02 November 2008

A Chapter Closes

For 18 years, they were my constant companions, my first consideration, my beloved responsibility. Life was built around the framework of their needs. That framework has disappeared; life has lost its shape and strength to stand upright.

Not long after agonizing over leaving ChutneyWordsworth here with friends during HomeLeave, I knew no one could give the obsessive care I lavished on him. And the best itinerary for us came on Lufthansa, the only airline to allow animals in the cabin flying trans-Atlantic. So, the little old well-traveled man would go with us. At least then, no matter what, we would be together. He always enjoyed new places and would be seeing old friends.

But so soon after that he began to fade more quickly than ever. I prayed fiercely, continually, that he would be comfortable and not suffer, that I might be spared that decision one time. He was the thirstiest thing, and even as his appetite continued to decrease, what he did eat stayed down. That is surely a blessing to the renal patient. But every day he was thinner, even when there seemed nothing left to lose, and more frail yet still getting around.

Then one Wednesday, when I returned home, he mustered the strength and will to zip out the door between my feet. I scooped him up and brought him in; we both knew. But I would never let him go find a cold, dark corner to leave this world alone. He would have a hospice ~ heating pad and water bowl on the couch, sandbox and unwanted food on the floor. Even Thursday evening, he was conscious when I bid him "goodnight" and moved himself from blanket to heater. I slept on the other couch. At about 2:00, I heard a little hitch in his breathing. He hadn't moved. His eyes were open, but unseeing. The tenseness which had filled his little body for the last couple of days was exchanged for limpness. He was never one for laps, so I stroked him and rubbed his ears, talking and singing to him. Maybe he knew or maybe he was already crossing the Bridge. But 15 minutes later, he gave just a few little sounds, his jaw relaxed, one paw twitched, I felt the strangest buzzing go through his ears, and my little old man, reaching the end of his excellent life, walked out of mine. It was as peaceful as I had asked for, just him and me alone, at home. Apparently no pain, no fear. I miss him like my own heart, but God is good. He knows how much we can bear, what will make us stronger, and what will only break us.

When it was Mango's time to go, as much as she left gaping holes in her wake, Wordsworth was there to take up the mantle of "home is where the cat is." He still held down a cat's space on the bed, demanded my attention for cherished rituals, required primary position in any plans to be made. Life maintained its central character of being inhabited by cats. Suddenly, it is no longer bounded and supported and tied to my furry little wards. When my mother died, it felt as though someone had pulled up one tent stake, letting the canvas whip in the wind; the weather roared through. Now the tent is gone. The weather isn't roaring, but the overwhelming silent presence of options leaves me gasping, grasping for the anchor of those small creatures to show me the safe edge of boundaries.

But now is a season to embrace those options. After providing a lifetime for those I first took in, before I start over and give myself to a new generation who will need a roof and kibble and love, I will mourn and escape and become strengthened again. Some time unencumbered to travel with my husband, and perhaps discover a bit more of who I am, apart from being one owned by cats.

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