fast-spreading, aggressive cancer of the liver and stomach. I said, “Dr. B., you’ve known us and our cats for 7 years. You know how deeply we love them. We want to do the right thing. Is there hope?”
No hope. We told him what we’d decided. He said, “You are the type of people I love. As much as this is going to hurt, you aren’t making me keep this little guy in pain because you need him there. You are doing the right thing for him. Later, this will give you peace.”
All day, every time I looked at the clock, I panicked. 4 more hours he has left. 3. 2. 1. And then we were walking hand in hand to the vet, feeling surreal, like we were just on our way to an errand. That all changed when we got there. Dr. B. brought Elijah in and gave us time and privacy.
I guess I was expecting him to look like he was at death’s door. As soon as Dr. B. brought him in, he started to purr that ENORMOUS purr of his. His eyes were wide and beautiful bright green. His front paw had a cast-like device on it to keep the IV tube safe, but he reached for us with his other paw. He bumped us with his forehead over and over, just like usual. I write this with my vision blurred completely by tears. I leaned down and put my ear to his chest and just listened to that fantastic motor of his. We both stroked and stroked his fur, kissed him, hugged him. We both told him we loved him over and over and over. Most importantly, I guess, we both thanked him from the very depths of our souls, for being with us, for loving us and for playing such a huge part in bringing Sean back. When it was time, I simply couldn’t be there. I regret, hugely, leaving Sean alone for that. I bolted from the room. I just couldn’t see him die. I sat out in the waiting room on a bench, numb, waiting. It seemed forever. At last, I saw Dr. B. go into another room and I knew it was over. I couldn’t stand the idea that Sean was suffering in there with our boy alone, so I went in.
There was a part of me that could believe he was just sleeping. Sean was standing over him, tears streaming down his cheeks. Sean had taken off the cast and laid it aside and then arranged Elijah in his favorite sleeping position. I lost it. I clapped my hand over my mouth and just moaned. The pain was so intense, I felt like my chest was going to burst. Sean took me in his arms and we both cried. I didn’t expect I would want, need, to do what I did next, but I did. I took Elijah in my arms and buried my face in his beautiful soft, lush gray fur. I could feel his bones, feel how his skin was just draping over wasted muscles. I could feel his terribly swollen belly. But man, he smelled good. His fur was so soft. Already his body heat was leaving, but if you closed your eyes, you could almost believe he was alive still. Dr. B. came in some time later. We thanked him for doing everything he could and for helping Elijah transition. Dr. B. took Sean’s hand and held it for a minute and then wrapped his arms around me and hugged me hugely. We left, leaving our big grey man on that table.
We cried all night. Our house feels so empty. I keep seeing flashes in the corner of my eye and thinking it is Elijah, then looking over and seeing emptiness. We are so hurt right now, but Sean did an amazing thing last night – for me, for himself.
We got into bed, exhausted and stricken. We knew we couldn’t sleep, so we got back out. We sat, in the dark, on the couch, our legs laced together under a blanket. Sean started talking. “Gosh. You remember the first time we saw them in the shelter? Q was the boldest of the litter and Elijah was the shyest. Q was all over you and I reached for Elijah and he grabbed onto me and we knew we were taking them home.” At first, I wanted to plug my ears. Hearing him talk brought up such potent memories of Elijah, I thought it would kill me. But as he went on, I joined. At first, correcting little details and then telling stories of my own. I actually felt slightly, ever so slightly, better. And we laughed. And we celebrated him. And, God, how we missed him and hurt. At last, we were so exhausted, we had to try again. Q followed us over and jumped up on my pillow to settle in for the night, purring. We fell asleep holding hands, both with the other hand on Q.
This year has been one of the hardest years of my life. Sincerely. Losing Elijah will go down as one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. However, I’m starting to realize now that if Sean and I didn’t hurt this much, it would mean that we didn’t love him as much. I can never regret deep love. We gave Elijah a good, good life. Sean and Elijah shared something very deep and something very, very special – that was evident almost from the start. Elijah will never, ever be forgotten. He will always be part of who Sean and I are. I think the healing from this is going to take a long while, but I think all three of us will make it just fine and in a healthy way. I do wish I could stop crying, but I guess that’s better than holding it all in.
I think Q is going to do fine in a little bit. For now, he is very, very clingy and I think lonely. He’s even more vocal than normal. Last night he followed me simply everywhere. Once, I went into the bathroom alone and he sat at the door and just yowled until I let him in. Every bump from the neighbors causes him to prick up and go to investigate. I’ve noticed he investigates common Elijah places frequently. In his way, he’ll grieve too and Sean and I will be here for him. Just holding him helps both of us so much, he is, after all, Elijah’s brother.
I don’t know why I had to write this, but I did. Not just to be maudlin or to wallow, but to make sure when my feelings were at this intensity, I wrote them down so that anyone who reads this would know how special, how loved and how beautiful Elijah was. And how desperately he will be missed.
The beautiful garden area of our condo building just got renovated. The garden replant will be soon and Sean and I will help. When all is said and done, we will go down and spread Elijah’s ashes there, knowing that we can visit that place any time we need to and knowing that he is free from pain now and at peace. After some time, we will be at peace too, I am sure.
So, if you’ve made it this far, feel happy for us that we had such a wonderful friend. Feel happy for Elijah that he was loved while he was here and had a happy life and now he is at peace and free of pain. If you have an animal loved one, feel happy that you do and as a memorial for Elijah, go give them a big hug and tell them how much they mean to you.