Cat-Love and Getting Ready to Grieve: Valentine’s Day 2019

Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.

Cayce, our plump middle cat, rolls his big body back and forth on the throw rug in front of his favorite spot in the house—the open doorway between the living room and the second-floor porch (this is a cat that likes to keep his options open.) Despite being “very sick,” (the cancer specialist’s descriptor), our cat Cody, mere moments ago leapt off my lap to tousle with Cay for a few seconds before springing onto the porch. Where did that burst of energy come from? Cody for all intents and purposes is in hospice care and yet refuses to go gently into the good night. He’s restless these days and rarely stays put for long, roaming back and forth between rooms, between floors, antsy in whatever this in-between state is.

I do not know where cat #3, Catsby, is. I knew where he was yesterday about this time. I was on the phone wishing my father a happy birthday from the rocking chair in the living room when I heard retching, and looked up. High atop a cabinet atop the refrigerator that only Catsby can get to by dashing up to the top of the steps and leaping through slats in the railing over the scary 12’ foot drop (is that far enough for him to right himself if he fell?), he is signaling that a bout of barfing is about to spew forth.

“This is just great,” I say to my father before signing off. Dad tells me to be careful on the ladder I have to maneuver up from the garage and lean against the cabinet to clean up the barf, recounting his own long-ago ladder tumble (luckily, he fell flat on his back and was unhurt.)

Ah, cats.

Cody is dying—lymphoma, large cell (the really rotten kind), is now devouring muscle and his little cat body is wasting away before our eyes. The vet warns us to not let him “deteriorate too much” before “letting him go.” Everyone tells me that we will know when that is.

Today, I can still offer him food from a myriad of choices lined up on the kitchen counter that he seems to enjoy. Quality of life and not suffering, these are the benchmarks we are doing our best to follow to honor his process.

The vet has been encouraging us not to alter our life for our sick cat, but when I said at our fifth visit in two weeks that we just didn’t feel good about going on a trip we planned before the cat showed signs of illness, which included a side trip up the Hudson River to visit my father on his 94th birthday, and leaving him with anyone else, or euthanizing him because his diminished state is inconvenient, he visibly relaxed and said, “I think that’s a good decision not to go. I think you’d be too worried about him while you were gone to enjoy yourself.”

When I pulled the plug (on the trip, not the cat), Jim said, “We can always go to New York.”

Dad said, “I’m fine. I’ll be around for a while.” I hope so (he is, after all, very old).

I was disappointed to cancel the trip, but mostly I am just sad these days. It clings to me like a foul odor. I do what I have to: clean up cat barf, go for a root canal on a front tooth on Monday (and nearly weep when the staff is kind and caring), pay bills, laugh at old reruns of Seinfeld we’ve watched a kazillion times before, cry during the news, read the newspaper, except when the misery gets to be too much, delight in texts and e-mails from friends and my sister-in-law, help out in the church library/bookstore in between services and ponder how happy I probably would have been as a librarian, and perhaps, most importantly, maximize hang time with Cody. We spend a lot of time sitting in the sun together. 

When I tell my editor that I’ve made no progress on reviewing the copy edits she’s made on my manuscript over a month ago, she tells me this: that when one of her cats was dying, he liked to sit in a cabinet in the living room, so she cleared it out for him and then moved a pallet out near it so she could sit by him and hold his paw. Isn’t that sweet? And aren’t I lucky that there are people in my life who get cat-love?

My husband Jim does. If you knew him, you’d soon learn he loves animals, although he did give his dog away when his first wife was allergic to her, but Maggie, the dog, was a sweetie and Jim’s sister in Frostburg readily took her. Their marriage didn’t last but I suspect it had nothing to do with the dog. Jim easily transferred his love to me and to our cats; we are now on numbers 3, 4 and 5 as a couple.

Time feels distorted and although Valentine’s Day was several weeks ago, the cards are still on the cabinet near the front window in the living room. This Valentine’s Day was the first in 27 years with no flowers. I told Jim explicitly no flowers please, that I didn’t feel one whit romantic and I was worried about their toxicity to the cats. The day arrived and Jim set two cards on my place mat while I was in the shower. I dug out a card for him; a bandit with a quiver of arrows on the front (a stand-in for Jim) who steals a heart (mine). The main image on the inside is a heart pierced by arrows (perhaps not the best representation of our couple love but it seems about right given our current circumstances). 

We sit together to open the cards, his from me, and mine, including one from Jim and one from the cats: On the cat card he has written, “Happy Valentines Day! Thanks for loving us, feeding us, and taking us to the vet. Love, Cody, Cayce and Catsby.” Under each cat name are paw prints in various sizes: bolder, bigger ones that reflect Cayce, a fatty at 16 pounds, more delicate ones for jumpy, kittenish Catsby, and just a few prints for Cody, with a heart to the left of his name. 

Jim looks at me and asks, “Do you get it?”

“What?” I ask, with nary a clue as to what he means.

He says, “Cody is walking away, leaving just memories in our hearts.”

I tear up but take solace in my love for this man who loves our cats (and me) so much.

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