Emmett, our 15-year-old gray and white cat, was put down today.
He was a stupid cat. I've lost patience with him for years now, and his kidneys were failing and he was marking the house daily, and for a cat, that's one sign that they're somewhere around life number eight. But as much as I've known this day was approaching for a long time, and for as much as I'm sure it's the right decision now that his old body can't hold up any more, it's still sad.
For one thing, it's the first time the kids will really know the irreversibility of death, and though I know it's inevitable and necessary, I still don't like it. That cat they saw every day won't be seen again. (I'm still not sure how to deal with his frequent cameos in their nightly bedtime stories ... ) Sam's being a little dramatic now ("Dad, two words: 'Emmett' and 'death'."), and Aidan's just sad, but I think they will really start to notice the finality of death in a week or so, a mini-bridge to Terabithia. Better this way than with a close relative, and gentler to be foreseen and known.
I think the hardest part of putting down a pet (even a stupid one) is remembering when they were little cute things and knowing both they and the times they lived in are gone. I never even knew Emmett when he was a kitten -- he's been in Laurie's life longer than I have -- but I remember how before Laurie and I were dating we would meet at Laurie's house for Bible study taught by Scott Becker (also eulogized on this blog). One night as our group was discussing Romans, Emmett came up to me, rubbed against my legs, then jumped on my lap and stretched out on his back. We just kept going on, but Scott kept glacing over (maybe trying to catch the moment when the claws would come out) because Emmett's not exactly an affectionate cat. I had never seen Emmett do that before and I don't recall him doing it since. Within a few weeks his owner and I were dating, so in hindsight I see it as kind of a sweet acceptance, that he was OK with me. And then I became his owner and source of food, so guess it worked out OK for both of us.
The thing is, all life, even a stupid cat, is loved by God. Emmett's atoms are dispersing now and returning to the world, and soon they'll be part of a plant or soil. But when he was alive, he somehow could take in and give out stuff (and believe me, he could give it out ... ) and remain the same cat, basically the same creature that stretched out on my lap in May 1998. Even though he was just a stupid cat, I feel oddly lucky to have known him (and cleaned up after him) for so long. He wasn't anything special, but then again, he was, and he will be missed.