My Friend’s Final Weekend
The closing of one chapter is the beginning of another.
2017 was a long and arduous slog through a hellscape wherein I witnessed the end of much that I held most dear: a relationship, a job, a sense of self, a feeling of purpose, a stable democracy in my country, and the once-blissful experience of living life without a sense of constant dread looming over the horizon.
So a loss of companionship, economic security, identity, and confidence. I was experiencing losses like I was collecting Pokémon.
Then just before Christmas, as the cherry on top of a funnel cake deep-fried in the abyss that was my 2017, I had to say goodbye to one of my best and longest friends: my cat Buranshe.
Buranshe had been diagnosed with Feline Leukemia Virus, something incurable and only somewhat treatable. At the time of her diagnosis she was so anemic, the vet told us she might not make it through the weekend.
That was two years ago. Little fighter that she is, Buranshe kept powering through as long as possible. She needed four blood transfusions over the course of those two years, and I had to give her a weekly hormone injection that helped stimulate red blood cell production in her body. It had become our routine, with her hating the injection part every bit as much as I did, but she learned to accept that it was necessary for her.
So when she became anemic again, I recognized the symptoms as familiar, and I calmly called my veterinarian — or rather, her veterinarian — at the (quite wonderful) VCA SF, and told them my cat needed another blood transfusion to help with her FLV.
“Err… I’m sorry, are you a doctor?”
Fair question. “No, I’m not, but, she’s been through this four times now, and she’s becoming anemic again just like each time before.”
“I see. Okay, well, we can definitely examine her when you bring her in.”
Each previous time Buranshe would be rushed into emergency triage upon arrival in her anemic state. This time, they quietly took her in for examination, and a little while later came back and confirmed my armchair diagnosis. They would take her in overnight to monitor her and perform another blood transfusion, and told me I could come pick her up after 7am.
I went home and went straight to bed; I’d been up until 4 AM the night before, 5:30 AM the night before that, and 3 AM the night before that. I had serious sleep debt and fell asleep as soon as I closed my eyes.
But at 2 AM I was woken up by my roommate Judy, standing by my bed. I know she’d gone to her boyfriend’s after we watched Big Hero 6, which meant she had since gotten up, gotten dressed, and taken a Lyft ride back home in the darkest of night.
“The VCA called me several times, said they couldn’t reach you. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, just… sleepy. What time is it?”
“It’s 2. They said Buranshe’s blood was reacting, or something? You need to call them!”
I grabbed my phone in a panic, but it was in the middle of an automatic overnight upgrade. Judy handed me hers to use. I called the VCA. They told me that Buranshe’s blood was reacting to their samples so they couldn’t give her a transfusion; I had one more option to try, which was to drive her to UC Davis where they have a larger blood bank, and maybe one of their samples wouldn’t react with her blood and be usable.
A stressful hour and a half drive there. A stressful however-long time doing blood work and, if so, a blood transfusion and monitoring (several more hours). Another stressful hour and a half drive back. And all we’d get from it was, at most, a few more months and then we’d have the same problem — or likely worse. Her body was becoming increasingly resistant to new blood with each transfusion, so her outlook was diminishing rapidly even if one more transfusion would work.
I realized, in that moment on the phone with the VCA, that Buranshe had been telling me all week that she couldn’t put up the fight any more. That she was ready to move on. I’d known things were off a little, and I’d held her in my arms several nights as I went to bed, and, instead of her usual objection to such prolonged cuddling, she simply rested on my chest, purring warmly as my breathing lifted her up and down.
So instead, I asked the VCA if I could bring her home in the morning and invite friends to come say goodbye to her. They said that was totally fine.
I set up an event for all of Buranshe’s friends to come by, if they were able to. Some lived far away, but wrote incredibly moving goodbyes to her on Facebook. Some lived close but couldn’t bear to do something that would be so emotional. I’ve been there, so I understood. Still, many wonderful and loving friends came by and gave her love and cuddles. Buranshe, for her part, mostly just rested with the last of her energy.
Come evening it was time. Judy and I brought her back to the VCA, where the staff were incredibly loving and empathetic and had prepared a room for us with the windows covered in cloth, and Buranshe’s name on the door with hearts. The doctor explained the procedure briefly, before giving us as much time as we needed with her.
One last time.
We cuddled her. We petted her. We cried. We took a ton more pictures and videos. And I took the last photo I’ll ever have of the two of us together:
She had crawled back into her carrying cage, where she felt most comfortable and safe. I covered her with the soft, warm blanket they’d wrapped her in after the IV preparation. She was warm, she was happy, and she had said her goodbye to us.
Now she wanted me to just get a move on already.
(She did always treat me like she was my grandmother.)
I will miss her enthusiastic purring noises while grooming her human. I will miss the smell of her soft fur, her cute nose kisses, and her tiny licks whenever she thought I was looking for grooming (nope, just looking to bury my face into her, rawr!) I will miss her resting bitch face that she only really had when she was thinking I was being an idiot, or unfair to her, or not being entertaining enough.
Or, in this case, taking too long to cry my way through her last moments.
But no matter what our disputes would be, she would always come to me when I arrived home, and greet me with love, first. (Before invariably moving on to a series of demanding meows.) She was loving and sweet, and always knew when I needed her comfort or support.
Buranshe went peacefully and beautifully, with a long, deep breath and her final purr.
Afterwards, I put on Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes, held her body throughout the song, and cried some more.
Then Judy and I went home, bought ice cream and chocolate, and watched the internet’s recommended movie after loss: Big Hero 6. (The internet was right, just FYI.)
I didn’t know it yet then, but that night would be the last night of a chapter in my life that had been aching to be closed. So much was about to change for me, but one thing wouldn’t: I would continue to carry Buranshe with me, in heart and spirit.
My feline friend who always acted through love, first.
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