Haven’t forgotten you, Nermal

Tomorrow, November 17th, makes nine years since I lost my best friend to chronic renal failure. On top of the timing, it was my first experience with a cat with chronic health issues – he was diagnosed as diabetic some years before. But we caught it later than Angel’s, and even a decade makes a big difference in treatment options.

Since the letter I wrote him has been pretty much off the web for some years now, I thought I’d repost it here. There are more pics of Nermal under “About the Cats” at the top of the page.

Loki has since crossed the Bridge as well – but Trick made an enormous difference in Loki coping with Nermal’s loss.

Letter to Nermal

January 28, 2003

Last night, I watched you glance out a window and turn away without interest to face towards the room to catnap.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much you could even see outside, with gradually worsening cataracts and the scarring on one eye.  And I thought of how different that single action was, from when you were young, and always insisted on having a window to sit in, open at least a little, so you could see and smell and hear what was going on in the world.  So very much has happened since then.

I was only 15 when you were born.  Your mother was my brother’s cat, the tiny runt no one thought would amount to anything, not my pretty fluffy outgoing tortoiseshell Shadow.  Who knows what tom wandered through the farm, that gave her four large brown tabby kittens?  My parents said, understandably, that we couldn’t keep any of you.  You got nicknamed Nermal because you were somehow just a little cuter than the others, and the name of Garfield’s “World’s Cutest Kitten” seemed appropriate.  But things change, and I was allowed to keep one of you, since my brother got a boxer puppy.  I wonder what life would have been like, for you and for me, if I’d kept one of the others instead and you’d gone to another home?

I remember walking along the lane to the pasture and the woodlot, with you and Shadow as company, Shadow sometimes running along the cedar rail fence instead of walking, and both of you stopping to explore interesting sights and scents.  I never wondered why you came with me, or whether it was a “normal” thing for a cat to do, I only knew that I was happy and you and Shadow were happy and things were the way they should be.  I missed your mother, who in a lot of ways was “mine” too, but she disappeared one day and we never knew what happened – did  you miss her too?  But it’s hard to think of things like that under the summer sun with the wind singing in the trees.

I remember the 24-hour Dungeons and Dragons game 5 friends and I decided to have at my house, and how you sat on my lap at the big dining room table.  Others remember, too… two people who were at that game have asked me, more recently, “How’s that fluffy tabby of yours?”  Not about Shadow, who’s usually the flirt… you’re the one they asked about.

I remember we moved away, my mom and brother and I, to the city, and I had to leave you and Shadow behind.  My grandmother promised to make sure you were fed, and it was summer.  You would have been miserable, in the apartment we found, unable to go outside, no windows that would have been comfortable to sit in.  I missed you and I needed you, and I was afraid you and Shadow would think I’d abandoned you.

I remember we got a house, after a few months.  I found out later that my mother told my grandmother only to bring me Shadow… Shadow was already fixed, and she was worried, I think, about how we were all going to survive on just her income.  But my grandmother brought both of you, and Mom didn’t say anything, so you stayed.  At least there we had a back yard you could go out in.  Shadow was jealous a lot, she tried to keep you away from me, so I don’t think I spent as much time with you as maybe I could have… I was too messed up emotionally to think very clearly sometimes.  But I tried.  I can still see you sitting on top of the birdhouse my brother made and nailed to a tree, waiting patiently for the birds to fly in or out.  I doubt I’ll ever forget the hot summer day we left all the doors open to catch what breeze there was, and you trotted proudly up to my bedroom and released a half-fledged bird.  I swear you and Shadow were getting exasperated that I kept trying to throw a towel over it and take it outside, you were determined to show me the proper way to go about hunting a bird.  And I still smile thinking of your habit of climbing onto the pushed-in kitchen chairs with the curved backs, and reaching up to feel around on the kitchen table for anything interesting.  No one was in the room at the time, but I assume that’s what you were doing the day you snagged the steak Mom was about to cook for supper….

I remember being 19, and realizing that if I were ever to figure out who I was and what I wanted, I needed to be on my own.  The apartment I found, the only decent one I could afford on what Welfare allowed, told me, “Only one cat.”  It was a hard choice, in a way, but in another, inevitable:  Mom kept Shadow, the social queen, along with her own older female, and you came with me, along with the hamster.  It was a basement apartment, with one window, and you always made me leave it open, even in winter just a crack, so you could sit there for hours on end.  We sat on the steps outside, one early fall afternoon soon after we moved, and shared the cold meat I’d bought intending to make sandwiches… the sandwiches never got made.  When I took the hamster out to run around on the bed, while you were sleeping near the pillows, you just watched him while he ran right up to you and over your tail and generally treated you like a piece of furniture.  For all your hunting skills, you never made an aggressive move towards him.  Did you know it would upset me if he got hurt?  Or was it the scent of my hands on him, marking him as mine?  Or just lack of interest?

We tried sneaking Shadow in, after a few weeks.  You certainly remembered how she used to bully you.  Not once did you hiss, not once did you lay back your ears or fluff your tail or act aggressively towards her.  You simply followed her, your nose an inch from the tip of her tail.  She got so freaked by this that she jumped up onto a shelf and refused to come down all night, not even to use the litter box.  I had to call Mom first thing in the morning and tell her I was bringing Shadow back immediately.  You made your point, although it beats me how you did it.  That was the same apartment we were in a few months after that, when I had my first real relationship, with someone who worked all week and was tired on weekday evenings.  Which meant that, for the couple of months it lasted, I more or less abandoned you over the weekend.  I felt guilty doing it, I’m still not sure it was right, but you accepted it as calmly as you always have everything else.

We moved that spring, from a basement to an apartment on the second floor of a house, with a flight of wooden stairs up the outside of the house to our door.  It was a very hot summer, and I left the door open as much as possible.  A huge old tree shaded the doorway and the landing at the top.  With so much long thick fur, you were so hot you didn’t want to come inside, so I left food and water on the landing for you, so you could lie out there with the breeze ruffling your fur.  I looked out once, and saw you sitting next to your food bowl, tail curled around your feet, while a rather scrawny orange and white stray helped himself to your food.  Maybe you knew that there’d always be more for you, when you wanted it?  I had no hope of catching the stray, unfortunately, and I never saw him again.  Maybe you did, maybe I was feeding both of you that summer, I don’t know.  One night I heard a lot of motion, and went to the wide-open door to find you lying calmly on the railing around the landing while four raccoons emptied your food bowl.  You weren’t afraid at all, and although it was probably stupid, neither was I.  I found them bread and other things I thought they might like and gave it to them.  One was bold enough to try to come right in the apartment, but I shoed it back and it accepted that without arguing.  They could have hurt us both, I suppose, they were larger than I’d ever realized a coon was, and they looked very powerful, but they stayed peacefully until there was no more food, and then they left, never having done anything remotely threatening.

That winter was when I finished my first “real” novel.  Through the worst of the winter, I hid away from virtually anyone except my mother and my “other-mom” who was mentor and friend when I needed one.

And you, of course.  It was just you and I, and that winter healed a lot of the hurting I was still carrying around.  The fur that made you so uncomfortable all summer made it possible for you to go out in the snow and cold without ever noticing it, as far as I could tell.  You’d scratch at the door to come back in, and you’d snuggle up against me with snow on your fur to lick yourself dry, while I got back to writing.

That spring was when the first of your serious health problems struck.  For two or three days, you stopped eating.  I bought you every kind of treat possible to coax you into it, and nothing worked.  Off to the vet we went, and she told me that your gums were infected and all four of your canines would have to be pulled.  You hadn’t been eating because it hurt to eat.  I wish I’d realized sooner what was wrong, that I’d taken you to the vet more quickly, and spared you an extra day or so of pain and hunger.  For a couple of days you could only lap up bottled baby food and canned broth and gravy, and then eventually wet food, and finally you healed enough to be interested in dry food again.  I’d had to use all the money my family members had given me for my birthday, and beg more help from my parents and grandmothers, and they did help.  I’m proud, and I hate to ask for help, but I’d have been on my knees if I’d had to.

We moved again, that spring, after a year there, still searching for… I don’t know what.  A place that felt like a home, not just somewhere to stay for a few months or a year?   And that fall the cuts to Social Services came, and I couldn’t afford the rent anymore.  We had a friend, though, the son of my “other-mom.”   He liked you, had never tried to push you into coming to him more quickly; he brought you treats, every visit, and waited until you came to him for them.  We moved in with him, at his invitation.  You weren’t very happy about all the chaos, of moving things from one apartment to the other gradually.  Before we brought my bed, I slept for a few nights in a nest I made myself of comforters and blankets on the floor.  Once, you peed on it when I wasn’t looking, and I know it was deliberate, because you’ve never done that anywhere but the litter box.  The second time, you waited until I was IN the blankets to do it.  I was furious, I know.  I can’t remember exactly what I did, but I’m sure there was a definite reaction.  That’s the only time I ever remember you complaining about our living conditions, and you stopped complaining once everything settled down again.

One afternoon, very soon afterwards, I got a call from my mother.  A friend of my brother’s had brought two kittens home and her father said she couldn’t keep them (why hadn’t she asked first?  I’ve always wondered that).  One was a little tortie female, did I want her?  I talked to my friend, and we decided we could support a kitten too.  So, much later that night, another call came:  the kitten was at my mother’s place, was I going to come get it tonight, or wait until tomorrow?  I hauled my friend out of bed and made him walk with me.  Imagine my surprise when I found, not the tortie, but a white nose on a tabby face peeking out from under my mother’s couch at me!  Life would have been so incredibly different, and probably quite a lot emptier, if life hadn’t taken that particular twist and given us that crazy little brat-kitten.  It didn’t really take you very long to get used to him.  I treasure the pictures I have of the two of you wrestling, with Loki on the bottom, and the ones of the two of you curled up together.  He adores you, he always has, it’s impossible not to see that.  And I think, even when he was being a nuisance and sneaking up on you while you were trying to sleep, you’ve always cared about him, too.

Did you know that those particular living arrangements were doomed to failure, is that why you initially protested?  I remember you jumping onto my lap and glaring furiously at my friend when we had an argument… a fairly large man, and you a 12-pound cat, and you made it very clear that you wouldn’t tolerate it if he came any closer to me.  Between the stress levels of sharing, and the problems we had with the landlord… the leaking wall that soaked the carpet and some of my books, which the landlady blamed on us for not keeping the heat high enough… well, we moved again, you and me and now Loki too.  Another basement apartment, on a busy street… only the one window, at ground level, but it looked right onto the sidewalk, so there was plenty going on for you to watch.  Do you remember the night a bat got in somehow, probably under the furnace-room door?  In a low-ceilinged apartment, it looked absolutely enormous, flying back and forth in a panic.  You didn’t panic, and you didn’t start getting hysterically excited like Loki did.  I think, if I’d given you a few more minutes, you would have caught it.  Neither of you was happy with me when I locked you in the bathroom until I could shoo the poor little thing outside with a broom.

We were living there when we met my then-best friend.  I know you both liked him.  We started spending so much time together that he brought his cat Anna to our apartment so she wouldn’t be alone so much.  Remember Anna?  Big fluffy tortoiseshell, who’d had a rather unpleasant life until she came to live with her current human.  Her experiences with other cats hadn’t been good, either.  It confused her to no end that you neither tried to intimidate her nor acted intimidated by her, just mostly ignored her.  That Loki wanted so badly to play yet was willing to stop when she made it clear she’d had enough confused her, too.  She used to sit in the chair, and Loki would run by her at high speed, ZOOOOM, and she’d try to tag him with a paw on his way by.  But by then, you were slowing down quite a lot, not very active, not wanting to play much, just sleeping most of the time.  The vet told me it was probably diabetes, and if I wanted they could do some tests to confirm it, but there was nothing I could do except regulate your diet strictly.  I didn’t have them do the tests, I didn’t see any point.  To try to feed you one thing and Loki another would be next to impossible.  To refuse you treats, and your favourite game of coaxing or demanding food from me when I eat, would make you miserable.  I decided all I could do was practice moderation, hope that you wouldn’t get worse, and pray that if you did I’d have the strength to not let you suffer with no hope.

We moved up to that friend’s place, since it was better than ours.  And a friend of his, who has a diabetic cat, suggested a different vet.

THIS vet took my fears seriously.  She did the necessary tests and confirmed that it was diabetes.  There were pills, she said, that were developed for humans but worked on cats, that stimulate the pancreas to create more insulin on its own.  Since you weren’t a severe case, they might work.  It would mean giving you a pill twice a day, but the other alternative was insulin shots.  So we tried.  Three weeks later, your blood glucose was on the high end of normal.  In a matter of a couple of months, you were alert and active and playful again.  I kept wanting to cry every time you went bouncing around the apartment with your tail straight up and pounced on a toy mouse or a moving string.  I found out later, in a visit with the vet clinic head surgeon while our usual vet was on vacation, that he’s only ever had that medication work on three cats.

You had to have more teeth out, not long after that.  She took such good care of you, our wonderful vet, she advised extra tests to make sure you’d get through the anaesthetic all right, and she called me as soon as she was done to let me know that you were okay.  When I came to pick you up, you were a little groggy still, but you were sitting in the front office on the lap of one of the vet techs while she worked on the computer.

I don’t know how good I was at taking care of you or Loki for a long time.  A lot of my own old emotional stuff boiled to the surface, and I really don’t remember very much of about a year and a half, except the nights when I was sure nothing would ever be right and there was no reason to go on.  I did, always.  I had to get up in the morning and make sure you were fed, I had to stay with you and take care of you, no matter what, no matter how badly I hurt.  I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that you and Loki saved my life.

And, inevitably, we moved again.  In with a friend from high school, one who’d been at that 24-hour D&D game years before.  She had a little year-old tortie female… our lives are filled with torties!  Marble, technically, though over time she became Belle, and that’s all anyone calls her now.  She tried to lord it over you and Loki, and I know you broke up squabbles between her and Loki more than once.  The two of you finally put her in her place, and given the method, I’m certain it was your idea:  together, you backed her into a corner and simply kept her there, not hissing, not threatening, just not letting her by, until you decided you’d made your point.  And you did.  She behaved better after that.  And while we were there, I decided I felt stable enough to find a job.  Okay, it was a crappy job, but it was a job nonetheless, and I kept it for 8 months.  I had a bit more money then, to spend on cat toys and cat treats, but it was an adjustment for all of us for me to be out of the house more.  And I moved from there to a better job, the one I still have, although we still don’t have very much money.

My then-best friend knew someone who had to move back to the west coast and couldn’t take her eight-month-old black male cat with her, so he said he’d take him.  Anna disliked him immediately.  I came to visit him, and fell instantly and absolutely in love with him.  My roommate was starting to have trouble dealing with the responsibilities of having a cat, I was doing most of the work… so my then-best friend took Belle, and Sidney came to live with us.  I was worried about you right then, I confess, and I took him at least partly because I didn’t want Loki to be alone if you left us.  I don’t think you’ve ever objected to Sid.  Of course, for months he hid in corners a lot, terrified of everyone and everything, so I don’t imagine he got in your way much.  But you didn’t terrorize him, and you could have so easily.  I’m certain he learned from you and Loki.

That apartment at least had a back yard.  By then, I’d gotten in the habit of keeping you inside all the time.  I’d seen too many, “Have you seen my cat?” posters, and Loki had no street sense at all, and your vision was beginning to deteriorate noticeably.  We all went outside sometimes, with the younger boys in harnesses on long leashes, and after the first couple of times, you free to wander around because I trusted you not to go far.  You looked so happy, lying on the grass with the sunlight on your fur.

Remember the orphans?  My roommate’s boyfriend lives in the country, and one of the female cats had four kittens.  She got in a fight with something – fox?  fisher? – that killed one kitten and hurt her so badly she had to be put to sleep.  His family was at a loss what to do with three 10-day-old orphans.  So… we took them.  And between us, we raised them, and they survived.  You and the younger boys were extremely curious about these little furry things that made little squeaky mews.  I’m sorry, now, that I ever let you near them, because it was probably one of them that scratched your eye.

Due to landlord problems and other things, we all moved… my roommate, me, you, Loki, and Sid.  No yard here, just parking lot, but one nice sunny room with windows on three sides, at least.  We found homes for the babies soon after we moved, but your eye was pretty bad by then.  The vet said the cornea was scratched, and gave me drops, in hopes it would heal.  It didn’t, and she said the only other thing she could think of was to stitch your third eyelid across to cover and protect it for a little while.  So she said to bring you in the next day.

That afternoon, we were lying in the sunny back room, you and I.  I had an old mattress on the floor to sit on, and nothing else in the room except a table for plants.  The space was nice, just to relax.  I was reading, and you were sleeping next to me.

Then you got up, and you couldn’t walk.

It scared you as much as it did me, maybe more, and you started to cry.  I called the vet, ours had left but another one was still there, so off we went for the second time that day.  This one was much more clinical and less gentle and patient.  She kept insisting that I make you try to walk, though I explained over and over that you just had no control, that you could hardly stay on your paws and you lurched into things when you managed to take a step.  She thought it was a stroke, and wanted you to stay overnight.  I ran home to get a sweater with my scent on it for you to sleep on, and cried the whole time I was walking.

I don’t think I slept that night.

The next day I called to check on you, and the vet tech went to see, and said that same vet wanted you to stay another night.  No, enough.  I told her I was coming to get you, right now, and I was bringing you home.  My best friend and my roommate and I cleaned the table and a few odds and ends out of the sunny room, so there was just the mattress, and food and water and a litter box.  I called in sick, because you cried every time I left you, and I stayed there with you for three days, dozing on the mattress, waking up to help you to the litter box, holding you steady so you could drink water or chicken broth or… again, we were back to the bottled baby food.  Any minute, I was sure, you were going to die right in front of me.

Somehow, you stayed, and you got your feet back under you again.  A week later, you had the surgery on your eye.  When she removed the stitches, eventually, we discovered that it had healed, but it had scarred, too.  How much can you see out of that eye now, I wonder?  It startles people when they first see it, one eye all covered with pale scar tissue, but the green still visible around it and the dark of the pupil behind it.  I think maybe it interferes most with your depth perception.  But it doesn’t seem to trouble you at all.  You still bounce around and attack toy mice, and you’re still unarguably the lord of the household.

Everything’s been peaceful for a while now, no more health crises, just every twelve hours I have to drop a pill down your throat and put drops in your bad eye to keep it from getting inflamed.  You’re so patient about it.  I know that knowing you’ll get wet food immediately afterwards helps, but I also know that sometimes you get frustrated and don’t want to do it.  It’s never more than token resistance, really.  It frustrates me sometimes, too, that my life is broken into 12-hour chunks, ruled by the necessity of being here unless I can talk a friend into doing it.

It’s worth it.

You don’t have as much muscle under all that fur as you used to, you’ve lost weight.  I know there are days, more and more often, when you have trouble jumping up onto things, so I have to make sure there are other alternatives for you.  Your vision is still deteriorating, but your other senses are as sharp as ever.  You get cold more easily, and you sleep a bit more.  But you’re still alert and playful and active, and as far as I can tell, you’re happy.  I hope you are.  We’ve come a long, long way from wandering along the lane out at the farm.  Thirteen years.  We still don’t have much money, I can’t buy you everything I’d like to, but I’ll always make sure you have everything you need, and there always seems to be a little extra for treats.

I’m a bit worried about what’s going to happen.  February 3rd, I start college full-time, a two-year course in Medical Office Admin.  It’s my big shot at making a secure life for us, finally.  But full-time college and part-time work is going to be exhausting and time-consuming.

I bet you’ll accept it as calmly as you’ve always accepted every other change I’ve thrown at you.

I can’t help but know, as time passes, that we’re inching closer and closer to a day when you’re going to leave us.  I know it’s inevitable, I know it’s part of the normal cycle of life, but I honestly don’t know how I’ll live through that day when it comes.  And the day after, without you.  And the day after that.  Loki and Sid will, I hope, still be here and still need me, so I know I will, but a part of me will die with you.  Even knowing that, I don’t regret it, not after everything we’ve been through together.

I pray for three things.  That I’ve given you a happy life, that when you do leave us, it’s in your sleep, home with your family, not in pain or fear, and that you know how much I love you.

November 16, 2003

I wrote the first part of this letter after I woke up one morning with a terrifying sense of time and mortality, and a feeling of a clock counting down much to rapidly the time we had left.

A bit of a premonition, maybe.

You kept losing weight.  It wasn’t the first time, and it only became obvious as the weather got hot.  Not the first time you’d lost weight in the summer, but it was very bad, this time.

In August, the day of the huge power outage, you were in for surgery again, to have yet another bad tooth removed.  Our amazing vet tried her best to keep you safe.  Because you’re always so calm, she skipped the injectable anaesthetic and went straight to the gas one.  That way, there’d be much less for your kidneys to struggle with.  And it worked.  I had to be at work that day, but I got a call there from one of the front office staff, one who’s always been your friend, to tell me you were okay and done and waking up already.  My best friend went to visit you right away, but left because you were getting so excited about coming home, and you couldn’t until the IV was done, just to keep you that little bit safer.

We thought everything would be okay then, but it wasn’t.  You kept losing weight.  The shaved spot on your arm from the IV didn’t heal right, you just kept licking and licking until it was raw.  So, back we went to the vet, just after class on my first Thursday back in school.  Our vet was obviously very worried, and wanted a full blood panel done.  I took you home, terrified – me, not you.

She called half an hour after the animal hospital normally closes to give me the results.  Once I put down the phone, I sat and cried.  She said your kidneys were failing, and there was no way to fix it, only to try to make you comfortable for whatever time might be left, and she had no idea how long that might be.

A friend from the Internet suggested a couple of mailing lists for caregivers of cats with Chronic Renal Failure, so I could get information, suggestions, whatever.  I joined them, and I’m glad I did.  It helped, to talk to others who’ve gone through this, to be able to ask for little bits of advice and keep them updated on you and find out how their cats were doing, and get ideas I could bring to the vet.

October first, we moved into a new home.  A basement apartment, right back where we started, except that now we have Loki and Sidney with us, and I’m
in and out all the time to go to classes and go to work.  We’re off the busy main street, and out into a quiet residential area.  We have a yard, and a few days after we moved, there was string of beautiful days.  We went outside, Loki and Sidney on leashes, and you loose.  You were almost entirely blind by then, but you still mapped out the yard? tree, stairs to deck, fences, the cement wall of the next-door garage, the driveway to our own door at the side.  I just had to talk to you frequently for the first day, so you could anchor on me, but you didn’t need it after that.  We set things up inside so you had small easy steps up to the bedroom window, and once you’d been up and down a couple of times, you started bouncing up and down easily.

It wasn’t so bad at first, but it got worse.  Only a couple of weeks into school, I started using my long 2 and 2-and-a-half hour breaks in the middle of the day to make the half-hour bus ride back to you, three of my four class days a week.  You stopped eating dry food pretty much completely, and I needed to make sure you had wet food, still fresh, that Loki hadn’t stolen.  And I just needed to see you and cuddle you? and check email.  I was doing that I don’t know how often during the day, groping for some kind of answers.  I learned how to give you injections every second day, and it terrified me at first but I got good at it.  The place where you had the first couple must have bothered you, you scratched and licked it raw.  The vets we saw couldn’t come up with any other reason.  We got cream for it, and I modified a couple of baby sleepers so you wore little t-shirts all the time, covering it so it could heal.

There was an awful night when I woke up hearing beeping, and found you on the desk, on the keyboard, looking scared and confused while it beeped at you.  With all the usual clutter, you couldn’t find a way off it, and you were too upset to figure out the jump to the floor.  I sat up with you for an hour, holding you and petting you, until your heart slowed down to a normal speed and you dozed off draped over my shoulder like a baby.

In mid-October, the problems really started.  Constipation, a couple of times.  Missing the litter box because you couldn’t flex your hips and hind legs far enough.  October 28th, we got another full blood panel done.  Everything was worse, despite everything.  So we started doing subcutaneous fluids.  I’m sorry I hurt you the first couple of times, until we both learned, and I got much smaller needles and started to warm the fluids first.  My best friend came and held you for me, because we’d finally found something you wouldn’t just patiently accept.

I missed an awards dinner at the college to take you to the vet, the first Wednesday in November.  Things were wrong, I knew that, and I was getting frantic.  You were getting weaker, and no matter what we tested, there just didn’t seem to be a single cause.  We took my old iron-frame bed apart, put the metal springs directly on the floor and the mattress on them because it was hard for you to jump.

This past week or so, everything has really come apart.  After a lifetime of never willingly being under a blanket, you’ve started to burrow into the blankets on my bed.  You terrified me one night, I couldn’t find you anywhere, until I finally saw the very end of your tail sticking out from under the blankets.  It had never occurred to me to look there, it was too unlike you.  I started making a cave for you, braced by pillows on both sides, so you could get in and out more easily and breathe while you were under there.  With no body fat left, and anemia, you’re cold all the time.  I started trying to figure out how to get you through the winter.

Only a day or two later, I found you under there, with a large wet spot next to you.  Maybe it’s a blessing that your urine is so dilute there’s virtually no smell.  I doused it in vinegar, flipped the mattress.  The old single mattress we used back when you had your stroke is still around; I cleared everything from one side of the bed, put it there, with an old thin shower curtain over it, then lots of blankets, and a nest in the corner near my pillows, with your food and water close by and your litter box farther down.  But that wasn’t good enough; you wanted to be on the bed, under the blankets I sleep in.  You liked having the litter box in easy reach, though.  You kept at least trying to use it.

For a couple of days, you lost all appetite for anything except yogurt, or cream cheese mixed with water into a semi-liquid.  Then you started to refuse even that.  I tried everything I could think of.  A liver-shake recipe I got in one of the CRF groups.  Baby food, yet again.  Black Forest ham.  Chicken.  Absolutely everything I could think of you might eat.  It hasn’t worked.  You still won’t eat.  Trying to feed you with a syringe, or by fingers-full of food, only upsets you beyond tolerance, I’ve never heard you growl at me before.

So yesterday, Saturday, we went to see the junior vet at the animal hospital.  Just to see if there’s anything left to try.  She was wonderful with you, and with me, hardly able to talk I was so scared and crying.  One more blood test, but we all knew, her and me and my best friend who came with us, that there was very little hope.  You were down to 6.5 pounds from 12 in your prime, nothing left of you but fur over bone.  The blood test results only confirmed it.  Everything was still going in the wrong direction, despite everything.  What should’ve gone down, had gone up.  What should have gone up, had gone down.

I could’ve left you there, to be on an IV for a couple of days.  There’s a chance that it might have bought you a bit more time.  But I know you, love.  I know you’re tired.  I promised you, back in September, that as long as you wanted to keep fighting, I’d be right there with you, and I’d do anything I had to.  But I also promised you that once you made it clear that you didn’t want to fight any more, I wouldn’t try to hold you.  After this long together, I can’t lie to myself about what you want.  And what you want is no more vet visits, no more blood tests, no more needles, no more pills.  No more being tired and cold and weak and blind.  No more being stuck in a body that’s wearing out more rapidly all the time.  You’ve fought long and hard and with more courage than I think I’d have, but it’s just been too much.  I know that.

I called my boss and told her.  She gave me the weekend off.  I can’t afford it, not with the vet bill we’re racking up, but so what?  I needed to be with you.

We went outside yesterday, my best friend watching Loki and Sidney, me watching you.  A wonderful friend gave me her old digital camera, so I got some good pictures of you outside in the sun.  We spent last night snuggled in bed with you under the blankets with me.  You licked a little gravy from a can of food, lapped a little bit of the CatMilk you haven’t had in so long because it has sugar in it.  I wish I thought that was enough to make a difference.

Today, we’ll go outside again, one last time.  At least you can have that.

And tomorrow morning, we’ll go to the vet one last time.

You’ve been with me through so much, so many times that I needed you there, wise and serene and strong.  You’ve been my anchor, my child, my teacher, my beloved friend, sometimes my reason for getting up in the morning.  You’re a large part of my drive to go back to school, so I could look after you and the younger two better.  You’ve been sick before, and you’ve always fought your way back to stay with me a bit longer.

You’ve been the heart of my whole world for over a decade.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I haven’t always given you the best food, or homes where we could go outside, but I’ve given you all the love I have in me.  The only thing left that I can give is to let you go.  I hope you can go find another body, so you can have another lifetime of afternoons outside in the sun.  Maybe now someone else needs you.  I’ve read about guardian angels and guardian spirits, pagan familiars and totem animals, ways to communicate with your cat and ways to deepen the bond between, and they’ve always just made me smile.  I know exactly who my guardian is, and how to communicate with you, and I don’t think we could’ve gone any more deeply into each other.  If you’re off to help someone else, I hope they love you like you deserve.

Wherever you go next, I want you to go knowing you’ll never be forgotten, and you’ll be loved forever.

A final postscript, February
November 16th turned out to be gray and cloudy and cold, but you still wanted to be out. We ended up sitting on the front step, with you wrapped in your blanket and my big fisherman’s sweater wrapped around both of us. You kept your nose out, but not much more. I kept wanting to cry: there was a time when you played in the snow and never felt the cold at all. We spent the rest of the day cuddled together in bed, with you under the blankets with me. And I wished that we could have done that last vet visit today, instead of a full day of simply waiting. I’m certain you weren’t hurting, and I’m equally certain that somehow you knew.

I finally fell asleep for a bit, and woke up at the time you used to get your breakfast. You’d left, you were sitting on the back of the couch, right outside the bedroom, waiting.

Half the vet hospital staff came in to say good-bye to you. They knew how strong you were, how much you’d gone through. The vet put freezing on your arm so you wouldn’t feel this one last needle, and I held you, and you were gone. I think you were ready and just needed that last little push to get free.

It’s been three months since then. I have your ashes in a little urn, but my mind and heart refuse to believe that you’re in there. I have your paw print in terracotta, but it’s so small, you’d lost so much weight even your paws were smaller. I have lots of pictures, never enough, but lots, that play as my screensaver endlessly. And I have memories.

Loki hasn’t dealt at all well with your absence. I feel like a suddenly single parent, trying to deal with him and Sid without your help. We’re managing, but some days are very hard.

Our wonderful vets are being very patient about my paying off the bill that piled up during the final couple of months. Between Christmas and New Year’s, I got a letter from the Ontario Veterinary College that two of them, your usual vet and the one who helped you cross, had made a donation in your name to a fund for research and such. I think you’d like that.

My hands can still feel the texture of your fur and the lines of your body, they still know where and how to rub to make you purr like thunder. I can still hear your voice, saying “mwaaAA” when you expected your share of anything on my plate, and the exact tone of your purr. Part of me keeps expecting to walk in the bedroom and find you curled up on the bed, tail over your nose, or to look at the window and find you sitting there watching the birds and enjoying the sun. When I’m eating something you liked, I still find myself wanting to leave part of it in the bowl or on the plate for you. I cried the other day because I made bacon and actually got to eat all of it myself.

I miss you so much…. I want to cuddle you again, and feel you wrap your paws around my neck in a hug and tuck your head under my chin.; I want you to climb onto my lap and purr when I’m feeling sad. I want you to have another day in the sun, without feeling tired and sick and weak, to play on the grass and feel the breeze in your fur. I want to not live without you anymore.

Guess I have to wait until we’re together again. And, meanwhile, I’ll do what you’d want: look after Loki, and help any other cat I can.

Funny how three months can feel like a long time and no time at all, both at once.

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