The art of saying goodbye…

silly OreoHis mother was a barn cat, brought to our building to have her kittens. Then he and his littermates were placed in a cardboard box labeled “Free Kittens” and brought downstairs to the lobby. I knew nothing about this until after the fact, it was my neighbour and former friend who informed me that she’d got the last kitten, one who looked just like Angel except he had a black nose.

The former friend picked him up on a whim and, three months later, gave him to us because she no longer wanted three cats. Of course she blamed her father at the time but I watched her abandon four more pets in a couple more years and, well, she can’t blame him for everything. And, yes, that’s why we’re no longer friends.

But I digress. Oreo became ours then, still a kitten but an older kitten. We quickly realized he’s a complete and utter clown who routinely sleeps on his back with all four paws in the air. He’s also known for his tongue bleps, those times when a cat’s tongue sticks out and stays out. He’ll even fall asleep on his back with a tongue blep so his tongue is falling towards his nose.

When Oreo was a young cat he was an excellent mouser, something I likely would never have known if our neighbour wasn’t as bad at containing his live snake food as Oreo was good at catching it. We lived on the third floor of a highrise so they weren’t just wandering in on their own. These days though, he’s nearly fourteen. I have the feeling that if a mouse ran past, he’d look at it and go back to sleep if he a) even woke up or b) could see it. He’s passed that task on to Smudge and Lara, who will likely never see a mouse in their lives.

Oreo has always been the “good child”. Good natured, even tempered, friendly with everyone. Angel hisses at the other cats when they get too close, Blackie needs careful monitoring and CBD oil because she’ll wet in corners, Lara grabs your hand when she wants to get petted… and often forgets to retract her claws, and Smudge likes hiding and jumping on Angel to get a reaction. Oreo does none of that. He just sleeps cute, licks compulsively when his back is scratched, and purrs like a motor when it’s feeding time. Oreo loves his food. So, unfortunately, Oreo gets a bit overlooked. It’s easier to see the others when they’re Right In My Face. Which is why the last time he saw a vet was when he got neutered at 6 months old. He turns fourteen on September 15th.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out about the Iams Checkup Challenge. It was open to Canadian residents until July 31, 2021. You went out and bought $40+ of Iams food in one go before taxes (they had a list of qualifying products) and kept the receipt. Then you took your pet to the vet for a checkup and kept that receipt too. Finally you went onto their website and uploaded a picture of both receipts. They reimbursed you up to $150 before taxes. Finally! This was Oreo’s chance to see the vet… and the first time out of the apartment (other than moving) in thirteen years.

He 110% did not like leaving the apartment and started yowling before we even reached the elevators. We live beside the elevators. Luckily for both of us, the vet office is directly across the street. Due to covid I couldn’t go inside. Instead I called into the office and then the vet called me back so I could voice any concerns and then they brought Oreo in.

I mentioned the lump on his side but also that it had been there for several years and never changed shape. Then I decided I might as well tell her about the other lump too, the one I figured was probably a pimple of some sort or maybe a small boil. The location bugged me, a nipple seemed like an odd spot for a pimple to form.

They scooped up Oreo and went inside, leaving me on the sidewalk without even a chair. At least it wasn’t raining (there was a 90% of rain). And then the phone rang. That lump on his nipple… it wasn’t any sort of pimple. It was a tumour with a 90% to 95% chance of being aggressively malignant. There’s no such thing as easily treatable or relatively easily treatable breast cancer. All the nipples on that side are connected so the vet can’t simply remove the lump, she’d have to remove that whole side. And, since it’s highly aggressive, there’s a good chance it’s already in his lungs and/or lymph nodes so he’d need a chest x-ray first. No point in doing hugely invasive surgery if his lungs are riddled with tumours.

She’s talking and all I could think was “what’s the cost?”. And I don’t just mean financially, although that is a definite concern. What is the cost to Oreo? We adopted Oreo in 2008 and he didn’t leave the apartment again (other than getting neutered) until 2012 and that was to go into a carrier, into a car, and then out of the carrier into the new apartment. And then again in 2020 with the same routine. He doesn’t know the outside world. He doesn’t like the outside world. Blackie and the twins will sometimes venture into the hallway outside our apartment. Oreo and Angel don’t even try. Oreo would be miserable with multiple vet visits and terrified by staying at the hospital… especially in pain and attached to things. And it’s not permanent, he’s got a 50% of it coming back in a year even with the treatment.

He’s not a kitten, he’s an old cat. Her next news was that his gums are bad and he’s lost most of his teeth. Her final news was that he has cataracts but still seems to be able to see. I’ll keep the furniture where it is, just in case. I have a mini trampoline (a rebounder if you’re fancy) at the foot of my bed and my senior kittens use it as a step up. Blackie uses it just fine. Angel uses it during the day but she’s sore by bedtime and needs to be lifted up from the trampoline. Oreo? He doesn’t even make it into my room. He just cries from wherever he is then I lift him and carry him to the bed. No point in leaving his poor bones on a hard floor. Maybe if he was as young as the twins and bounding around the apartment I’d have a harder decision but he’s not. I’m not going to fight, and pay a fortune, to have him “cured” so he can get carried from the kitchen into the bedroom because his joints hurt to much to walk. The phrase “pick your battles” comes to mind. Sometimes you just have to walk away, even if it hurts.

To be truthful, I want him to continue on being Oreo forever. Bumbling through life forever cheerful, being a total goofball but being real… genuine. It’s not often that pure goodness comes into your life. It has for me and I don’t want it to go. But that’s the art of saying goodbye. Everything comes to an end. There’d be no room for beginnings if nothing ever ended.

And so I watch Oreo, sprawled across the cat mat under the table. His eyes are bright as he waits in anticipation for a head scratch and a scratch under the chin. Later, before I go to bed, he’ll sit beside the stove and yowl until the other cats join him and I relent and sprinkle cat treats on the floor. And, at some point when my room is dark, I’ll climb out from under the covers to carry Oreo to bed. His life will have happiness, peace, and routine until it’s time to say goodbye and may I have the art to know when that time is.

The long goodbye…

A Blackie update
We had an appointment scheduled for Blackie to be euthanized on Friday the 2nd but cancelled it when she started eating Temptations cat treats. It was a hard call at the time because cat treats aren’t exactly sustainable but she seemed a bit perkier and I wondered if it was a step towards eating. I went out on Saturday to look for something more substantial for her to eat. I’d had a suggestion of Temptations cat food but Pet Valu didn’t have them. What they did have were oh my god expensive BFF pouches, all tuna with another meat added. The cashier assured me the pouches contained tiny morsels of meat, small enough to be lapped up, and she was right. Blackie lapped up about half a pouch then sprawled out on my bed to nap. That was the first time in a week that she’d sprawled, until then she’d stayed crouching in a loaf shape, paws tucked underneath her. And, this morning, when it was time for her morning pouch of food, Blackie marched proudly ahead of all the other kitties, her tail high in the air. She’s not eating an awful lot right now but she’s content and comfortable and that’s what matters.
An update on Blackie
She didn’t eat at all yesterday or this morning so I went to the vet to see what our options are. I got a pill that increases appetite and a can of wet cat food that’s supposed to encourage cats to eat. We also talked about euthanasia, which is $212 and way out of our budget. Apparently the Humane Society does compassionate euthanasia so, if it comes to that, I have a place to call.
I went to Pet Valu after that and picked up cat milk as a treat. I got a tin of wet cat food too called Havana BBQ. Apparently it was just chopped tuna, which is a relief. I don’t think any of our cats need anything barbecued.
The pill went down on the first try and Blackie was very unimpressed with me. I waited two hours, like I’d been told, then got her some of the mushy vet food while Angel got the tin of BBQ. Angel immediately glommed onto the mushy food, which Blackie had sniffed then turned away so I switched plates. Blackie immediately dove in and started eating. I was so excited! But then she stopped after about four bites and went to the bathroom door to be let out. I feed them in the bathroom so the hordes don’t overwhelm them.
So we’re still waiting and seeing. Blackie’s still content to rest. She went onto our balcony today and napped on the bench (despite the cold). She’s wanders around the apartment on occasion and loves being petted. But I’ve got a sinking feeling the end is near. She just can’t go without food for that long.
I’ll update more as things happen.
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It was October 2007. I’d taken two weeks off work so I could go to my sister Sue’s wedding and attend my grandfather’s memorial service and interment. All the family came from around the world. We were surrounded by family for two weeks as we viewed waterfalls, walked on the suspension bridge, and just chatted.

I’d already known something was up before our trip. Our cat Pumpkin was six years old and the internet sites claimed he was senior. I clung to that as an answer to what was wrong. He’d wet outside the litter box a few times. Which was something that was fixed by buying him a litter box with a low entrance. And he just seemed off kilter. Then we came home from our vacation and discovered Pumpkin, who had earned the nickname Plumpkin, was nothing but skin and bones. He’d been his usual weight when we left and was skin and bones when we got home. We took a picture right before we left and another when we got home and he didn’t even look like the same cat. I’d had no idea cats could lose weight that fast. The girl who’d been watching the cats was so upset. I assured her it had nothing to do with her and it hadn’t.

We took Pumpkin to the vet, who instantly diagnosed him with fatty liver disease. He could be admitted and tube and IV fed until he gained enough weight but that was expensive and failed more than it succeeded.

I was waiting at the bus stop across the street from work when my cell phone rang. It was the vet office with bad news. The test results showed cancer, likely liver cancer, and there was nothing they could do, he was too far gone. We took him in to get euthanized the next day. We weren’t supposed to go on the bus without a carrier but the driver took one look at our emaciated cat and our tear streaked faces and let us on board without a word.

A month later we all wanted a new cat. Our searching led us to Pet Smart’s adoption centre. I’d told the woman that we were looking for an older cat and she showed us a couple, hiding at the back of their cages. Then Kait cried out, “Look at this cat!”

The lady’s first response was, “That’s not an older cat, those are kittens” and then she saw which kitten it was and her tone changed.

“Oh you want one of our black kitties,” she exclaimed. “Let me get the catch open.”

She nearly tripped herself in her haste to get over there. Then she opened the cage and Blackie fell into our hearts.

Blackie is our snuggler and the licker of noses. When she wanted food she’d march down the hall, turning regularly to make sure I was still following and giving a scolding meow if I wasn’t following quickly enough for her tastes.

Anyone who has ever worn black knows it can hide a multitude of “sins”, plus she still has her round little belly that sways as she walks. It wasn’t until I ran my hand down her back that I realized how much weight she’d lost. She’s a head scratching cat, not a cat that wants long, stroking pets. I have no real idea of how long she’s been losing weight. I’m leaning towards very quickly though. And, if that wasn’t enough, she started sneezing.

BlackieColin and I took her to the vet last week where she got weighed and checked out. She had a cold and the beginnings of fatty liver syndrome. The vet could do more tests but, since she’s 11, it would cost $260 for a senior’s bloodwork… on top of the check up fees. That was about $260 more than we had. So we got antibiotics and a brief mention of euthanizing. The antibiotics are done but the wheeze continues. Thankfully it’s in her nose and not her lungs. Her nose means a cold, while her lungs are so much more serious. But this cold is kicking her butt.

She’s currently curled up on my bed and she looks peculiar lying there, like half of her is missing. Which it is, she’s gone from 20lbs down to nine. She’s so tiny now, with bird thin bones. I can even feel her collar bones.

One of my Facebook friends suggested heating her food, which I tried with her leftovers last night. I was so hopeful that this would be the solution she needed. I heated her wet cat food this morning in hopes she’d scarf it down again. She followed me to the bathroom then refused to eat. She threw up green foamy bile instead, which, according to Google means her tummy is empty.

I’m hoping she’ll live longer. Long enough to lie in the sunshine on our balcony, while the air wafts delightful smells around her nose. Long enough to gain back some weight, enough to cover her collar bones and spine. Long enough to, once again, lead the parade to the food bowls. But I’m realistic enough to know that’s likely not going to happen.

We’ve had her for ten and a half years so far and that’s not nearly long enough. She’ll be sorely missed when she’s gone. And, as for now, I plan on making the remainder of her life warm, safe, and comfortable.

The hard times…

It was almost the end of my shift when one of my coworkers walked in. I expected her to go in the back to talk to a manager but she came to my till instead. While she’s a coworker, she’s someone I don’t know well as we work opposite shifts. The most we ever work together is a half hour and, even then, most of that time is spent with her outside finishing up chores.

She ordered soup while I tried not to stare at her face. Her skin was red and puffy from her eyes down with scabby, eczema-like patches across her nose and upper lip. She commented that it was hard for her to swallow. I eyed the reddish mask and patches across her nose.

“Do you have lupus?” I asked bluntly. The mask wasn’t like what I’d read about but she seemed open to talking and I figured pretending I hadn’t noticed anything different would be worse than asking what was wrong.

“I have cancer,” she said. She looked like she wanted to say more but picked up her dish instead and headed to a nearby table.

I glanced around. It was early afternoon and we had no other customers plus there was one other person at cash so I followed her over to the table. She talked briefly about her cancer, explaining the radiation was working and her face was a lot less puffy now than it had been.

“Put down your spoon,” I said once she was finished speaking. “I’m going to give you a hug.” I smiled at her look of alarm. “I hug everyone,” I assured her. I gave her a quick hug and felt her relax against me like it was the first hug she’d had in a while.

“Do you have family nearby?” I asked worriedly. My worry increased as she shook her head. “How about friends?” I continued.

She looked away. “I have the people here,” she said quietly.

I work the day shift which means I routinely spend time with about ten other people. She worked nights, which meant she ordinarily worked with one.

She coughed then explained rapidly that there’s a medication she can’t afford that had to do with mucus. I suggested talking to her doctor to see if he had samples. My mind raced as I tried to think of something I could do to help.

My evening supervisor peeked out from the back room when I walked back. “Is she still there?” she asked nervously. She looked like she expected my sick, tired coworker to jump down from the ceiling like some sort of ninja spider. “I can’t handle seeing her,” she continued then disappeared back into her office.

I went to my till and my younger supervisor took a deep breath. “I’m going to talk to [coworker] now,” she said solemnly.

I watched as she walked over and sat down for a casual conversation.

I’ve already talked to the store owner. My next move is to talk to the store manager to see if we can fund raise to help her. After all, it’s Christmas in another month and we’re all she has. Talk about difficult times.

A friend of mine had a psychotic break at the beginning of last week and attempted suicide. I just found out this morning that another friend has been contemplating suicide, saying the only thing keeping him alive is the love of his husband. Meanwhile the day to day life goes by as normal. A former neighbour just had her 90th birthday party. We went grocery shopping and Jeremy’s chocolate almond milk was 50 cents off. Jeremy’s washing the dishes while grumbling that it’s not fair and I never make anything for dinner that zie likes. I’m thinking about making zir favourite hot and sour soup tonight instead of the curry I planned; saving that for when Emma and Mark come over on Tuesday. No matter what happens, no matter whose heart is breaking,  life somehow ends up going on like usual.

Today I found myself incongruously thinking of a neighbour I had when Emma was a baby. We lived in a fairly run down and rather transient neighbourhood. We only lived there for a year and a half and by the time we moved we were considered one of the old timers on the block. Some of the neighbouring apartments might as well have had revolving doors considering how quickly the tenants moved.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I’d noticed a new tenant had moved in behind us. She had a baby around the same age as Emma so I wandered over to introduce myself. This was 20 years ago and I’ve long since forgotten her name. I have not forgotten the baby’s name though.

“This is Dakota,” she said cheerfully once we’d settled down in her living room. I looked from her to the baby and then back again.

“Did you name him after the state or the tribe?” I asked. She jolted with surprise and stared at me wide eyed.

“You know I’m Native Canadian?” she asked. Her astonishment was obvious. As for me, I was definitely surprised.

“Umm… well… yes. You look Native,” I stammered.

“I was adopted and raised by a white family,” she explained. “I only just found out I’m Native recently and none of my friends believe me.”

“Are they blind?” I blurted. I have never been known for tact. It made her smile though.

She moved a month later, which is likely why I can’t remember her name. I didn’t know her for very long. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget her reaction when I proved I had honestly seen her.

Take the time this week to notice the people around you. Take the time to see them for who they really are. Be honest and open. And if you don’t know what to do, opt for kindness.