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But Joy Comes with the Morning

20 Nov

It’s been 2 weeks since we lost our sweet Doogie.  Turns out, life goes on.

Ninja grieved hard for about a week.  He’s adjusted now, although he has become a bit clingy.  When we first adopted him, he couldn’t believe his good fortune in getting a real home of his own.  He spent his days plastered to me, gratitude pouring off of him in a most uncharacteristic fashion for a feline.  Now he spends his days next to me because he’s lonely without his brother.  Doogie didn’t play with him much these last few months, but he was a presence, a warm body to snuggle with, a buddy to take meals with.

Never underestimate the power of just being there.  There’s definitely a lesson in that.

A surprisingly good photo of Ninja, taken by the toddler

A surprisingly good photo of Ninja, taken by the toddler

Alex no longer asks about Doogie, although I did have to field a question from the little neighbor girl about what happened to the other cat.  I just said that he got old and sick and went to live in heaven.

The leaves on the ground no longer seem to mimic our sorrow.  They’re just leaves, and they’re kind of fun.  Alex and I have been crunching our way through the yard, kicking leaves and having a good time.  This really is a beautiful time of year.

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We’re already talking about a new cat.  We’d love to go ahead and get one now, as Ninja really needs a buddy.  But somehow that seems foolish when we’re about to leave for Thanksgiving.  “Bye guys!  Hope you get along and don’t tear the house apart!”  So Ninja will just have to get through Thanksgiving, then he can have a new friend.  I worry about leaving him for a few days without a buddy, but we have a sweet friend coming to check on him daily, so I think he’ll be all right, just lonely.  But hey, it’ll make him appreciate a new cat all the more, right?  (I’m laughing right now because introducing a new cat into the household is never an easy process for the resident cat.)

Are we crazy for wanting to bring in a new cat just when we’ll be putting up the Christmas tree?  Probably.  I remember Doogie’s first Christmas with us.  He was such a climber when he was a kitten.  The Christmas tree proved irresistible for him.  He was up at the very top in probably 2 seconds flat.  So, we may be dealing with more of that, but right now, it sounds pretty great.  Life goes on, and it’s time to rescue a cat who needs a home.

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30:5

Grief

8 Nov

I sit outside, sun down, floodlights on, and watch my toddler cram fallen leaves into the cab of his toy dump truck.  When the week started, the leaves were still on the maple trees.  By week’s end, many lay on the ground, having fallen in their annual ritual.  It seems a fitting end to this week of sadness, as if the trees are crying leafy tears.

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The whole household is grieving.  How do you explain to a toddler the concept of heaven?  He asks for his cat, and there is no explanation he understands.  He just knows the cat is gone.  Our Ninja Cat roams the house, searching Doogie’s favorite hiding places, calling to his brother and getting no answer.  He spends his days plastered to my side, curled in my lap in the moments I sit, snuggled into me when I sleep at night.  He runs to us and looks relieved when we return home after leaving him alone for a while to run errands.  He doesn’t know how to be an only cat.

I wrestle with the decision of life or death.  Did we do the right thing?  Should we have waited to see if he got better?  The idea of putting a suffering creature out of its misery is a noble one…until you have to make the decision yourself.  Humans aren’t meant to play God, and it’s good that we aren’t allowed to make these sorts of decisions for each other.  

My husband sees my pain, feels my wet tears as he holds me.  He reassures me that what we did was right.  He even says that he made the decision, so I need not feel the pressing guilt that threatens to crush me.  In my head, I know he’s right.  But my heart.  Oh, my heart.  How deeply it hurts.  Doogie was my baby, the sweet, spunky kitten I chose over 14 years ago to join our family.  The kitten who won over our crotchety tabby cat.  The little cat who accepted Ninja willingly when our tabby died, and we brought a new brother home.  The cat who seemed to shrug his little shoulders when we brought Alex home from the hospital.  He could take anything we threw at him.  But kidney disease did him in.

I wish his last days had been better.  He made Alex cry the day before he died.  We were in the vet’s waiting room, surrounded by other pet owners and their dogs, a toddler he didn’t like getting in his face in his carrier and exuberantly saying, “Hi!”  When Alex stuck a finger in his carrier, Doogie reacted in terror.  A paw came slashing through the carrier bars and smacked Alex.  He didn’t hurt him, but oh my heart, Alex’s face crumpled with the betrayal of it all, then the hot tears came.  I gathered my human baby up in my arms, while saying soothing words to the furry one.

This isn’t the way I want to remember Doogie.

I see something out of the corner of my eye, and I turn, expecting to see a little gray-and-white cat.  But it’s just a toy.  Or the laundry basket.  My heart hurts all over again when I remember he’s not here.

We have a board book, Busy Kitties, which Alex loves.  We read it together, and I smile as Alex imitates the cats.  I say something about Ninja, and Alex meows in response.  Then he says, “Doo-ie!”  I ask if he wants to see Doogie.  He nods enthusiastically with a grin on his face.  He has forgotten that Doogie slapped at him.  He remembers only that a Doogie sighting is a thing of excitement.  Doogie avoided Alex as much as possible, but Alex squealed with joy whenever Doogie made an appearance.  I smile and try not to cry as I explain again that Doogie went to live in heaven.  He looks puzzled, but he quickly moves on to something else.

I wash dishes while Steven is upstairs bathing Alex.  Ninja cries.  His meows grow desperate and ever louder.  I call him to me, and he comes, but he looks confused and runs back out of the room.  I see him under a chair, calling out with everything in him.  I come undone because I realize he is wanting Doogie to answer him, and I know that it isn’t coming.  I stop what I’m doing, pull off washing-up gloves, and go to him.  I sit on the floor, drawing him into my lap.  He sinks into me, burrowing his head under my hand, wanting comfort.  His grief is palpable, and I cry with him.  Tell him he’s loved and not alone.  We sit together for a while, and then I go back to my work.  Ninja is quiet.

This is life after loss.  It is guilt, sadness, pain, loneliness.  But it is also joy.  Joy that Doogie no longer suffers.  That he is with his beloved big brother, Calvin, the tabby who ended up adoring him.  My husband reminds me we had 14 good years with him.  He lived long, and he lived well.  We have so many happy memories of him, and they will come back to me when I’m less encumbered by the weight of fresh grief.

And then there’s the joy in knowing that in a few weeks, we’ll be ready to start all over, choosing just the right cat for our family, one who will win over his or her new big brother and steal our hearts.  Just like Doogie.

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Saying Good-bye

5 Nov

It all happened so fast.

Doogie, our sweet little 14-year-old cat, spent the weekend vomiting profusely.  He was obviously weakening.  The weather had grown colder, and his arthritis made him limp in pain.  I had to wait until Monday to take him to the vet, as there is no emergency vet here.  The news was bad.  His kidney levels had dropped significantly, and he had become anemic.

The vet asked, “You do know what’s coming, right?”  Tears sprang to my eyes.  Yes, I knew.  I wasn’t ready, but I knew.  (Is anyone ever ready?)

Doogie was sent home, having had a shot to quell his nausea.  He had a fresh bottle of Azodyl, his medication for his kidneys.  We were all set to get him feeling better.  But it wasn’t meant to be.

Once we returned home, Doogie went into hiding.  This isn’t unusual for a cat who isn’t feeling well, and I figured his excessive sleeping was just a side effect of the shot he’d received.  But he also stopped eating and drinking.

Then today, he wet his bed and messed himself in the process.  This is the cat who once did the Potty Dance in front of the litter box while Steven cleaned it.  Ninja was new in our household, and he had an undiagnosed infection in his digestive tract.  He was making the litter box really disgusting, and Doogie held his bladder until nearly bursting all night until Steven woke up and cleaned the box.  This is a cat who would never go outside his box.  So this was the final signal that it was time.

Doogie needed his dignity.  We chose to give him that.

I spent the afternoon second guessing the decision.  But I had to drag Doogie out from under the bed just to hold him for a while.  Sweet baby sat in my lap and purred and let me pet him, but after a while, he jumped down.  He really just wanted to be left alone, and it was obvious that he was in pain.  I knew we were doing the right thing.

My neighbor was kind enough to watch Alex for me.  I didn’t want to wrangle a toddler while saying good-bye to the cat, and frankly, as Doogie never liked Alex, it was best for him.

We held Doogie, petted him, kissed him, and told him how special and wonderful he was.  Sweet kitten purred until the very end.

And my heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces.

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