Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not ready to let go...

Be warned, this is a long, rambling bit that I've written to clear my head. It's late and I need closure. And yes, it's about a cat. I need to put these words down to read them later. So I can remember that it all happened. Just this way.

In late June our "middle child-cat" Zoe was diagnosed with diabetes. That was a hard thing for us to deal with, not so much because of the disease itself, but more because of our lack of ability to help her with treatments. Opting not to put her down at that appointment, the vet sent us home with the understanding that she had 2 weeks at most left.

We decided that if we couldn't offer her the insulin she needed, then we'd do the best we could for her in whatever ways might help. We'd make those 2 short weeks count for something.

Our main strategy was to change her diet. We weaned her off her high carb, high yucky, diet and put her on a high protein, all natural food. We were told to expect positive results with it and so we waited. Expectantly.

Around the time of our anniversary, which was also about the time of the dreaded "2 Week" mark, it looked like the vet's predictions were coming true. She was weaker. She was tired. We decided to put her down.

But then she rallied.

She gained weight. Her eating returned to normal. She had the glint in her eye that was so clearly Zoe that it could not be mistaken. She may not have been fully 'back', but she sure as heck was fighting for it.

If she was going to fight, then we were going to fight.
If she wasn't giving up, then we weren't giving up either.

She continued on the upswing all though July. I couldn't help thinking that we'd found a way to manage her diabetes through diet. It happens and given her progress and improvement, I still think that's what happened for us.

She had been quarantined to the basement throughout most of this due to the fact that she developed a preference for pooing on my rugs upstairs. A bit of background on our house is that when we moved in, there was lots of "accidents" left over from the previous owner's pets. Getting that smell out took all of our efforts, along with re-sanding, staining, and varnishing the floors. I couldn't risk inviting Smell back into our house.

It broke my heart having to tuck her in at night down in that old, nasty basement. It has spiders that skitter in the dark. Rainstorms can make it wet, sending small rivers through it. She had a small pallet against the wall, covered in towels and elevated off the floor so she would never get wet. There were foam mats linked together around her for her litter box and food/water areas to be dry as well. I even had a bowl of multicolor Christmas lights right by her bed to keep on all night. But I still hated doing it. It was the nightly ritual that weighed me down like a ton of bricks on my shoulders. Every night.

Miracle of all miracles, as her condition improved, her ability to use the litter box improved as well. Suddenly I could leave the house without gating her in the basement. We could let her sleep in the kitchen and know she wasn't going to be using the rugs as a drop station. We began to think we were getting our cat back. And we were grateful for it. So very grateful. 

Something happened then that changed it all. I don't know what it was. Perhaps it was nothing, perhaps it was damage done to her poor body from the diabetes, or perhaps it whatever "it" was had been there all along, staved off by her efforts to fight and stay with us. Whatever the reason, Sunday night she stopped eating. I tried everything, all her favorites; food held no interest.

Monday and Tuesday arrived with more of the same. She wouldn't eat. Couldn't be made to eat. She lay on her pallet all day, a sad version of what once had been Zoe. Our upswing was gone.

Without eating or drinking, she quickly grew weaker. She'd been a bit unsteady on her feet, swaying with any over correction or misstep, but suddenly her gait looked painful. I understood why she preferred to lay down. Today, Wednesday, I noticed continued weakness and a new symptom: lethargy. Worrying that perhaps her blood sugar had dropped too low, I tried to get her to eat again. Tried. I used a syringe to attempt to shoot milk into her mouth; she meekly swallowed the miserable amount. More worried about her lack of "self", I began giving her corn syrup to try to boost her blood sugar, gently shooting it into her mouth. She swallowed with effort and no response.

And then it happened. The moment I knew she was done with the fight she had been waging for almost 7 weeks: she fell. Ready to be away from me and my full syringe, she began to untwist herself from my arms. I eased her down, helping her to sort out her appendages, but her back legs were tangled and she tripped, tipping over on her side. She righted her legs and tried again, gaining what should have been firm footing, but instead her left leg gave out and she fell again, this time into her water bowl. I began to cry. The most heart wrenching moment of this was that she didn't even attempt to get up. She stayed there, in her water bowl. Wet. Unmoving. Done.

I pulled her up and got her ready to try to stand again, hoping she'd find her footing and that I wasn't witnessing the white flag of surrender that I thought I was seeing. She pulled herself up on her front legs, aligned her back legs, twisted, and fell again. And again. And again.

In complete tears at this point and utterly sobbing, I called my husband at work.
"Please come home", I pleaded. "It's time. It's time."

I gathered her up in my arms, wrapped in one of her familiar, comforting towels, and brought her upstairs; freeing her from the darkness of the basement. I had about an hour to wait with her before Dan came home. An hour to be with her still body. I held her. I talked to her, thanking her for fighting for us, and letting her know it was okay to be done with the cause. She'd been so brave for us, we could be brave for her now too. And we would. 

Dan took her to the vet. He said she went peacefully, quickly, readily.

He brought her home. Home. We laid her to rest in our backyard. Home.

And now I can't stop crying. I've tried. Believe me, how I've tried. I keep reminding myself that this is a cat. I am surrounded by true sorrow of my friends and family: the death of a spouse; a child; the illness of a parent. This is a pet. I should be able to categorize it. Stash it away in the place that one keeps such things; just out of reach in daily life, but available to be thought of when the time calls for it.

But I can't. For whatever reason, that ability eludes me.

Maybe it's the stress of it, building up for the last 7 weeks, always there, always needing to be dealt with, but left untended to. I didn't have time to think about how her slow decline made me feel. I was too busy making the changes to keep the balance in our home. Barricading the many hidey-spots in our basement and protecting all my rugs. "I'll think about the toll this is taking on me later", I said through the headaches, the backaches, the pinched nerves, and popping jaw. "Later."

Later is here, my friends.

And I'm thinking about it.

The basement is still. Empty. I keep waiting to see her carefully treading her way over to me. I turn the corner and wait to see her laying on her pallet. But the floor is bare. The towels are washed. I had to do it.

I put one of the under linings of her pallet on the floor though. It still has some of her hairs on it. Her smell. When I laid it out our oldest cat, Anna, trotted over, sniffed the familiar smell of the cat she's shared most of her life with, and laid down on it. Her head resting against the past. My heart broke. She lost a friend today.

As I type this, Zoe's favorite little toy is sitting next to me. Through this entire journey, Barkley has been by her side. Through vet visits, through her quarantine in the basement; through her final journey today. As we buried her, I almost tossed it in. Almost. But I couldn't. Stupid, sentimental me. I've kept it and now I'm holding it. It even smells like her, if you can believe it. I'm not sure if it's really helping me. I see it. I think about how she saw it. I touch it and remember her paws batting at it, flipping it into the water bowl, her head laying on it. I cry. And cry. And cry.

I've lost cats before. Just in case you were wondering, and because I know that this novella makes it seem like this is new to me.

I can't explain it though. There are just more feelings with this right now. More words. Less of the busy-ness with young twins that broke the grief when we lost our other cat, and more of an awareness in the painful art of losing anything than when I lost cats as a child. Just....more.

I miss her. She was there before I became a mom. She was the bridge to that part of my life, the part I can't remember anymore because this role is so all consuming. So redefining. She, and Anna, and Lily were the reminder that there was a "Before". I'm not saying I long for "Before". I don't. Emphatically, I adore my life as a mom and wouldn't change it. But like looking at old photos, it's a nice daily reminder of a time when my life was different.

I miss her. Even if it's "silly" or "childish"; if it makes me seem like some bizarre Cat Lady (which I am most certainly not).

No matter how I try to talk my way around it and wiggle my mind through it, that simple fact remains. The basement is empty. The corner she called home for the last 2 months is bare. Tonight when we watched our evening shows, she wasn't laying on the floor between us, enjoying our attentions.

There was no bedtime ritual tonight. No cat to tuck in. No gate to set up. No Christmas lights to plug in.

I miss her.

Zoe Isabel

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