Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Oh my heart

It's been a very difficult couple of weeks here. On May 6, we said goodbye to our cat, my first girl, Jezabel.

April 4, 2016
It's been an adjustment to living without her. She's been with me my entire adult life. We have been together for 14 years, before the husband, the house, the family.

Fall 2002 I think

We've been through 5 moves together, some more difficult than others, and I'm sad to be revising the plans for our new home to not include the nook for the litter box in the laundry room. I miss her most in the evenings. That was our time. She liked sleeping in, so I didn't always see her in the mornings during the flurry of activity involved in just getting out the door unless the water bowl needed attention. She would just sit next to it patiently and look at me until I got the message. But in the evenings, when the little ones are safely upstairs and we've settled onto the couch, she would always jump up to me for some lap time. Always me, almost every night, almost completely unbothered by whatever activity I was doing. I often commented that she must be broken, as there could be yarn draped right on her head and knitting needles nearly poking her in the eye, and she would just keep snuggling (at least this was true in the second half of her life - she wasn't super snuggly in the early days!).

I adopted her from a local humane society when she was maybe about a year old when I was the ripe old age of 19.

I was a baby myself, so naive. I wanted a little something to love, to take care of, to keep me company. I suppose I was trying to make a family, and thank goodness I was bright enough to fulfill that desire with a pet. I wasn't, and still am not, a cat person. I wanted a dog, but they weren't allowed in the condo where I was living. Cats weren't either, but I rationalized that she would be easier to hide than a dog. In the end, she would always sit behind the blinds overlooking the courtyard, so she was a rather terribly kept secret. She didn't like to be held at all, and only sort of tolerated petting, but I thought she was so pretty so I brought her home with me. (that's a really dumb reason to choose a pet, but 19) In fact she was so mean that I named her Jezabel.....because I thought that it meant devil. Apparently I wasn't real up to snuff on my history, because that is NOT what Jezabel means. It's also not even the right spelling of the word! However, she DID have a habit of laying on her back spread eagle so....the name stuck.

One of the most surprising things about her, is that while she would have no problem giving me a nip, or that crazy habit she used to have of ninja bombing your feet as you walked, she was always so good with kids. I once babysat for a little 2 year old girl, who would inadvertently whack her over the head with her little fishing pole feather toy, and J was utterly complacent through all of the abuse.

We've always taken care to emphasize "gentle touches," but you can't always intercept the sudden tug of fur or a tail. She never even hissed, and there were certainly occasions where a firm nip was well deserved!


I'm 33 now, and a completely different person. Maybe not completely, but I've definitely done a lot of growing up in that time, and she was there for it, through all the changes. I even eventually stopped torturing her with outfits for the high holidays.

 She grew up too. Hugely, at one point, when we lived with a roommate and her cat who ate like a cat. By this I mean that my roommate's cat could handle having a full bowl of food out and graze at his leisure, where J would wolf down any and all food until it was gone, hers and his combined, like my childhood dog always did. That was the biggest sign that she was sick, in the end. I did get her down to a reasonable weight again, but she always kept a big belly of loose skin from her huskier days. In the last 6 months, she didn't always clean her food bowl, and eventually we realized that there was a lot more loose skin than there used to be. I put her on the scale at home, and she had lost about 3-4 lbs, which is a lot when you start at 11 or 12.

Bloodwork was rather inconclusive, and we were left with a decision to make. Go down a diagnostic rabbit hole to pinpoint her illness? Or consider that she was 15 years old, not elderly, but a solidly adult cat, and try to make her comfortable as she finishes her life? It felt like it took no time at all, but as I looked back at her records, the whole process took about 4 months. I had finally decided to start her on B12 shots and a steroid to help with her appetite, but it was too late by then. We did get her eating again, a bit. She was a dry food cat her whole life, because I'd once read that cats were finicky and might not go back to dry food if occasionally treated with wet or canned food. She got more treats in the last 4 months than she did probably ever. We frequented the fancy local pet store and picked up anything they recommended that was high in calories and deliciousness. She had canned food, gravy meals, freeze dried treats, goat's milk, anything that I could get her to sniff at. The hardest part was monitoring how much she actually got before the dog snuck in there and inhaled it. He's no dummy - he knew she was getting the good stuff.

The day I suspected we were coming to the end, she'd been having accidents. She hadn't been eating much, and her stools did not look healthy. That's when I made the appointment for her vitamin shot. The day that appointment came, I was sick myself and had to cancel. I never got the chance to reschedule. Less than a week later, she was sitting in the kitchen with her head hanging so low it was nearly brushing the floor. She turned away from the multiple kinds of food I offered her, and a check of her box revealed that she hadn't used it in a day and a half. That's the day I knew. I held her and cried.

The following day I called the vet again, this time to make the appointment. They had an opening that afternoon. It was too fast. It was also my husband's birthday. I needed more time. My family came over after dinner for cake. It turned out kind of nicely that way. They all got a chance to say goodbye as well. Even though it certainly wasn't a popular development at the time, she did live at their house for 2 years at one point, so it was nice that almost everyone got one last pet.

I reserved the next night, the night before as strict family time, just our little bunch. I'm not sure she even touched the floor at all she was held and petted so much. I considered bringing her to sleep in our bed, but I didn't. The bedrooms have always been off limits to her as I do have allergies and didn't want her sleeping on my pillow regularly. I was afraid that she would be crushed or knocked off the bed, as we were so unused to sleeping together anymore, so I settled her on her own bed for the night.

She was still there in the morning, I doubt she moved at all. She was still there when we came home early from work to take her to the doctor. I held her and cried for a long time. I tried giving her some food and water one last time. I was gripped with guilt when she did actually eat a bit of it. I worried that we were jumping the gun, acting too soon. She stumbled on her weak, skinny legs as she walked away, which was comforting to me in that moment. I was glad she was able to have a bit of a last meal, but she showed me that she was indeed very ill, and I felt a bit more at peace about the timing of my decision.

The vet is only a block and a half away, but we drove. It was raining a little, and I couldn't bear to put her into her carrier. It was only the cardboard box that she came home in from the shelter. I never upgraded her to a true cat carrier. She didn't travel, and she loved boxes. She would often just hang out in that box, so I just kept it for the occasional trip to the vet as it was kind of a safe place for her. This time though, I held her in my arms.

They had the exam room set up for us. There was a towel laid out on the table. They showed us right in, which I appreciated. They took care of the bill for us before, so that we could just leave when we were ready. I've seen tearful families quickly leaving in the past when I've been in the waiting room. I always thought that it was considerate that they don't make you settle up right after saying goodbye to your pet. I've never been present for the end of a life before, and I don't look forward to having to do it in the future. I chose to help her move on rather than waiting for the end. She was suffering, and I didn't want to come home to her, knowing she had gone alone. I was glad that I was able to be there, difficult as it was. I was glad there were tissues in the room. I needed them. I sort of need them now. A good friend who has gone through this several times recently said that she likes to talk to her cats as they go. I liked that idea. It's comforting knowing that the last thing she heard was my voice.

We chose not to bring her ashes home. I thought about it, having a little ceremony in the back yard. It didn't feel right though. She was an indoor cat. She never spent time in the yard. We won't even have this yard in a few years, and I would hate the idea of leaving her behind that way. I was sure to take a lot of pictures of her, and might consider having some kind of keepsake made. For now, I'm choosing to move on and take the memories with me.

I was very conscious of needing to explain what was happening, so that it wouldn't be a surprise. I hope that I was careful to strike that balance of being honest without being blunt, to be accepting of any reaction, to be open to questions without being pushy. I would recommend several books to help explain loss to children. Ida, Always, I Will Always Love You, and Saying Goodbye to Lulu were excellent. There were others that we read which were definitely not excellent, but I won't list them here. The last two were about losing pets, dogs specifically. Ida was a polar bear, and that story was told from her best friend Gus's perspective. I thought it was beautifully written and illustrated. In the end I'm glad that our first experience with loss is that of a loved pet, and that it was a natural death, though helped along. That was the only thing none of these books addressed, and I wish one of them had. While it was really hard, I do believe it's kind to help end suffering when there's no chance of it getting better.

I am adjusting to saying that I have a dog now. Not a cat and a dog. Just a dog. He drives me crazy, but he's a good boy. He is also, and always has been, a snuggler.

Back in 2009 or so, just getting to know each other

He is definitely my husband's buddy, like J was mine. He still favors D, but he's been scootching a little closer to me. I think he knows I need it.

I'll miss you sweet girl.