Bella Lugosi ~ 2015
I don’t know when she was born… when I adopted her, she was estimated to be about a year old, and that was back in 2001, putting her around the age of 15. Over those 14 years, I spent more time with this creature than any human companion in my life. She understood me better, too. She knew when I was sad; becoming the pillow for my face, allowing the tears to soak her fur, my arm in a vice grip around her warm body. She knew when I was happy; we had a special song… “My Bella My Bella”. I’d sing it to her, as she would sit on the counter watching me go through my morning routine. She was a calm and comforting being in my life. She wasn’t “just a cat”.
Lugosi was diagnosed with the C word in June, and the next day, my Bella was dead.
When the doctor uttered that word, cancer, I felt my stomach freeze and begin descend into a thick, black hole. Like I was hurtling into darkness and no one could see it, but I could feel it. My core went numb. I could feel the emotion drain from my face. He guessed she had three weeks… if I didn’t choose to attack it aggressively with tortuous procedures that wouldn’t necessarily prolong her existence, but might, at least I’d be doing something, right? Wrong. As much as I loved her, I loved her enough to know when to let her go. To let her comfort and needs come above my own selfish ones.
We went straight home. I turned on the YouTube series, “Ask A Mortician”, and watched Caitlin Doughty, founder of the Order of the Good Death, tell me how she performed an in home euthanasia and wake for her cat, The Meow. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to give Bella the Good Death.
I called my friend Ellen, owner and caretaker of Eloise Woods Community Natural Burial Park. We would get together to pick a spot for Bella’s body in the next few days. I begin to reach out to mobile vet technicians, leaving messages, emailing… looking for someone who could come to us. I didn’t want Bella to go back into the car and to an unfamiliar place. I wanted her to die comfortably, in my arms, in her home.
That night, I sat up on the couch with Bella sleeping on my chest. I slept sporadically, monitoring her labored breathing, making sure she was comfortable. She shuffled off to her bed around 5am, her gait wobbly. I watched her struggle from the couch, and my eyes began to fill with hot tears. I shrugged the thought away, certainly we have more time… he said 3 weeks. I went about getting ready for work. I looked in on her at 7:30am that morning. She was curled up in her cat bed, and seemed restless. She shifted positions a few times before settling down. I opened a whole can of tuna, set it at her bedside, and left for work.
When I came home at lunch, it was clear my Bella was rapidly deteriorating. I began reaching out to the mobile veterinarians again. It was time, and if I didn’t act quickly, she would continue to suffer and decline. I finally got an appointment, and set about spending the last hour of her life doing everything she loved most. I called my roommate, Jessica, who came home to be with us. Bella and I sat outside on the concrete, and she sunned herself. She nibbled a little tuna, though she hadn’t touched what I left out for her that morning. She watched the birds and the squirrels. Then the vet arrived. We all went inside.
I positioned myself on the couch where we spent the night before. I had a towel, and her favorite blanket. The vet was very soft spoken, very reassuring. She explained every step of the process about to take place. Then she began the first injection.
Bella took her final breath comfortably in my arms. I don’t know how long I sat there, holding her limp body. The vet continued to talk… soft, soothing. Uh-huh. I don’t know what I was agreeing too… uh-huh is my default answer. The vet gently excused herself and exited the home.
I remember going into autopilot. The tears had stopped. I positioned Bella in her bed, favorite blanket beneath her. I went about double bagging ice packs to lay under her for the night. I called Ellen, we agreed to meet at Eloise Woods at 7:30am. I ran an errand for work, eager to take my mind of the lifeless body off of my best friend laying out in the living room. Several hours later, emotions took hold, as I found myself alone at home with Bella’s body. It started with simply being seated at her side, softly stroking her fur for what I knew would be the last times. I had a human fingerprint kit at the ready, knowing I wanted to secure her paw print for a future memorial tattoo, and a pair of scissors to trim fur from her tail. What would have been a simple task of inking and pressing her paws to paper turned into sobbing child’s art project gone awry, as I distressed over the ink not coming clean of her soft fur and jelly bean toes. I found myself mumbling apologies to her incoherently, crying and mourning. After what felt like hours, but was certainly no more than 45 minutes, I pulled it together enough to realize I would not be spending the final night at home with Bella’s body. I would never get any suitable sleep. I was grief stricken and couldn’t keep my hands off her soft body, which was now stiffly posed in full rigor, a good 6 hours after her last breath. I placed her bed upon mine, where she used to sleep, closed my bedroom door, and retreated to the comfort of a friend for the remainder of the night.
I woke early after a surprisingly deep 5 hours of sleep, and drove home to take Bella to her final resting place in Eloise Woods.
Upon arrival, Ellen and I walked around the park, contemplating where I would bury her body. I finally settled on a place at the base of a towering tree, and Ellen began to break ground with a pickaxe and her hands, shoveling large amounts of dirt out of the hole. She paused and let me take a turn before I eventually caved and let her finish the dig around some heavy roots and chunks of rock. When she was satisfied with the depth and width of the hole, I placed Bella and her blanket into the hole and positioned her collar with the name tag facing out, nested her toy mouse between her paws, then gently enveloped the rest of her body in the blanket before covering her- layer after gentle layer- with soil.
I left my best fur friend at a place I love. I did it exactly the way I had hoped to. I gave my cat, Bella, the Good Death. As I drove away, my heart felt heavy, but my spirit felt lighter. I had given her a beautiful life and death- but the life she gave me I will never forget.