Stages

My life has been in crisis for the past 2 – or is it 3? – weeks. Time is elongated, and the last time things were “normal” seems like a long, long time ago.

I knew my animal companions were getting on in years, and could not live forever, but I shoved that awareness to the back of my mind, because I couldn’t conceive of how to live with losing them. It’s been getting harder to ignore since a scare earlier this year, and now it may be unexpectedly upon me. And I still don’t know how.

Caretaking animals is not so very different from caretaking humans. Sometimes, all you can do is keep them clean and warm and dry, but it’s worth doing. After a day at the vet with one cat, I came home to find another hiding under the bed. It’s been almost 36 hours since she would eat anything, and she is a walking (or rather, stumbling) skeleton already. There is nothing left to do for her if she won’t eat.

Or so it seems. But suddenly I stopped sobbing over the silly little “which hand is the treat in?” games we used to play. If she won’t fight, I’ll fight for her, I thought. I gently dug her out from under the bed. I haven’t vacuumed in weeks because it stresses them out at the best of times, which now most certainly is not.

There were sticky patches on her fur. I brushed her, and cleaned her up with a warm washcloth, and petted her and talked to her. If this is her last night, at least she won’t spend it frightened and alone in a dirty corner, not even one she selected herself.

But she’s a rescued feral, and being too weak to resist intensive handling by me doesn’t make her like it any better. So I did the last thing I could think of, which was to move her to the cat beds with the other cats (both of whom are related to her), which are now too far above ground level for her to reach them alone. This is a risk, because if she tries to get down when I’m not there to help her, she could fall, and I’m pretty sure she would break.

She crawled in and rested her head on her daughter’s chest, right above the mass that I saw on the x-ray today. Or is it fluid? I never imagined I’d be hoping my beloved cat had heart disease, because the other possibility is cancer.

If it hurt her to be a pillow, she didn’t show it. Her mom isn’t much of a weight these days. Daughter cat’s rapid breathing has dropped almost to normal, which is a hugely hopeful sign, and she is waking up now and then to eat. The sound of a cat lapping at food has become indescribably relieving and beautiful to me.

Mom isn’t eating, but she is clean, and warm, and smiling in her sleep. If I have to find her empty mortal shell tomorrow morning, much better this way. And who knows, if I am very, very lucky, perhaps the nourishment of love will see her through, and she will still have another day to try.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is I’ve been learning. Something about help, is all I knew. But I think I’ve identified it: There is help in the world, and if you show that you need it, you may find it in the most unexpected places.

This was so much not my experience in the past that seeing the world this new way is a much bigger deal than it sounds. Like a wounded wild animal, I tried to hide my pain. I don’t know why. I doubt I was fooling anyone. Perhaps it gave me some sort of illusion of control.

Looked at from the outside, my life might appear to be collapsing in slow motion, like a film of an imploded building. My house is too full, my debt is too high, what I don’t know is too, too much.

But I recognize that situations have to be pretty dire for me to cross my own lines and do certain things I need to do, like call a friend and say “my cat is dying and I don’t have the money to take her to the vet.”

Or substantially raise the rate I was charging in my business, which I was able to do last week with a new client without hesitation or self-doubt, because more important things were demanding most of my attention. The route to epiphany is so, so strange sometimes. Mills of the gods, indeed.

Feeling so much for so long is exhausting. I’m afraid of what I’ll find when I awaken, but I have to sleep.

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