I had a cat die tonight, about an hour ago. We noticed it was sick and listless today, but after the vet had closed, unfortunately. We thought we would take it to the vet the first thing in the morning.
That didn’t work out. We kept him by the bed on an old pillow tonight. He’s normally an outside cat but it’s cold out in addition to the cat being sick. After hardly being able to move he suddenly started crashing around, trying to get out of his bed. His mouth was opening and closing and he made a moaning noise.
I took it to the kitchen to give him some water. I didn’t really know what to do for him or if he wanted water, but my wife suggested it and I had no other plan of action. He wouldn’t drink the water, I sort of stuck his mouth in the bowl, just enough to let him know it was there.
That didn’t work so I just laid him down and petted him. A brown liquid came out of his mouth. I held him with his head down so that the puke would run out and not choke him.
In retrospect I think that’s when he died. But at the time I didn’t think so.
There was no real sign of death. There was no “giving up the ghost” as old folks say. His mouth still opened and closed, the jaw muscles working, but he got colder and stiffer. There were even twitching muscles around his mouth long after he was stiff.
It just strikes me that there was no sign at all. You expect something, you know? A soul rising into the air would be good. That’s the sort of thing the religious and the spiritual expect. Being one of them I always want to believe there is a soul, or something.
Even the non-religious scientific establishment seems to think there is a sign. No pulse, a cessation of breathing, a beeping monitor, a wave pattern on a monitor becoming a flat line. But there was none of that. Every death I’ve ever seen I could never be sure they were dead. It was harder with a cat, I couldn’t take a pulse because I don’t know cat physiology. His breathing had been faint before so I couldn’t check that. Long after I was 90% sure he was dead I held him up to my ear and was sure I heard a heartbeat. He was stiff, but still twitched and something was making noise. But then I heard gurgling of intestines….it was probably just something settling around inside him.
Since I wasn’t sure he was dead, not 100 percent, and it’s dark out, I laid him on the pillow he died on, placed him in the bathtub and there he sits. Very stiff now. But I just couldn’t bring myself to dispose of him until I was absolutely sure he was dead.
And there is just no way of knowing that. What seperates the living from the dead, really? Movement? A soul? A set of biological patterns that mean nothing but we file under the name of “life”?
There has to be something that separates the quick and the dead, doesn’t there?