Dying Cat Meows Life Lessons at Top Volume

Caroline Burau
Caroline Burau

Three years ago, we got some terrible news from our vet about my cat, Sesame. He was dying. Kidney disease. No way to stop it, and no cure.

It’s very sad; the news was difficult to take. Except three years later . . . he lives! And here’s the part that makes me a bad person: Sometimes that pisses me off.

I love him. I do. Except . . .

Kidney disease makes him the biggest twenty-year-old, four-pound asshole I’ve ever met.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a friend who had just lost her mother to complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. It had been six months, but the tears and sorrow were still right at the surface. Caring for her mother had been a daily struggle for at least two years, but she had done it with grace and dignity, and still misses her mom terribly.

By way of comparison, sometimes I look straight into Sesame’s eyes and beseech him, will all earnestness, to “go into the light.”

There are several annoyances at work here. Though I’m doing everything the vet has prescribed, Sesame still drinks about 75 gallons of water each day, pees about 70 gallons into his box, then freelances the last five into various corners of my utility room.

When he’s not meowing for water (he requires it fresh from the bathroom faucet), he’s meowing for his holistic, organic, blah-pricey-blah soft cat gruel. Sometimes, it’s a sweet and timid “mee-ew.” Other times, it’s a full-fledged holler that screeches straight across the blackboard of my will to live.

Often, he’s meowing for no apparent reason at all. The vet says he may be forgetting where he is, so my husband Jim has been known to yell, “You’re in the living room!” Sometimes this works. Other times, Sesame just wanders into a different room and starts yowling anew, as if to say, “Okay, what about this one, jack-ass?”

Friends wonder why we don’t take him in for the big sleep. He looks like hell. The weight-loss is obvious, he walks like a puppet being manipulated by a four-year-old, and the cataracts make his general expression look quite vacant. A lion cut at the groomer from two years ago never really grew back, so we took to dressing him in turtle-neck sweaters to keep him from freezing his brittle, arthritic bones. He slightly resembles Bill the Cat modeling Abercrombie and Fitch.

“Did you Pet Cemetery Sesame?” Jim asked me one day. “It’s okay. You can tell me.”

But how do you put an animal down when he still has the gumption to dump your milk over, take one small sip, then walk away because it’s 1-percent and he prefers whole? How do you end a cat that can still jump up on the bed in the dead of night, then step on your neck until you begin to lose consciousness?

Recently, he’s taken to napping with his eyes open, which always scares the Holy Hell out of me until I check for signs of life, find some, then feel that familiar mix of relief, then disappointment, then guilt over the disappointment.

Where I’m from, we have what’s called the “Minnesota Goodbye.” It’s a long, lingering parting of the ways that often involves too much chatting, too many hugs, and leaves the recipient wondering, “How can I miss you if you never leave?”

Sesame is Minnesota-Goodbying the hell out of us.

Except . . .

Sometimes in the middle of the night, when he’s woken me from a deep sleep to obstruct my airway, he smashes his forehead into mine, purrs, drools on my cheek, and reminds me that more than anything, I just need to enjoy him while I have him. His time will come soon enough. And when it does, I’ll be blubbering all over the various social networks about him, and people will be sending me emails about their old cats and about the “rainbow bridge” and I’ll be checking the want-ads for kittens that look just like Sesame did twenty years ago when I was eighteen, and he was the size of a rolled up tube sock.

Some days, like today, the yowling forces me out of my house and into a coffee shop with my laptop.

Other days, I drop everything, grab a warm blanket, gather Sesame into a ball on the couch with me, and give him all the attention he claims to require until he gets sick of me and walks off in a hairless huff. Maybe I won’t miss him as much as my friend misses her mom. Maybe I’ll miss him more.

I wonder if he’ll ever give me the chance to find out?

Click here for more articles on MeaningfulWomen.com by Caroline Burau.

Caroline Burau is a freelance writer in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and author of Sugarfiend and Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat. You can also follow her on Twitter (@carolineburau).


  1. Bless all of your hearts. He sure is being a trooper, a frustrating one, but a trooper none the less.

    Being from Minnesota, I laughed at the “Minnesota Goodbye” Want another cup of coffee? I just put on a fresh pot! How about another bar?

    Vets like Drs can be wrong. Who knows, he might have another 5 years in him. Its good you can see the humor though the pain.

  2. My Gabriel also had kidney disease, so I can relate to all you have described here. I miss the old guy, but it was time for me to let him go. You will know when that time comes. Trust me. Enjoy the snuggles while you can, even if they are a bit more boney than cushy at this stage.

  3. You have the most amazing knack for combining humor and pathos. In less than a thousand words, you invoke teariness and snorts of I-TOTALLY-recognize-that laughter.

    Great treatment of a difficult subject.

  4. I can totally relate! My cat is sixteen and has “kitty alzheimer’s” — drinks a lot, pees a lot, wanders around and yowls at the top of her lungs. And I have the same mix of love for her and frustration at having to take care of her that you do. Thanks for putting it into words!

    You will know when the time comes — I did with another elderly cat I had. And someone told me recently that when Sesame stops wanting human contact and/or goes off in a corner to hide, it’s time. Sometimes they do need help, sadly — especially if they never go outdoors. They can’t make the decision for themselves to bare their body to a predator when it’s time.

    My thoughts are with you.

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