11/15/12

Never say goodbye

We ask for signs for directions to help us make the hard decisions -- and yet when we see them, when they unfold right before our eyes we often have trouble seeing.

Tigger has been sick for the better part of the year, but he has really taken a turn for the worse in the last few months. I know in my heart, in my head what has to be done; except I can't be moved to do the mature thing, to take that next step. I keep putting it off, trying to convince myself that he's not suffering that he's okay, that he's not ready to leave this world. I'm only fooling myself, I know that it's me who's not ready to let go.

Six months ago when we last visited the vet, I was strong, I was determined, I knew that I didn't want him to suffer through tests and ultrasounds, tubes and surgeries. An alley cat brought inside to a warm hearth 18 years ago, Tigger has had a very good life and I refused to allow his last days turned upside down by medicine. So even when Dr. Langston suggested surgery, I opted for my own home-grown hospice with a free-form diet, medication and steroids, a weekly B-12 shot. I switched him off his kidney-failure food, and supplemented it with his favorite organic raw and home-cooked meals. He's back to dry kibble like when he was a kitten. He can't even keep that down, in his body long enough for it to replenish his strength.

We had a weigh-in: Tigger is 9 lbs. This time last year he was almost double that in weight and girth. When I pick him up, he leans against me like a bike without a kickstand, and I can feel the notches of his spine, each vertebrae of his rib cage. He is dazed and confused--where he once used to nestle in the nook of my arm or squirm with the energy of a small child he now hangs limply. I don't think we're meant to comfort an animal in that state.

He and I have always had a love hate relationship with feeding times, Tigger has always been an early to rise and eat kind of cat. The perfect alarm cat during the weekdays, an unwelcome annoyance on the weekends. These days he cries out with no sense of timing whatsoever, and the wake-up calls have been replaced by convulsing pukes and poops at 3-hour intervals. Despite my best efforts at adding wee pads and extra litter boxes, Tigger has claimed many closet floors as his own private inside outhouse.

Tigger makes a beeline for the water dish, I watch him hesitate. His thirst is unquenchable--it's a symptom and side effect of KRF disease--and there are bowls in every corner of the apartment, guideposts to food, drink, litter. His body moves forward and he senses the placement of a water bowl right there in front of him but he can't seem to find it. A paw makes contact with the rim, and he nudges at it with his forehead, sometimes he does a manicure dip, occasionally he laps it up. Most days success is coming home to puddles of water on the floor, the bowls over turned. This night he drinks for a moment and then wobbles his way to the living room, like a drunk trying to remember the steps to Achy Break-y Heart.

Tonight we hit rock bottom--he walked over to the litter box and dipped his head, I thought to sniff but he licked the gravel instead. My heart lurched forward, and my stomach dropped. I feel numb thinking about what the next few days will bring.

It's almost time for sleeping; I lift Tigger for a close hug, he is complacent, silent, purrless. That makes me sad to not hear him. I settle him on the foot of the bed and he doesn't even last a minute. His body is unsettled and before I can comfort him, he is slowly sliding down the comforter to the floor. I can't help remembering how he was, even though he still is. I already miss the way he would snuggle up against the back of my knees or on my stomach. In my memories I see him younger finding the connected rhythm of our bedtime ritual where he would lay on my chest and knead his paws on my face, close enough for me to hear him breathing.
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