Saturday, April 26, 2014

Farewell, Dear Friend: Our Circle of Life Third Member Passes

In Human compared to Cat years, she was as old or even older than Mom when our beloved companion and pet of twenty years passed two days ago.


I'd written how she appeared to have Dementia similar to Mom's -- the cat's gait, balance, incontinence, confusion, changes in eating habits and more -- and finding references to articles about Dementia in animals. It stands to reason. They have brains, we have brains; they get many of the same diseases we do.


Our domesticated companions are an intricate part of our lives bringing the same joys and challenges as members of our families.


As with Mom, we could see the end nearing but a part of us kept hoping it would be a little farther down the calendar than it actually was. We felt comforted that it came this past week and not the next. My daughter and I were both starting new jobs and while I worked every weekday, her work gave her two days off during the week. Fortunately, one was the day our dear companion, our cat, passed from this life.


The night before I could not leave our very weak and so very slight little friend downstairs and just knew she would not be able to make it up the steps, as she did for so many years, to be with us.


Daughter said cats usually seek someplace to hide when it's "their time" but I felt this wonderful life's companion who so often came to lay beside us, climb onto my lap, would not want to "hide" or "be alone". She was as close to us as we were to one another.


Her moving around the downstairs or coming up the flight of stairs became more difficult this last week.  The day/night before, she went to the steps but then returned to her box. I think it was two nights she'd spent totally downstairs and waited for us to come to wake her up when she would usually climb the steps (often as early as 3:30 AM) to let us know it was time for us to open a can and feed her. Dry food was for dry times, she seemed to say, when you aren't around and I have nothing else.


I'd noticed she could no longer jump onto my lap in the last week. She'd come in and "cat-wail' letting me know she wanted to lay on my lap as I sat in a favorite chair with an ottoman. I'd tell her to move closer so I could lift her .... and she would. Placing her gently on my out stretched legs, she'd struggle to get her body to move to a reclining position. I'd gently help her move limbs showing less flexibility and even some arthritic misalignment in hips and joints. Sometimes she'd fall asleep and I'd cradle her with my arm where she'd lay her head and stretch out her paw, always moving it back and forth caressing my arm to let me know how pleased she was to be so close and yet have such freedom and ability to move or even to leave, if she chose.


We took her upstairs the night before she passed in the box she'd claimed a few months before. Just an ordinary cardboard box, a three sided box that wasn't very deep but she could lay in it with a cushioning of an old towel.


She'd found it on the kitchen floor one day; a box without it's top sections I was going to discard but when our dear friend selected this box, we found some old towels and made it her "special place". It sat in our kitchen and often she'd move from another towel on the floor, where she liked to stretch out in the sunlight, to the cozy, secure and comfortable box.


During the really cold, subzero Winter weather we'd experienced this past year, we would microwave a small rice filled pillow, place it between layers of a hand towel and against the side of the box to give her additional warmth.


The box became her "special place"; we moved it into the sunlight or the shade, depending on the weather and her "preferences". The box gave her room to change positions but supported her as she advanced in her journey these last several months. 


And so this was our choice for her burial, this box of comfort, love and family.


The night before she passed, we took her upstairs in the box wanting her to be near us and us to be nearer her. We saw the signs, those we'd witnessed in other family members in these last three years of life changing events. But as with husband and mother, we did not know the time or place, only that this unwelcome guest named Death was coming closer and would soon arrive.


Our loving cat managed to climb out of the box during the night. She dropped herself down onto the carpeting and appeared to try to sleep. I slept on and off. Whenever she moved she'd make a pitiful crying sound. She had problems with her sight the last couple of years but her hearing would help her to "find us" and know when we left or came home or even if we'd opened a can of food for her.


Now, she seemed to be turning her head, looking for me and wanting to be near. I picked her up and put her beside me in bed, cradling her with covers and placing my arm near her; she'd taken to laying beside me in the last several months and even as her strength was deteriorating in the last week, managed to use the "cat stairs" we'd found at a garage sale and make her way up to sleep on the bed.


Purring, so natural for her and so frequent, had become as much of a challenge as her trying to groom herself in the last couple of weeks. I heard a soft sound so familiar and so welcome as she turned her head toward me laying curled up beside me. A thank you for caring for me type of sound. And, that familiar movement of her paw up and down.


We both slept but my sleep was shallow and I grew more and more concerned about her inabilities now to move and disinterest in food I'd tried to offer to her earlier in a small spoon. She'd kept drinking even when she didn't eat but now she was incapable of moving for any basic self sustaining need.


When the morning came and I had to leave for my new job, I cried and pet her; telling her how much she'd meant to me, to our family. I hated to leave my daughter to go through what I felt would be another last day on this earth for another family member.


Yes, this was an animal, but this was a third link in our family unit; a long part of our family history, our daughter's pet, chosen by her but loved by all. I felt I had to say my goodbyes to her; her weakness and inability to move, her difficulty just lifting her head. I knew her life was leaving her little body, now so slight and so light we could barely feel any weight when we moved her from the bed to the box for her final journey.


We had so many memories. My wonderful husband always told me he didn't like Cats. Never had one. Always had a dog. Didn't trust them. So, of course, he was the one our new addition always sought out to rub against, jump on his lap when he sat down, greeted when he walked through the door.


It didn't take long for man and cat to bond. And when he was sick, laying in his hospital bed in our downstairs family room, our loving cat would lay on the floor beside his bed knowing she should not jump up on him because of the four open wounds draining on his abdominal area. Or, she would jump into a chair nearby, always keeping watch. Always there. Waiting. Hoping, as we did, for the day when Dad would get up, go out and come back, get something to eat from the refrigerator they could share......


And as for my Mom and the cat. Well, that was another family story. Mom and I had cats over the years. They were often strays that "found us". We both couldn't turn them away. Or from the humane society (our wonderful cat was from a Cat Rescue). We'd had kittens and we'd had wandering males in our years of being cat people. So, this addition to our family after a year without our wonderful but much more dependent cocker spaniel, was most welcome by her.


Mom talked to Cat, fed her and sometimes scolded her for walking on a counter. Our cat was very capable of jumping and showed her accomplishment at most inappropriate times like when Mom was trying to roll out a pie crust and our dear friend's curiosity just had to be satisfied.


Mom missed our cat. She welcomed occasional visits to the cat who lived at her second Long Term Care facility and a dog that "owned" all territory outside of the cat's domain which was the main Activity Center. Mom shared her love of life and animals with me and I have tried to pass that on to my children.


Daughter and I both went through the last two days much as we did with her father, my husband and my Mom, her Grandmother. Death and mourning are  complicated by expectations: planning, gathering, sharing and moving forward.


With this third family member's death, we both have wept and shared the tremendous grief we've kept, for the most part, inside and weighing down almost everything.


We've moved forward with each passing -- sometimes reluctantly and sometimes forced to do so by circumstances. We've spent time before the previous deaths and all this time after almost always being stoic and shouldering whatever came our way. This is just another step in our life journey. Time to move forward .... again.


Death is an unwelcome guest. One we do not want to prepare for but must. One we are uncomfortable hearing about and having visit. We look forward to Death's immediate presence leaving and the memories of its visit fading. We do not welcome its return, yet know Death will come again. We value life welcoming and celebrating its presence.


Daughter was given the day to participate in her pet's death as she'd been given the gift of being there to care for her Dad and Grandma. She read from the Bible at her father's funeral and sang a beautiful old hymn at her Grandmother's.


For her special companion, she tended to the basic needs, placing her cat lovingly in her box with a clean towel, gathering brightly blooming flowers our dear cat would have welcomed going up to outside and smelling (and did over the years) and placing them lovingly around the inside of the box.


Using a beautiful cutwork table runner and oversize placemat my daughter had found at a garage sale recently, she placed the box with our dear friend inside on top of a step stool and covered it. She took a small bowl, one given to me years before, and placed dried roses from Dad's and Grandma's funerals in it setting it in front of the covered box. Symbolically, they were together.


Of course it rained, heavily, that evening when I came home, so we could not go to bury our beloved friend. So, like the other family members who preceded her, we had a wake, a time of mourning, so to speak, yet another family member passing. It was perhaps one of the greatest gifts we received; the gift of time to mourn, of time to rejoice and of time to reflect.


The next day, the sun shone, the flowering trees were magnificent in their glory. We said goodbye to our friend, our constant companion for so many years....For everything, there is a season .... and a reason.


We Rejoice and Remember: Families come in all sizes and shapes.  They have joy and sorrow. They live with the memories of yesterday, the joys and the challenges, and, the Hope of another day, of Tomorrow. 

Rest in Peace dear friend and companion.
      You will be missed and remembered.





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