Bella - Diane Lee

Bella Died

My best friend, soul-mate and constant companion for the last 15 years died on Friday, 26 August at 7.15 PM. I had to make the difficult decision to put Bella to sleep because her kidneys had failed. It happened very quickly. To say I am heartbroken is an understatement. I am beyond devastated. Almost a month has passed since her death, and I am only just starting to function like a normal person.

***

Bella had been off her “high value” food for a couple of days, refusing yoghurt and cheese, her absolute favourites – and where I hid her thyroid medication. She had come back from Hanoi so, so skinny and it was a couple of months later, after I took her to the vet for a UTI, that she was diagnosed with an over-active thyroid. At the same time, tests on her kidneys revealed there were issues, but I switched her to renal food in 2021, and further tests confirmed that they hadn’t gotten worse and had stabilised. Her heart murmur, picked up in Hanoi when I had the vet sign her export papers, was also stable.

But on the Thursday, she spent the night vomiting, and her vomit smelled weird, like poo. The next day, on the Friday, she was listless, and mostly slept. She’d take herself to her tray and do a wee – which had been smelling odd, like asparagus, for a few days – and I’d pick her up and put her on the vanity so she could drink, but she wasn’t interested. Worried, I made an appointment for her to see the vet, and he confirmed that her kidneys had failed. I sobbed and sobbed, knowing that I would have to say good-bye to my darling Bella that day. I asked the vet if we could put her to sleep at home.

***

I carried Bella home from the vet in my arms, and settled her on my lap, her favourite place in the world, leaving my front door open for the vet so I wouldn’t have to disturb her. He was very kind, telling me that I was brave to do this for her, to sit with her and help her through it, knowing how painful and heartbreaking it was for me. He explained what would happen ¬ he had already put a cannula in her front leg at the practice and had given her a relaxant – and that her life would end with two injections. She’d wee a little and offered me a towel to put under her, which I declined. What’s a little wee in the circumstances, I said.

The first injection was an anaesthetic to ensure she was sleeping deeply and would feel no pain. The second one would stop her heart, and she would take two deep breaths before she died. When she took the two breaths, like sighs and it was exactly like what she’d do when she was contented, cuddled up with her chin on my shoulder, under the covers with me in bed. I take solace in that. I stroked her and talked to her, telling her how much she was loved as she left this world. I then put her up on my shoulder against my chest until she was cold. The vet wrapped her in towels and took her to be cremated. I felt better when her ashes were home. It was like she was home. Her paw prints, taken before she was cremated, are still sitting in the envelope.

***

Apart from a terrible sadness, I’ve been wracked with guilt. What if I hadn’t have taken Bella to Hanoi? What if I hadn’t have brought her back home to Australia? What if I had left Hanoi earlier, before the pandemic? These questions are moot. I couldn’t never leave her in either circumstances, and I had decided to exit Hanoi in November 2019, before there was even a pandemic. The pandemic was an extra layer of complication. What if I hadn’t have fed her canned tuna and BBQ pork and the occasional ham smallgoods in Hanoi? There wasn’t a lot she liked there in terms of canned food there, so I did what I could. She had regular vet checks in Hanoi, and her heart murmur wasn’t picked up until she left. What if I had gotten her to the vet earlier, when her wee smelled funny? He was kind and said that she would have been put on a machine and it was unlikely she would have survived anyway. And she would have been away from home. What if I had tried a different vet? Got a second opinion? I doubt that would have changed the outcome.

***

I had no idea that cats got so sick as the aged because I’ve never had a cat this long. My first cat decided to move in with my neighbours when my daughter was born. I always thought, because she was an inside cat and lived a benign, much loved and cared for life, that she would float into old age untroubled, and pass away in her sleep at 20 or so. I didn’t know that she would be beset with kidney, heart and thyroid problems. She’d had dental issues as well, and in March this year, she had a number of teeth extracted. She put on a bit of weight after that, but she was half a kilogram shy of her weight before she left Hanoi even though her thyroid was stable. I thought she would live at least another two or three years. I was wrong.

***

My house isn’t the same without her. It took me two weeks to clear her food and water bowls. Another week to empty her litter tray and clean it, and disassemble her scratching pole. I still haven’t ditched her thyroid medication, which is sitting on my kitchen window sill. Her kitty litter sits in the laundry; I am yet to decide what to do with it. I’m feeding her dry food to the chickens, who squawk with delight. Her canned food is still in the pantry. Everything reminds me of her and that she is no longer with me. I see her fur on the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen, and on the rug at the end of my bed. Her scratches are etched into my wooden floor. I can smell her still. The space is empty and quiet. Sometimes, I swear I can hear her thud as she jumps off my bed. I see her waiting patiently on the vanity for me to turn on the tap, after she’s jumped up via the toilet to get there. She loved drinking water out of the tap. I hear her meow quietly at me, and wait for me in the doorway, urging me not to forget to feed her because it was dinner time by her clock (as if I ever would). I turn the heater on and wish I could see her baking in front of it. Now there is a dark patch of fur on the rug, where she used to lie. I feel her warm body with me in bed, close and comforting, purring her contented purr. I still talk to her, touching the container where her ashes are.

***

I was in shock for days after Bella’s death; I didn’t eat, couldn’t eat. It was like I was on an island, out of my body, separate from the “normal” people. I looked for signs that she was still with me. I heard a busker sing John Legend’s All of Me as I walked down Rundle Mall, and that was a sign. I thought of all her curves and all her edges, all her purrfect impurrfections. I saw a funny little dog further down the Mall, and that was a sign. I saw a trail of wet paw prints on the footpath when I went for a walk, and that was a sign. I dreamed about her when, exhausted, I dozed off listening to a law lecture. In the dream, I stroked under her chin and she was purring, and that was a sign. Feathers in strange places are a sign. A moved mat near my front door is a sign. These signs bring me comfort.

***

People have been kind to me. Well, some people. My long term friend Rommie has been a wonderful support. She lost her dog a few years back, so knows what it’s like to lose a beloved pet. Gillian Facetimed me from Hanoi and shed a tear as I sobbed. Lynn and Amelia and Lu and Fozzy from my law course have been very kind, showering with compassion and checking up on me. My law lecturers have expressed their sorrow and granted me extensions because I can’t not get my assignments in. They are tolerant when I cry in class, as are other students who are suitably empathetic. A kind man at the bus stop let me cry and sympathised, telling me about the dog he lost two years ago. Some sent me a one-off message of condolence via Facebook and Instagram. Zac, Cate and Bojan messaged me privately to offer their condolences, talking me through my grief, holding space for me and my sadness. Others who I thought would acknowledge my loss and offer support haven’t. They say that a tragedy shows you who your true friends really are. Maybe it’s more like people don’t know what to say, or they’re worried they’ll say the wrong thing. So they say nothing.

***

I adored Bella. She was grumpy and bitey – less so once she started taking her thyroid medication – and cuddly and gorgeous and purry and smart. She loved sitting on the window ledge watching the birds. She chirruped at little children. She flirted with workmen. She faced off against the chickens at my back door. She loved laying in sunbeams in winter, and finding the coolest spot to relax in summer. When she slept with me, she would curl up under the doona close – on the left, never the right – and I would wrap her up in my arms, tucking my right hand under her back legs. She would sit and stare at me when I finished my dinner, waiting to lick the bowl. She’d perch on the bath and drink the bath water when I went for a soak. Then she’d let me hug her, but only for a minute. She loved resting with her front paws on my shoulder and stretching herself out against my body. She’d hear me coming up the driveway when I came home, and would be sitting on my bedroom window sill, waiting for me. When she was younger, she’d run out, scratch on her post, and then run to her tray and do a welcome home wee. She had the stinkiest poos, and would invariably do one when I cleaned her tray. She would always lie on my stomach when I meditated. In Hanoi, she would jump up onto the kitchen cupboards and survey her kingdom. She’d chase any geckos that dared enter. I’m sure she ate a couple. She also liked sitting and staring at the back of the fridge. I have no idea what she saw. She saved my life in Hanoi just by being there. If I didn’t have her to look after, I don’t know what would have happened. I was in a very dark place.

I am so grateful I got to experience her unconditional love for 15 years, and that I could give her a life where she was much loved and cared for. I’m grateful I was with her at the end, and that she left this world peacefully, and with dignity and grace.

I will miss her terribly.

6 thoughts on “Bella Died

  1. I’m so sorry your partner is no longer with you. We had to put our 11 year old Golden Retriever to sleep last year and sat there with her as she passed. Your memories of her will keep her alive and help fill the hole in your heart. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. Mike, thank you for reading and commenting. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your Golden Retriever. I feel and share your pain. The loss of our pets is heart-breaking, and you’re right – they leave the biggest hole in our hearts. A month on, I still miss Bella. Her presence was such an important, steadfast and comforting part of my life, as I’m sure your doggie was for you.

  2. We had to have our labrador Ringo put down a year ago, and I’m amazed how much I miss him. I really did during lockdown when I was working as an EMT in London while her indoors and the hound were 300 miles north. My work was pretty much bookended by Covid and made it very difficult indeed. Ringo was very old, in very good health except arthritis which was awful as we knew it was that what would finish it for him while he was as sound of heart and mind in every other way. We got him to Edinburgh (we escaped far-right England for Scotland) but one day three weeks in his arthritis took a sinister turn and we had to call it there and then, in effect.
    BTW I was led to this blog by https://thefreelancersyear.com/blog/how-to-become-a-ghost-writer/ and was struck that you lived in Hanoi. So did I, about 25 years ago, and have been thinking of it quite a lot of late.
    Interesting place. Pretty tough, people and landscape were lovely. Think I was happiest when sitting alone at a pho stall at midnight, Hanoi beer on ice while in this silent city under the blackest sky she’d drape the noodles into the boiling stock water then cut up some beef.

    1. Hello Robin, thank you for stopping by and I am so sorry for your loss. I knew that when I lost Bella I would be beyond heartbroken; you must have felt the same way with the loss of Ringo. There is now a cat-shaped hole in my heart. Living in Hanoi was the best of times, the worst of times — as you can probably appreciate!

  3. Hi Diane, I am sorry to hear that Bella past on. I remember you talking about her all those years ago. There is nothing like the love from an animal and the total devotion they give to you. They give you more love than most humans do. I am glad and to read about the exciting life you have lived since we last caught up travelling and living in Vietnam. I remember how excited you were before your first international trip. I am glad you have continued traveling and exploring this wonderful world.

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