Archive for the ‘grief’ Tag

Bubba Remembers Kate   Leave a comment

Bubba Remembers Kate by Lady Birchwood
Bubba Remembers Kate, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

I spent a couple of hours last night, writing a letter to an elderly friend in Akron, Ohio. She is in her late 70s and resides in her small apartment with her two cats, Mindy and Annie.

Dear Colleen,

Happy Spring! I hope that this letter finds you, Mindy, and Annie doing well.

You’ve come to mind many times over this past year as a kindred soul who would understand what I’ve felt since my Katie-cat died in February of last year. Not everyone understands the bonds that can exist between humans and their furred or feathered companions in life. For us, these companions are someone with whom we share our daily lives, enjoying their closeness and their comforting rituals. Their sudden absence leaves a huge void, both in our living space and in our hearts.

I feel that Katie’s death for me was very much like losing a child. I would explain it as being similar to adopting or fostering a child when she’s young, a child with special needs who is not going to live out a normal life expectancy. Due to her inborn genetic programming, she will do well to live to see her 18th birthday. If her life goes exceptionally well, she may live to 20 or 21. Does knowing that from the beginning of the relationship make the loss any less painful when the inevitable finally happens? No, it doesn’t. Through all those years together, you played and loved and enjoyed life with each other. You took care of her needs with loving attention, never missing a chance to give a hug or say, “I love you, sweetie,” because the knowledge was always there that you would outlive her; your days together were numbered. The love was all the sweeter and more poignant for those handful of years you may be granted together. And when the end comes, the pain is shattering, even though you knew that day would arrive. The pain is as intense as the love and devotion.

That’s how I felt about Kate. She came into my life in the spring of 1994 as a feral kitten, born under the neighbor’s porch, her mother a feral queen. Both she and her brother were very fearful of human contact. Neither kitten was touched by human hands until he/she was five months old. That was when I took them into our home. Bubba adjusted well to life with two humans and enjoyed the holding and snuggling. Katie remained aloof. I was patient and gentle, never forcing contact with her, always trying to respect her boundaries whenever possible. Slowly, she grew to trust me, eventually seeking my closeness and my touch, although until the very end, she never wanted to be held. Over the years, we became an “item,” a pair of interspecies soulmates. She never trusted anyone else but me. I was told by a close friend who took care of my cats when Dale and I were gone that Katie would stay on my side of the king-size bed, her body huddled against my pillow. She would allow someone to approach her if she were in her “safe spot,” the spot that she and I shared when I was home. She found comfort and security in me, and I loved her with my whole heart. I loved her without reservation or conditions. My sun rose and set with her.

I’ve struggled with this aching loss. I am a woman who seldom cries, but the tears started to flow from the moment I got the lab results that she was in kidney failure, and I cried at all hours of the day and night no matter where I was or what I was doing for about a year after her death. I talked aloud to her. I begged her to come back to me in some form if she could. I was completely incredulous that a love for a being could be so deep and powerful and yet be totally unable to stop the inevitable – that one day she would simply be gone, never to return. How could this possibly be? I spent a lot of time thinking about what happens after death. I’m a Unitarian-Universalist agnostic with Buddhist leanings and I don’t have much faith in an afterlife. I wish I did. I yearned this past year for such a thing to exist so that somehow we would be together again.

Life does go on in spite of loss. Four weeks after Katie died, I stopped at Petco that Saturday to buy cat food for Bubba. Petco was sponsoring a pet adoption event with adoptable cats there from a local no-kill shelter called Caring for Cats. Of course, I had to stop and look at the nine or so cats they had there. A pretty little 8-month-old tabby was there. She and her brother had been found in a window well as very small kittens. Eventually she and her brother found their way to Caring for Cats. Her foster mom told me all about her and how happy and friendly she was. She encouraged me to pet her. This kitten rolled over on her back with her feet in the air and wanted me to rub her tummy. She purred and purred and purred! I walked away saying that I wasn’t sure I was ready to adopt another cat just yet, but an hour later, I was dragging Dale back to Petco to see this kitten. We put a deposit on her to hold her for 24 hours while we talked about it, and the following day we went back, paid the rest of her adoption fee, and brought her home. I named her Mia. She has been a delightful addition to our family. She is so loving and trusting, so playful and energetic. So funny and entertaining! We’re really glad she’s here.

Katie’s littermate brother, Bubba, has struggled this past year as well to the extent that I thought we were going to lose him soon after Katie. He was listless, losing weight, seemed withdrawn and depressed. He had no appetite and had to be coaxed to eat. I had him into the vet numerous times for blood work, wondering if his hyperthyroidism was not under control on the Tapazol. It seemed okay. We had him into the University of Minnesota Small Animal Clinic for an evaluation. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis of unknown cause but no other obvious problems other than his controlled hyperthyroidism. I finally made the decision to have his thyroid treated with I-131, a radioactive form of iodine that destroys the hyperactive thyroid tissue. He had to be hospitalized for four days, which was hard on all of us. When he came home, he was no longer on medication and all his bloodwork was normal when checked a month after the treatment. He started to perk up. His appetite improved. His mood has improved and he hangs out with us again and purrs when we pet him and hold him. He’s put on a pound-and-a-half over the past eight months. We celebrated his 18th birthday on March 27 and are just so grateful that he seems to feel well again. He and Mia are getting along fine. We think that he likes having her around!

In February, around the time of the first anniversary of Katie’s passing, I enlisted an award-winning tattoo artist to put her portrait on my upper back. He did an exceptionally nice job, working from a photo I had given him. Getting this tattoo was of course very symbolic. It was my way of saying that she would always be a part of me.

Overall, I’m doing better now. My depression has eased this spring. Life is feeling more “normal” again – whatever that is! I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. There is only one thing you can count on in life – it never stays the same. Things are always changing.

Blessings to you, Colleen. Take care!


Posted April 6, 2012 by StPaulieGrrl in cats, hyperthyroid cats

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Working on Serenity   Leave a comment

Serenity by Lady Birchwood
Serenity, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

The Mia/Bubba relationship is tenuous and up-and-down. Sometimes they seem relatively okay together. On Sunday when Lottie was over, we were in the kitchen standing on opposite sides of the island. Lottie was holding Mia and I was holding Bubba. They were both calm and relaxed, just looking at each other. Wednesday when I got home from work and was dishing up Bubba’s supper, Mia was under one of the stools at the island and Bubba was under the table. They were both in relaxed positions, just looking at each other. Last night, Mia was laying at my feet in front of the couch while I was on the computer and Bubba was napping on his chair in the foyer. All was calm.

Then at other times, there will be a hissy fit. I’m proud to report that it has been Bubba letting loose with a big hiss at Small Stuff most recently and she has scampered away! I’ve been telling him, “Atta boy!” Last night, though, he went to eat some more of his supper and in going back to his chair through the TV room passed by Mia resting by my feet on the floor. He caught sight of her and then started to move very, very, very slowly across the room. It looks like he’s tiptoeing, like he doesn’t want her to notice him. He got as far as the rug in front of the front door where he sat down. I went to him and picked him up, rocking him and talking to him. When he started to purr, I put him down on his chair where he settled in. So, things are still touch-and-go, up-and-down, but I think with time, they’ll get a working relationship figured out. It’s going slow but we’ve got a 17-year-old tomcat who has had a very stable life with his mom and dad and one sister his whole life. This is a big, big change – for all of us!

I had my pet loss support group last night at Moo U. There were nine of us there, a pretty large group. There were several first-timers again last night with very recent losses, like within the last two or three weeks. That room is so full of pain! Many people are going through exactly what I’m experiencing with the loss of Katie. There are those in the group who have been dealing with a profound grief for months now, some for years now. At the end of the group, I shared that we had adopted Mia three weeks ago and I passed around her photos. I agreed that Mia isn’t Katie, Mia will never be Katie. Mia will never replace Katie. There will never be another Katie. I still miss Katie as much as ever and mourn her loss. But Mia is Mia, and she’s special and very loved. I received a few cheers and applause when I introduced Mia, but one woman – a woman who has been grieving for months now – said, “Well, everyone is different.” Certainly. It made me realize, though, that in spite of my tears and my pain that continue to be a part of my daily life, I have made a lot of progress in moving forward with a new phase of my life. That’s quite obvious when I hear where others are at with it. It helps to know that and keep it in perspective.

Mia was sleeping on the bed with me this morning and woke up for a morning schmooze. She settled on her back, all sprawled out like she does, and enjoyed having her tummy rubbed. I encircled her with my arm, and she rested her soft little paws against my cheek, purring. Eventually, she fell back to sleep that way. What a precious little girl! I hated to get up and interrupt our snuggle but I had to.

Small steps. A day at a time. It’s the best I can do.  The tears still come frequently but there have been smiles, too.

Posted April 14, 2011 by StPaulieGrrl in cats, Daily Life

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Forever   Leave a comment

Princess of the Universe by Lady Birchwood
Princess of the Universe a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

On Saturday of this week, my Katie-cat will have been gone for 4 weeks, a lunar month. Where has a month gone? It seems like it was just yesterday that she died. For that matter, it could have been just moments ago. My heart still feels smashed to pieces, and I can’t quit crying. I keep reliving those last few days, the images rolling through my mind like a bizarre slideshow. I remember her last night, how she didn’t want me to leave her side as I stood beside her in her second-tier kennel at the hospital. She wanted me close and rested her head on my arm. I left, though, because we hadn’t had supper yet and it was going on 8:00 PM. I knew that the staff had things they needed to do for her, like get her IV fluids running again, checking her vitals and labs, giving her some pain meds, etc., and I thought it best that they get their stuff done and perhaps she’d settle down and sleep once I left. It had been a rough day for her. I wish I had stayed.

The following morning, after a discouraging night of bad things in her blood escalating and the good things going down, I held her at the hospital and asked her what she wanted to do. Her face portrayed her anxiety and distress. Her eyes darted around the room. She wouldn’t acknowledge me. She squirmed to get down, and I let her. She limped around the room, her front right leg taped to hold the I.V. catheter secure. She was weak, her legs were trembling. She desperately wanted to find a place to hide. She had her head completely under the low couch with only a few inches of clearance. That was her answer to me: “Mama, I’m dying. I want to find a place to go off by myself and die.”

Minutes later, I assisted her to do that, held warmly in my arms. As the overdose of anesthesia was given, she heard the sound of my voice, telling her how much I loved her, and felt the protective embrace of my love. I felt her little head drop against my shoulder and then her heart ceased to beat.

I continued to hold her for quite some time, still talking to her. If there was some part of her that could still sense me — her spirit, her soul, her life force — I wanted her to hear me and feel me until that had departed. Eventually, I knew I had to let her be taken from me, and the assistant took her, wrapped in her baby blanket, and cradled her like a small newborn. I glanced at her sweet little face for the last time, her eyes partly closed.

My heart feels like it’s been ripped out. I want to remember all the pleasure and enjoyment we shared, but all I can see right now is her limping around the room, looking for a hiding place. I see her half-closed eyes as she was taken away from me. She took a part of me with her when she died.

I miss her so much! I would give anything to have her back with me. Hell, I would have given her one of my own kidneys if it would have saved her and she could have lived another few years.

I hate death. It’s a very raw deal. I was blessed with the honor of being her human companion, her “mom,” for a very short, very quick 16+ years. Those years went in the blink of an eye. And now she’s gone, and she’ll be gone forever. What kind of crap is that?

No, I don’t do death well. I can’t wrap my head around the “forever” part, the permanency of it. Life is constantly changing, but death goes on just as it is for an eternity.

The permanency of this loss is making me crazy. I’m not going to get over it in a few days because she was “just a cat.” I’m not going to go out and “replace” her. Kate will never be replaced. She was too special, too unique to ever be replaced. There will never be another Katie-cat.

I hope that someday I will love again, someday my bed will be warmed with a snuggling little furball. I hope that someday my aching heart will heal. I hope that someday I’m able to think about Kate without the agony of missing her and the cold, stark knowledge that I’ll never see her again.

But not today. Today I am alone in my bed and torn with grief, trying unsuccessfully to fathom being without her for the rest of my life.

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few   Leave a comment

On October 19, a dear friend’s 84-year-old mother passed away.  My friend lives in San Diego.  Her mother lived in East Northport on the northern edge of Long Island, New York.  Two people couldn’t get any further apart geographically and remain in the same continental country.  However, my friend boarded a plane when she knew her mother was entering her last hours and made it to Long Island to hold her mother in her arms while she died.  My heart ached, but I was so glad that my friend had made it to New York in time to be there for her mother as she drew her final breaths.

It reminded me of my own regrets.  Today would be my father’s 94th birthday if he were still alive.  He died on July 7, 1979 at the young age of 62.  He died at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. after suffering a major heart attack four weeks earlier at  his rural home in West Virginia.

His heart had stopped following his MI, and he had been resuscitated at the nearest hospital in Parkersburg.  Cardiogenic shock had ensued, meaning that circulation had stopped to his major vital organs.  At that time, a patient was optimistically given a 20% probability of surviving those events. He was transferred to the VA Hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia.   Heart arrhythmias began about 10 days after his MI, which is a predictable time frame for cardiac tissue necrosis (death) following a myocardial infarction and the ensuing nerve conductivity problems.  The Clarksburg staff couldn’t stabilize him and transferred him by helicopter to the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.   They were talking about a pacemaker to control the  fibrillations caused by such massive damage to his heart muscle and the area of nerve conduction that regulates the heartbeat.  They talked — and he died.

My half-brother, Ashley, my father’s second oldest son who lived a two hour drive away from Washington, D.C., was there at the hospital with my father when he died. Ashley’s wife was there.  His son, Ashley Jr., then 21-years-old, and his wife may have been there.  I don’t remember that detail.  What I do remember is that I was not there.

When my father had had his heart attack in June, I went to West Virginia from my home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We drove the 20 hours to get to West Virginia. The cost of plane fare in those days was prohibitive.  (I remember buying a plane ticket to immediately fly out to York, Pennsylvania to attend my grandmother’s funeral in 1985.  I spent months paying off that credit card bill at a rate we could afford.)  I stayed for a week in West Virginia and then returned home to begin my first session of college courses and get back to work at my part-time job.  He seemed stable when I left.   The heart arrhythmias began after I left.  I chose to stay in Minneapolis and continued going to class and to my job.

My regrets?  That I considered it more important to go to school and to work than to stay with my gravely ill father.  However, my husband would have had to return home to the Twin Cities to return to work.  There was no question about that.  I would have been alone in my father’s hillside house in Pullman, West Virginia (population 100), driving to and from Clarksburg 45 miles away.  Later, I would have had to stay somewhere near the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.   The length of time that this would go on was uncertain; no one knew what was going to happen.  I certainly would have had to withdraw from school for that summer session and maybe the next.  My job may have still been there when I returned, but then again, maybe not.

But it should have been a clear case of Whatever.  If I had had to withdraw from school that summer and begin anew in the fall, it would have had no lasting impact on my life.  If I had lost that part-time job clerking at Fairview-Southdale Hospital, there would have been another part-time job to take its place.

In retrospect, my place was at my father’s side, not in school, not worrying about my unimportant part-time job.  I wish I had been there to spend those final weeks with him.

All I can say on my own behalf is that I was 23-years-old at the time.  I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing my father, and I knew that this was a strong likelihood.    I took a measure of comfort at being in my own home with my husband and my routine, having both school and work to keep me grounded at a very difficult time.  During the week I had been in West Virginia, I spent countless hours crying, and I don’t know if I could have continued to do that for several more weeks, alone in his little house in Pullman or in a hotel room in Washington, D.C.  You know, I think my dad understood that and cut me some slack for not being there in the thick of things during his remaining days.

Still, if I had it to do over, my priorities would be different.  They’ve certainly changed over the years.  My coping skills have changed.  My financial situation has improved so that now I would have some options for travel and lodging as well.  I guess that’s what growing up does for you.

And on this, my father’s 94th birthday, I would like to say that he has physically been gone from this Earth since 1979, but he has never been gone from my heart.  Not for a day.  Some things never die.  He’s still by my side in spirit.

Posted November 8, 2010 by StPaulieGrrl in Family of Origin, Relationships

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