Thank you all for your kind words on Merlin. It was difficult, but we took him to the vet last night at 9pm to be put to sleep. When I got home he was sitting on the electric blanket that we left on all day for him, and he really had barely moved. I offered him one last try at some tuna fish and wet food and he didn't want it at all. He wanted to lie down but couldn't (we later learned cats know instinctively if they have fluid in/on their lungs that they can't lie down because it collapses their lungs) so he was laying upright with his head against the wall. Poor guy must have been so tired. His sides were heaving out with the breathing and we just decided we didn't want him to suffer any longer.
He got a sedative first for a couple of minutes that basically put him to sleep, well before the "lethal" injection was given. Even with the sedative his sides were still heaving so we knew it wasn't adrenaline or anything making him breathe heavier. He was exhausted and done.
Merlin was 13 or 14 years old. We're not positive because we got him after he'd been a stray for 4 years. He was a "big boy" - 21lbs at one point! and 14lbs with fluid at the vet on Tuesday, so probably less once the fluid was gone. As you can tell, he loved to eat, so him not eating was a huge sign.
Obviously with his weight being so low (for him) he hadn't been eating or eating as much for awhile, but Merlin was nearly feral due to his time as a stray. He never let anyone near him. He didn't want to be pet or cuddled. He looked almost homeless because he was so big he couldn't groom in the back and he would get mats of hair, but he wouldn't let us near him enough to pet him, much less brush him. He would come out in the room when we were in it, but stay far enough way to keep an eye on us. If we started heading in his direction (whether it was for him or another reason) he'd high tail it out of there.
As you can imagine, it made it hard to feel the same connection for Merlin as our other kitties. He spent a lot of time hiding under beds, and not in our laps. It wasn't until these last few days that he lets us near him and we could pet him. We knew that had to mean something was wrong because he never let us do that before.
In the room where he went to sleep, L cradled his head, and I stood behind DH holding onto his (DH's) shoulder, so Merlin couldn't see me. Merlin probably wouldn't have wanted a lot of people with him when he went but DH would never let him go alone. I pet him and kissed him for the first time in the 10 years we had him. After he was gone I spent half an hour just petting him and kissing his head. I'd just never gotten the chance. He was so soft (they'd clipped his mats when he went to the vet on Tuesday) and so cute. It was like seeing him for the first time.
I know that was Merlin's choice, and not ours, because we would have loved to cuddle and pet him throughout his life if he would have let us. He was "independent" and that was fine.
But I didn't realize how much I'd miss him till he was gone. And this all happened so fast. Just last week he was greeting us at the top of the stairs when we would get home from work, and then as we started walking up them, would run away.
There will be no more greetings for us from Merlin, but I hope he's now free of pain and exhaustion and has shed his skittishness for all the pats and cuddles in heaven.