Of Love and Loss and Grieving…
When I was young, all of 3 weeks past my 13th birthday, my mother died. The family that took me in and later adopted me were ill-equipped to help me grieve my loss. I spent many hours up in my room feeling lost, depressed, and emotionally neglected. While I don’t blame my new “parents” for handling the situation poorly, I do think that huge mistakes were made. I don’t intend to let that be the case with my children. Of course I didn’t know I felt so strongly about it until late yesterday morning.
Meowzer has been my friend since I got him at the pound 10 years ago. He and his brother (an actual littermate) were the perfect fit for our home. Weighing in at just 1 lb each they fit perfectly, one in each hand (pot belly, big paws, and all). Meowzer’s brother was the mouser. He would chase anything on the ground. Meowzer on the other hand was a birder (is that the correct term?). If it were up in the air, he would jump up and get it. Other than the personality differences, and the slight difference in how they carried themselves (Meowzer upright and his brother crouched), it was hard for people to tell them apart.
After Super Dude was born, the family dynamic changed a bit. The cats lost their special status as this new baby took over everything. Meowzer’s brother was always tolerant, but never cuddly with the baby. Meowzer, already having proven he liked the “rough stuff”, found a new playmate in Super Dude. He’d put up with tail grabbing and when Super Dude was old enough, full on tackling. Meowzer loved the attention.
When the Bug came along, Meowzer’s brother had had enough. He had escaped and fled under the deck for 3 days. He wasn’t the same after I coaxed him out. Something in him broke. Within a few weeks, he could no longer walk straight, showing signs of a stroke or some other neurological incapacitation. While it was sad to let him go, we knew there was no fixing him. Super Dude wasn’t old enough to understand. I was not as moved by it as I felt I should have been. The hormones after having a baby make it strange to deal with anything outside of this new little being taking over your world. I just didn’t have it in me to cry over him.
By the time Super Dude was 3, he started letting Meowzer outside. As much as we tried to prevent our indoor kitty from getting out, our toddler just kept opening the doors for him. Meowzer was a tremendously happy cat after we decided to let him be an indoor/outdoor cat. There wasn’t much to fear where we lived in Oregon anyway. We didn’t have snakes or poisonous critters about. Meowzer was big enough the other neighborhood cats would stay away. He brought us a couple birds to show his appreciation. And since it rains 9 months out of the year, he was indoors a lot. When we moved to Florida, things changed. We realized that we could no longer let him go outside because there are ticks that attack in droves. Every night he would come home with at least one attached to him. We couldn’t keep them away, so Meowzer became an indoor kitty again. He didn’t like that much.
Bug was always rough with Meowzer. She would hit him, kick him, pull him around by the tail… And yet he would come back for more. In the past few months, she had been getting better, even making sure he had food every day all the while claiming that she was the “Kitty Mama”. That was fine with us; anything to get her to be compassionate. Meowzer would purr when Bug would come find him. He let her pick him up by his top half and drag him around the room “human” style. He let her put things on his head like blankets and ribbons and Barbie crowns. He was so good to her.
About a month ago, I decided to let Meowzer be an indoor/outdoor kitty again. He was plain ‘ol miserable being stuck in the house all the time. He let us know by getting into the garbage nightly and by meowing at the door at all hours of the night. So I got all his shots up to date plus extras. I made sure he had the best flea and tick deterrent on. He was so happy to be able to go outside again. He would follow me to the garden and sniff all my plants, not knowing that I planted som catnip just for him that wouldn’t be ready until now. He would just go out to sit on the back patio and soak up some sun or wander through the bushes behind our house. Every once in a while, he would yell at other cats in the neighborhood that crossed into his territory. There were probably a couple fights but he never came home noticeably injured.
One morning, a little less than 2 weeks ago, he started acting strangely. He was hiding under my bed, in the closet, anywhere he thought he could get away from everyone. When I pulled him out of the closet, he couldn’t walk on his left front leg. There was a lump and signs of an injury, so I took him to the vet. They determined Meowzer had a puncture wound, probably caused by another cat. With an antibiotic injection, subcutaneous fluids, and pain medication, Meowzer was sent back home to recover. The next day he looked much better. But by the following day, he wasn’t recovering as well as we had hoped. A second trip to the vet showed lost weight, dehydration, loss of apetite, and vomiting that earned him another look-see and more subcutaneous fluids. He was doing much better the next day. Still limping, but better. More vomiting. Nothing would stay down for more than 4 hours, even with anti-nausea meds.
After talking with a good friend of mine (also a veterinarian) in detail about Meowzer’s issues, I was given a lot of good advice, including to check for other lumps. I discovered a second lump just behind his elbow (or whatever they call that in cats). A third trip to the vet revealed more weight lost, and upon xray, another puncture wound. Meowzer received more subcutaneous fluids as well as a prescription for different antibiotics. I tried to force feed him, but it only resulted in more vomiting a few hours later. He wasn’t getting better, but I still held out hope. I told the kids Meowzer was sick, but I since I was sure he would recover, I didn’t make a big deal out of it.
Yesterday morning Meowzer wasn’t looking good at all. I force-fed him some food and his antibiotic. The vet’s office said that even though there was no doctor in house that could see him, we could get more subcutaneous fluids so he would feel better. Hubby was working, so I had both kids with me. It was just to get the cat more fluids after all. Meowzer’s temperature was low, he had lost more weight, and they couldn’t readily find a pulse. It just so happened that Meowzer’s regular doctor was there for some other appointment. She came in and listened intently to his chest. She had asked if he was breathing like this at before. I thought he was just breathing like that at home because he was trying to purr. She said that she was having trouble hearing his heart because it was muffled by probable fluid in/on his lungs. She believed it was possible he got bit by a snake.
To tell the truth, things started getting blurry. She told me his body was shutting down and that it was just a matter of time before he passed away. What?!?! This was it?!?! She left the room so I could have a few moments while I waited for Hubby to come. I told the kids what was happening and what was going to happen. Bug cried because I was crying. Super Dude was confused and in disbelief. I thought it was important to let them say goodbye to Meowzer before he went up to “Kitty Heaven”.
I let my MIL know what was going on. She said that it was important that I deal with the loss in a way that was good for the kids; to be a good example. That’s when it struck me. I needed to teach them how to grieve in a healthy way. Of all the things I wanted to teach my kids, this was not one of them. But I want to teach them now. Teaching them to deal with their emotions in a healthy way will keep them from turning to alcoholism and drugs. They will also be able to help their kids the right way. I’m all about breaking bad cycles and replacing them with good ones.
I ugly cried all the way home. I acknowledged my own hurt and anger and disappointment. I talked to the kids. I told them it was okay to cry, that their hearts would hurt for a while. I held my son while he and I cried together until he fell asleep on my chest. Later I took the lock off the cabinet under the sink that was used to keep Meowzer out of the garbage. I couldn’t bare to do much more than get rid of a few things out of the kitchen. There was so much more to do, but Hubby had to do it for me. It hurt too much.
It was all I could do to answer the myriad of questions lobbed at me by Super Dude and Bug. “Where is he now that he’s dead?” In Kitty Heaven. “Is there a Kitty God?” I think there is only one God. “Does God have pets?” He just might. Maybe Casper is his pet now. “When will we get a new pet?” Not any time soon. We still need to let our hearts feel better. In the meantime, it’s okay to cry and talk about him. I will hug you and hold you and help you through this. And I miss him too. I miss him so much. “Mama, I’m sorry he died.” Me too son. Me too…
My heart aches because I lost my friend. My heart aches because my children’s hearts ache. But in this pain is an incredible opportunity to learn and to teach. As much as I don’t want to, it’s the hard stuff that helps us grow. I’ve been working on helping the kids remember the good things about Meowzer. “He was a good guy.” Yes he was son. He was a wonderful part of our family and he will be greatly missed.