This is the post I’ve dreaded writing for years, and over the past week, I started several different versions of it. The truth is, nothing I can say would do justice to the cat that was Miles, but his death warrants more than just a passing mention in a comment on a Friday Links post.
Three-month-old Miles on the night I brought him home.
Ever since he was a kitten, I had a premonition that he would die at 17. I never shared this premonition with a soul – not even Drew – because, in the early years, I didn’t want to jinx it. Miles battled so many health issues over his life and there were lots of times that his living to 17 felt like a farfetched idea. But then he survived his biggest health issue in August 2021, at the age of 16, and I started thinking, “Well, maybe.” And then, after he turned 17 last year, each day felt like borrowed time.
That August in 2021 we were out of town and came home to a dramatically different Miles. It’s still unclear whether he suffered a stroke – or a series of strokes – or whether he had a benign brain tumor. Whatever it was left him completely blind and cognitively impaired. He couldn’t walk in a straight line, he spun in circles nonstop, he was restless. But I didn’t feel he was ready to go yet, and the vet assured me that lab work showed an otherwise healthy cat and that she supported my decision to keep Miles alive and treat whatever time we had left as though he were in hospice care. We focused on making him comfortable and safe. We installed a baby gate at the top of our stairs so that he would stay confined to our top floor where he had easy access to his litter box, food, lots of sunlight, and even his favorite spot when weather allowed: the deck.
Oh, the hours he and I spent together on the deck. The hours we spent together, period. Almost since the time he came to live with me, I’ve worked from home, and so Miles and I were together pretty constantly. In addition to the lounging on the deck, here are some of Miles’ other favorite activities: eating as much as possible as often as possible (and this meant often trying to sneak food from our plates); cuddling; when he could still see, he loved watching birds and squirrels out the window; napping. And that’s about it. He was a simple guy, but he was special. Everyone always said so – all the different vets he saw over the years, every catsitter, most guests who came by who had any understanding or appreciation of cats – they all commented about how sweet and special he was.
One occasion that this was very clear was the weekend before Simone died. I didn’t want to believe it at the time, but she was actively dying, and she and Miles both understood this. Over her last day and a half, she climbed to the top of the stairs that lead to our roof and she slept. Miles immediately made his way to one of the bottom steps and stood guard for hours. He stood guard until he could no longer stay awake and then he lay down right where he was and slept. This was striking because he and Simone never got along great. In their younger days, they had physical fights which morphed into mostly vocal fights in their older age. But I think they respected each other. They at least respected each others’ space (most of the time). In each apartment we shared together, there was a clear “Simone’s territory,” and a “Miles’ territory,” and one rarely trespassed on the other.
After Simone died, Miles relished being the only cat of the family. And this coincided perfectly with Jackson and Joanie no longer being babies. Jackson was seven and Joanie was three at the time, so Miles, who always loved being the baby of the family before they came along, got to go back to that treasured role. In his final years, I used to always say, “My other babies got big, but you just kept on being my baby, didn’t you?” And he’d snuggle further into my arms like the big ol’ baby he was.
It was in my arms that Miles peacefully passed away last week. In the days prior, he’d had a seeming burst of energy. I even wrote about it here, after he joined us at our Passover Seder table. We commented on how he seemed like his old self again. In his final 19 months, he just wasn’t all there, mentally. It was him but it wasn’t. Like how I imagine someone with dementia might seem to their loved ones. When someone is experiencing rapid or sudden cognitive decline, it’s like losing pieces of them before they’re really gone. They’re here, but they’re not here. The grieving process begins before they actually die. So to get a little taste of the old Miles right before we lost him forever was a gift.
It was also a gift to get to care for him through this last stage of his life. These past 19 months taught me more about the aging process, the grieving process, and what the universal ingredients are for achieving a decent quality of life than any other experience I’ve had so far. I really had hoped he’d live forever, but despite his earlier burst of energy over Passover, a couple days later he became listless and lost interest in eating. By Sunday night, he began hiding – under the couch, behind the toilet. I knew these telltale signs of imminent death but also knew it was possible he was just sick and would recover like he had countless times before.
I filled his auto feeder with one of the frozen food cubes I made for his overnight feeding. At this point, Miles was eating five small meals a day (of his prescription canned wet food), and I would freeze some of the cans in ice cube trays to make food cubes that defrosted overnight or throughout the day if we happened to be away from him for several hours. I hoped in the morning the food would be eaten and Miles would have dramatically improved. But I remembered my premonition about Miles dying at 17; there were just a few weeks left for that to happen. Maybe this was really it this time.
In the morning, as I feared, Miles’ food was untouched and he was hiding again. I found him in a corner, only the bottom half of his body exposed looking skinnier than I’ve ever seen him (later, I learned he was only 7 pounds – down three pounds since January, which was half the weight he was three years ago and just a third of what he was at his heaviest). I managed to get him to eat a little bit, but I could tell this was it, this was the end. Just as I was wondering whether I should take him to our regular vet or get him to an ER, Miles had a seizure right in my arms that lasted nearly a full minute. I took him to the ER.
It happened quickly, but it was peaceful and, as much as these things can go, it was beautiful too. We were all there with him – me and Drew and Jackson and Joanie. We took photos. I thanked him for all the joy he’d brought us over these years and told him his work was done and he could rest now. He looked so cute, even in his final moments, wrapped in a cozy blanket, his little paw sticking out like it always did.
Of course, the vet commented about how special he is. It was the one part of him that hadn’t changed at all. “He’s so sweet, isn’t he?” she said.
Yes, he was. He was the absolute sweetest (and funniest and cutest), and I’m going to miss him terribly.