This is a story about an old cat who reached the end of her life and passed away peacefully on her owners lap. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write since it happened last year, but I’ve not been able to find the words. And I guess that’s because it’s so much more than a story about a cat.
This beautiful girl is “Muggles” – one of two kitten sisters that me and my mum got back in the early noughties, shortly after we moved into a smaller house when my parents separated. As you can tell, she came into our lives at the height of Pottermania. Her sister was a lovely ginger kitten called Ginny who fell asleep in the back of a chair when we were choosing which kittens to take home. She was adorable – and, it turned out, the runt of the litter.
Like many people I had cats when I was growing up, but Muggles and Ginny were the first cats I had when I was old enough to build a relationship to them. Muggles was mums cat, and Ginny was mine. They were the cats who met me when I came home from school, then flirted with passers by in the front garden when I wasn’t paying attention. They were the cats who comforted me and mum when she was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. They walked in on me and Lizzie when we started dating. They stayed up with me when I left school and was watching Dave at 1am in mum’s new bungalow. They were the cats who mum put on the phone when I went to University to purr down the line, and the cats who were so happy to see me when I came home. When I think back to my formative years, they form the backdrop to so many memories.
So when my cat, Ginny, died in my third year at University, I was devastated. She was put to sleep after years of kidney problems had reached the stage that this was the kindest thing to do. It took me a while to work out why I was so sad. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been there to say goodbye. It wasn’t even the fact that I would never see her cute face again, or stroke her to sleep, or wake up with her curled up next to me. It was that my mum had MS, a degenerative illness that was slowly robbing her of her independence, and that one of the two cats who were her main companions was gone.
I went to my department to ask for a few extra days on an essay that was due down and unexpectedly broke down in tears. The administrator hugged me. I was mourning the loss of Ginny, but also mourning the slow and gradual loss of my mum.
But Muggles – oh, blessed Muggles, was a trooper. She was playful and feisty and a tower of strength for both of us. When mum moved out of her bungalow and half of the way across the country to be in residential care, muggles came with us in the car. When mum was no longer able to walk and became wheelchair bound she took to sleeping on the bed so mum could give her a little stroke. When she lost her voice she always forgave mum when she ran over her tail. When I called, mum would always say that muggles had perked up at the sound of my voice. And when I visited mum Muggles would forget that she was 15 years old and arthritic and run and jump to see me, flopping on the floor for a cuddle.
She was the only thing that still depended on mum.
As she got older, she got weaker. Her kidneys began to give out, and she needed regular dialysis. She could no longer reach the top of the wardrobe. She became incontinent. She slept most of the day. But still, she loved, and she was loved.
And then she stopped eating. She wouldn’t touch wet food or dry food or tuna or dreamies. And this was a problem, because the painkillers for her arthritis were taken orally, dropped onto her food. I saw her once more – she still ran to me, flopped, stared into my eyes, and purred deeply. I was busy, and couldn’t stay long.
The next week, mum went to the vets. As she wasn’t taking her painkillers she was almost certainly in pain, and as she wasn’t eating she probably had days to live. It was agreed that the most humane thing to do would be to let her go to sleep. At the same time – and without me knowing this was taking place – I shared a twitter post from a vet complaining that many people leave the room when their pets are put to sleep, and the animals last frantic moments were spent looking for the humans who had shared their life. Mum was better than that. Muggles was coaxed to sleep on mums limp legs, and then given an injection. She didn’t struggle, and passed peacefully, and I like to think contently.
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After writing this, I went to hug my cats and be glad that they can’t ask me why I’m crying – because even now, 6 months later, it’s too raw. Because no matter how far I run or cycle or how much money I raise, I can’t fix my mum, and because she’s getting worse, and because just like everyone else dealing with ageing parents I’m too young to know what to do, and because the practicalities of accessing support when your old and disabled and alone in this country are utterly crap and confusing and even if I was a millionaire it wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs.
I share personal stories like this because I know I’m not alone and because talking is important. Later this year I’m running the London Marathon, and then next year I’m cycling from New York – San Francisco (click here to find out more). I’ll be raising money to support the MS Society – you can sponsor my marathon at www.justgiving.com/antonyjcbutcherlondonmarathon