Max was my producer, my unexpected friend, and part of my sanity.
Most of all he was my friend, and I will miss him.
Since I wrote about our unexpected pairing a couple years ago, things had maintained our balance until he got sick. Last fall, he was just having bad day after bad day. He couldn’t keep food down, so we took him to the vet where we heard the word that no one wants to hear as a prognosis for anyone they care about… cancer.
That was October and there was no further diagnosis. We could have had him in for surgery, but Max was a cat that cared for comfort. He disliked the doctor’s visit to even get the diagnosis, so we decided to medicate him to take care of any pain.
There were chances that we might not make it to the holidays. He did. Then he made it to the New Year and Stef’s birthday in mid-January.
He still had his bad days, but they were fewer and fewer. We were able to keep him relatively close to the life he was used to.
Then came Friday, March 17. He didn’t want to eat, and he just wasn’t moving around like himself.
So once the Madness of March tipped off and he came over to hang with me on the couch, I picked him up to help him rest with me. He spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging on my shoulder, then shifted to my chest, and then sandwiched himself between my arm and the couch.
I could tell he wasn’t having a good day. In fact, the only thing he ate all day was the Dorito dust from my fingers and that’s because it came to him. I couldn’t get him to eat anything more.
The next part gets a bit messy. After dinner Stef and I were sitting with him on the couch when his bowels emptied. Once we got him cleaned up, the clock was ticking. He wasn’t in pain, but he was checking out.
We called the vet and headed off to the ER. Despite my being the one at the wheel, I did pet him when I could, as he was just laying in the carrier on Stef’s lap. Once we got to the vet I was holding him in the carrier, but his breathing wasn’t strong and then he started to gag. I picked him up to help him out because he didn’t have the energy to move himself. That was pretty much the end.
He hung in there a little bit longer, and we did get to say goodbye. I’m happy that it went fast for him. He didn’t suffer and he got to spend the day sleeping on me like he enjoyed, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.
My friend Zapata came over while we were at the vet because we weren’t sure we had turned off the stove from dinner and he ordered some additional food for us. He was there when we returned without Max, and that’s when the oddness started.
Zapata ordered us pizza. I could say that it was Max’s favorite, but in truth that cat didn’t find a human food he didn’t love. But it was odd to be eating pizza without looking over your shoulder to see where the attack would come from.
And when you get to the crust, well, we used to let him eat some of it, even if he got savage with it and would bite into the crust and hang on enough to be lifted off the floor with the crust.
Anyway, the next day Stef was heading to visit her mother, but the morning was not normal. I made my coffee, unencumbered by my friend Max who would never leave me be when I was working on my bean juice. He knew once that started brewing, he’d get his food. I found myself looking down at my feet, with no friend there. It was hard.
Once Stef left, I decided to clean up. And in between the tears and the sobs, I cleaned up what had been Max’s spaces in the house. His litterbox, his food bowls, the pet bed he had ripped to shreds. I collected the remaining food for donation, and someone will be taking it to a local shelter for us.
You may think it’s too soon, but it’s all part of the grieving process. I had to clean up. I didn’t want to look at the dirty floor where he had his last moments in this house. I wanted to start remembering his time on the couch with me. And the cleaning was cathartic.
The rest of the day was filled with a visit from my mother, and Zapata returned to check on me. Once I was alone at the end of the day, I was left unfocused and uninspired, talking to Max wherever he is now.
The following day waking up alone and again making my coffee unencumbered was a little less odd. I still keep thinking of his last moments with us, but as that fades the other happier moments will return.
Death is just a part of life, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful.
Now it is that following day and I’ve decided to write this out. I know there’s an episode of The Palmer Files I did with Stef that doesn’t have an air date where we talk about having Max come with us to a desert island. That one might be a harder episode in post-production for me, but perhaps that’s just the way it goes.
I keep looking over at the empty producer chair to my left with his blanket on it. And when I walk around the house alone I still look for him, because he loved to sleep but didn’t have one favorite spot, so in order to keep an eye on him you had to keep your head on a swivel.
I had no doubt I would shed some tears for Max, but it’s been more than I would have expected. I think the part that is the worst in this scenario, not that losing any feline friend is easy, is that despite his prognosis, you just always think he’ll keep going.
He may not make it to the holidays? He made it through the holidays! He made it to Valentine’s Day. He made it to the Madness of March, which he loved, not because he was a basketball cat, but because it meant I would be available on the couch as additional furniture.
We got to spend that last afternoon together and I’m happy for that, but I still miss him. I don’t know when we’ll get another cat, but it won’t be soon. We’ll both need some time to process this.
Stef and her mother are mourning in their own way. They had him for more than a decade. I only met him a few years ago, but we connected somehow. He was the grumpy old gentleman cat to my grumpy old curmudgeon.
In the end I have to wonder why he chose me. Sure, I got up first, but he had an equal chance to wake up Stef when he jumped on the bed in the morning. Stef spoiled him more than I did, but given equal opportunity, like both of us sitting on the couch eating something he was interested in, he always attempted to get it from me first. Was he always choosing the hard path? Was getting spoiled by me that much sweeter? Was that choice just our friendship? “I know she’ll give me the food, but I’ll try you first.”
I don’t know, but eating the pizza leftovers unencumbered by his voice and paws was just as odd as that first morning making coffee without him. Time helps these things, but we were just two old cats.
That was the entire basis of my first post about him: we were two old cats together. Towards the end, his prognosis, his battle, and now my mental state, in retrospect, feel tied together. But now he’s on another plane, hopefully eating all of the pizza and chicken soup he can get his paws on. Yes, he also loved chicken soup.
And we will miss him. I will miss him, but I won’t forget him. We were too close as friends for me to do anything but remember him. It’s just that it’ll take a while for that to happen without tears.
Now, I’m not immune to death. I’ve had grandparents, aunts, and uncles die. I’ve lost friends and even a cat that we had 20 years ago, but this is different. I didn’t have a daily relationship with those friends and family. And even that childhood pet wasn’t with us more than a few years and it wasn’t my cat, so my daily interaction wasn’t much. At that age, I was much more involved in myself.
This loss is not only as personal as those family losses, it’s physically closer. I loved my human family members who are no longer with us, but I didn’t see them on a daily basis, I didn’t live with them. That makes this something that’s a bit harder to take.
My cleaning purge was to try and jumpstart the new normal. The lack of the things I put away or threw away is almost as poignant as having them there and collecting dust. He won’t be forgotten. Hell, the house won’t be free of his fur for at least another decade, but I needed to do something. And I still miss him.
Honestly, I thought I would have sat down to write this yesterday, but I just didn’t have it in me. I didn’t even want to write it today, but I thought it was necessary.
Do I feel better? No. But it’s still fresh. We’ll receive his ashes and pawprint next week. That’ll bring the loss front and center again, but so will making my morning coffee. The tolerance for loss builds up and then you start to forget a pet dying in your arms and you remember the stealing of pizza or the attempts to eat the chili straight out of the crock pot.
You remember that he only wanted just enough attention, and then he was done with you. You remember that he used to want to use you as a heater and so he snuggled up to you with such ninja stealth that you didn’t know he was there until you rolled over onto him.
Those memories will always remain, but the pain has to fade. It will. It always does.
Goodnight, Max. You’ll be missed, but I’m happy we had the time we did.