Thursday, February 21, 2008

Writer's Island - Bookends and Second Chances

Every family has that one person who serves as the bookend for birth and death. Usually the job falls to one of the women of the family. In my family, that job falls to me. Births, illnesses, deaths all line up for attention at one time or another in our lives and these moments are not necessarily limited to the two legged members of our family.

Being the birth/death bookend of our family means handling the activities and rituals attached to these events for the non-human members of our family as well. I've noticed over the years that it doesn't matter if the pet is a cat or a dog. In all likelihood, the departing pet can be a fish, a bird, a hamster . . . something small. No matter how small, each tiny family member has found a place in our backyard. Cammie, our hamster, is under a rock at our former home. Several gold fish have provided food for roses over the years. A few dogs departed during my childhood. In adulthood, it has been cats.

DH speaks cat. Cats know that our house is a sure fire place for adoption. Unattached cats hang out on the porch and if they are persistent, we start feeding them. It is only a matter of time before they discover the pet door in the backyard. Once that small door is found, the cat is ours.

This is how we acquired Gus. Gus hung out next door under our neighbor's RV for a couple of weeks and refused to leave. Finally determining that no food was forthcoming, he relocated to our front porch. A month later, he found the cat door and he moved in.


Gus became the most recent in a series of kitties that have adopted us. With each new addition, DH and I fall into a routine. He feeds them, makes sure there is always plenty of food, handles the cat box, and occasionally prepares them for visits to the vet. DH doesn't like to handle these medical matters. He's not much for human medical matters either but that being said, you can always rely on DH if something needs to be done.

I suppose if I were not the designated bookend of our family, Don would handle illness matters as well. But he has me so he doesn't need to. It's a responsibility I don't mind shouldering. He organizes the stuff of daily life, I handling the healing and end of life stuff. Today was one of those bookend days for me.

Back on my 4-20-07 post, you may have read about Gus' cancer and the the loss of one of his ears. He recovered from that but we knew he would not be out of the woods for long. It would be a short second chance. There were other signs that cancer was still present. Fall arrived and turned to winter. Gus ate and ate and ate. But, he did not gain any weight and more alarming, he did not develop a winter coat. He started slowing down. Breathing seemed labored. He became incontinent. He didn't complain but I knew we were going to have to face one of life's bookends soon. Gus' second chance was running out.

Yesterday I came home to Don just finishing the clean-up of a particularly messy accident Gus had in Don's study. At that moment, the switch just turned on for me. I knew I had to do something. Gus was not stretching out in his special place. We found him sleeping in, for Gus, odd places, like the hallway to the bedrooms. He pretty much slept where he dropped.

We've lost a few cats that have wondered off in their old age. Seemingly healthy but just slowing down, one day they would just be gone. Other times, age and/or illness precipitated a crisis and a midnight, after-hours run to the emergency vet. I realized that I did not want Gus to get to crisis point. I did not want Gus to just wander off to die alone. So, today I took Gus to the vet.

Dr. Flores is such a great vet. She loves animals and hates seeing them suffer. She does not encourage extra testing for sick animals. She encourages compassion for the very sick creatures who are in our care. We spent time talking about Gus in a special room they have assigned for hard moments such as this. The animals and their humans have privacy.

It was peaceful. Gus was enjoying the scratching and petting on his chin that he liked so much and then very quietly it was over. My part of the silent agreement that Don and I share was over. I brought Gus home and Don took over his part of our agreement. By the time I returned home from work this evening, Gus had joined Smudge and Paw Kitty in the corner of our yard, safely tucked away at the feet of our statue of the Holy Family.

22 comments:

SLW said...

So very moving, AnnieElf. I too have been through this many times, but today's tears for your cat I've never met and the fondness that shows in your words.

Janet said...

Annie, I'm so sorry about Gus. I'm sure it was the right thing to do but also not an easy decision to make.
Hugs,
Janet

Beth said...

I am so sorry about Gus! It sounds like he went very peacefully. And what a wonderful place you were able to place him at, with all of your other furbabies.
I did get Mom in rehab late yesterday. Today is her birthday and I am going to take her lots of goodies. I know that all the prayers and positive thoughts from all of my wonderful friends and family is what got her into the rehab. Thanks for being here for us!!!
xoxooxoxoxoxoxooxo

Julie Marie said...

I'm so sorry about Gus, but you did the right thing. You honored him by letting him go before things got really bad.

We've had to have three dogs put to sleep and it's always hard. Dan took the first two to the vet, but I took Lady. I figured it was my turn to shoulder the burden.

Then Dusty the cat up and died in front of us (heart attack?) one evening, which was very hard too.

I'm think of you,

Julie

Inspired Tokens said...

I do believe that Gus was meant to find your the little 'cat door'! There's a reason for everything and this was the reason. He need someone to care and watch over him until it was time for him to depart. AnnieElf, you are the most caring of persons and your stories and words reflect that. I'm sorry to hear about Gus, but know that he is happy watching over you.

Geri said...

Blessed Be Annie. It's never easy, is it? I'll be thinking of you and Don.

Mary Timme said...

The best animals in our life are as good as the good people in our life. I'm sure of it. I'm not willing to do tests on a sick animal either and cats who die naturally are not pretty to look at as they are grimacing and fighting it usually to the very end, but what a graceful way for Gus to end his time here. Bless you Miss Annieelf and Mr. Don.

qualcosa di bello said...

oh annie, i am so sorry to hear your sad news. a very blessed kittie, gus was to have both your hearts. may he rest with the angels who have catnip in their robes. lots of love...q di b

UL said...

so very sorry to hear about the kitty.....my thoughts are with you.

Tammy said...

big hugs and condolences on the loss of Gus - he was obviously a special guy.

Laini Taylor said...

Oh, I'm so sorry about your kitty. My parents have an elderly adopted cat that has some symptoms like you mention -- not being able to gain weight, and now, not keeping food down. The poor old guy. His time draws near. And us, we're going through canine cancer for the second time in two years (two different dogs). It's so hard, and that final decision is so hard. This is a beautifully written post. Gus was lucky to find your cat door.

THE BLUEST BUTTERFLY said...

I am sorry for your loss.

gautami tripathy said...

Poignantly beautiful post.

snooty to boot

pepektheassassin said...

Nice post. Brought tears to my eyes.

paisley said...

as a dog mom to two aging girls.. i deal with this fear daily.. not in that they are sick.. or too old... just fear... fear of losing them.. fear of being the one that has to "take them home" fear of my life without them...

Robin said...

What a touching story, full of love and compassion. It sounds like you and Gus were lucky to have found each other.

tumblewords said...

Touching, poignant! Lovely post!

Lea said...

I am so glad Gus had you both... I still hear my Kliban and Tacky running through the house, little noses a quiver, and always nudging my hand in that ever so special way...

Bimbimbie said...

Hi Annie, Gus knew where to make his last home one where he would be loved and looked after. Cats have the nack of inching their way into our lives and leaving a yard in our hearts when they have to leave ... I like the sound of your vet, should be more like her. Hugs and smiles*!*

ren.kat said...

I never thought of women as the bookends of life. It is a fantastic image. And I am saddened about your cat.

LittleWing said...

...a beautifully endearing written page of your life regarding animals... cats absolutely... the unspoken agreement between you two... the idea of not letting gus suffer... thank you for sharing a gus moment...

Autrice DelDrago said...

I'm so sorry about Gus.