I lost my companion cat, but found more than I expected

Me and my rescue/used cat, Gizmo, on his last full day.
Me and my rescue/used cat, Gizmo, on his last full day.
Me and my rescue/used cat, Gizmo, on his last full day.

I lost one of my best friends Monday. My beloved “used cat,” Gizmo, had oral cancer – a tumor on his tongue that probably would spread aggressively – and had to be euthanized.

I hope it is not too selfish to say I learned something about myself in the process. You’d think at age 50 I would be done with that, but unfortunate circumstances breed opportunities we never wanted … do we turn away the lessons for bad timing?

At 12:15 p.m. I took my 11 ½-year-old cat, my buddy who had spent the last 8 ½ years of his life with me, to the vet, as I had arranged after getting the diagnosis on Friday. I wanted to let the rest of the family say goodbye to him. He had so much trouble eating by Sunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have waited any longer.

Our gentle and sensitive vet inserted a catheter for the IV medicine, then put him on a blanket on the exam table. I pulled up a chair so his head and mine would be at the same height, and rubbed his head, talking to him. He marked my face with the side of his, naming me “his” as he had done countless times before, and the doctor began the injection. Seconds later his head slumped and he was gone.

Only a few tears slipped away from me. In the waiting room, as I whispered that I loved him and I was sorry this had happened to him, I caught myself from disintegrating. He needed me to be normal, and I would be. I held together afterward, too, and that evening warned my husband, who had been in the same office when our first dog had to be euthanized, that I had not really cried yet.

A few people had commented on Facebook posts, a couple posted on my wall and a few sent me private messages. About 10 hours after the fact I saw this message:

“Hey Beth . . . I haven’t commented on any of your posts re: your beloved cat, but I just wanted to say I’m thinking of you. I can’t make anything better and I can’t imagine how tough this has been, but I’ve thought about you a lot over the weekend and today.”

Finally, I let myself cry, long and hard. I curled up on the couch, making sounds people shouldn’t make, prompting the Lab assistant to come and lick my elbow in an attempt to comfort me.

Most of my tears were for my beloved companion. This traced back to the first minutes I met him, when he bolted forward from his owner’s arms in their tiny apartment to bite me lightly on the nose, of all things, and John said he understood if I wanted to back out. I was freaked out but I understood I likely was this cat’s last chance, as no one else had been stepping forward after two public appeals to rescue him in this family move the new landlords would not allow him to make.

The first 24 hours were a heavy challenge – complete with hiding behind the bed, yowling and swiping with claws – but I never looked back. He became a true companion animal. If I went upstairs to change an alarm clock or put away clothes, he followed. In recent times, as I camped on the couch to work, he took up his station behind my shoulder (like the photo below).

Standard position: Me at work on the far right end of the couch, Gizmo at the intersection of arm and back.
Standard position: Me at work on the far right end of the couch, Gizmo at the intersection of arm and back.

In Gizmo’s last minute, we were as we had been so many times, with me nuzzling his head and him marking my chin in return. Seconds later he was gone, and there will be a hole in my heart forever.

Some of my tears, I have to admit, were for me. I have almost made a point of withdrawing from the physical world, growing more and more selective about my ventures into it. The volunteer obligation I have in mid-June likely will be my last for the year, as I turn partly toward my writing, and partly just away from a world I find draining.

But for this occasion, I was not withdrawn. I told people on Facebook, where I only connect to people I know in real life, about the Friday diagnosis. I posted a goodbye photo of me holding him Sunday (the one at the top of this post), and another note later Monday when I had been immersed in work and for a second looked up, expecting him to be there. I thanked my friends then for their support, saying it had meant a great deal to me.

What I did not say was how humbling it was. As much as I wish sometimes not to need people, on occasion I do, and they were incredibly quick to rush in with their virtual hugs.

“First time today I looked up from submersion in work and wondered where my cat was. Damn,” I said, around 6:30.

“I don’t care about cats, but I do like you a lot. Sorry for your loss,” a friend of 20 years replied. “It’s difficult to stop looking for them. Hug up the faithful lab assistant,” said another friend who never has seen Maggie in person, but is aware of the key role she plays in my daily existence.

One of my sisters pointed out that our late cats could pal around together now, and a friend told me about Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, “the patron of cats and those who love them.” (We Catholics, we’re into saints and intercession, so we only bother God with the really big stuff.)

I do not feel worthy of this outpouring, but I treasure it. As I crawl farther into my rabbit hole, I promise not to forget the people outside.

I asked, they answered. I don’t have to understand, just appreciate. And I do, from the bottom of my heart, I do.

What do I want? Not so easy to answer

My Facebook profile picture. It works on multiple levels.
My Facebook profile picture. It works on multiple levels.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want.

It would be easy to write this off as being tied to my turning 50 next month, but that’s just coincidence. It’s really about spending years, possibly decades, not thinking much about what I want. Especially in the last six years or so, it has seemed pointless, so I just shoved those thoughts away.

Now that I’ve been freelancing for 16 months, I have enough handle on that to start thinking bigger picture. Aside from pulling in a required amount of money, what do I want? And not for my family or anyone else, as I’m used to framing my thinking (and I believe many mothers are). What do I want for MYSELF?

To that end, I’ve been going through a few exercises.

On the occasion of her 30th birthday, Andrea Balt crafted 30 questions to ask yourself before you die. Some of the questions I can toss off easily: Who have you loved? Others are works in progress, like determining where I want to live. Still others are scary, like pinpointing your ghosts and demons.

I read Darren Rowse’s 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Blogging When I Started. I’m not ready for most of that advice yet, I decided. I want to write about the things that interest me and build a community. If it never turns into money, that’s fine, it’s still of value to me.

More timely for me is Chris Guillebeau’s 279 Days to Overnight Success, in which he outlined how he found after 10 months of crafting his website that it could provide him income. When I got to his mention of his A Brief Guide to World Domination, I realized I needed to go through that first, so I did.

I’m going to have to ponder and return, because I can’t yet answer his two critical questions: what do you really want to get out of life and what can you offer the world that no one else can? I’m closer to the second answer than the first, but I’ve decided to plunge ahead. Better to have the activity going and adjust course than to get stalled in the planning stage.

I’ll talk periodically about how I’m answering some of these questions. If you’ve found these exercises helpful, or have others to suggest, please share.

Feed your head

My list of books to acquire from the local library is up to three index cards now. Yes, front and back.
My list of books to acquire from the local library is up to three index cards now. Yes, front and back.
My list of books to acquire from the local library is up to three index cards now. Yes, front and back.

An idle thought on New Year’s Eve turned into a model I actually can follow.

I had called to find out what hours Old Town Gym would be open on New Year’s Day, as management prides themselves on being open every single day, even if like on Thanksgiving, it’s just two hours. For New Year’s, there was a four-hour window, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

That’s when I thought, hey, I could go 365 days a year.

By mid-morning I already was questioning that plan, but I dragged myself over there long enough to do machine work. Then I started pondering what I really hoped to gain from the 365 notion.

As I told my son, the plan sounded great for alternate days – machine days. He understood. Like me, he hates cardio. I knew I would be unlikely to go over just for cardio.

But the germ of the idea remained. Maybe I could do SOMETHING every day. A little digging produced a home Pilates workout (although exercise #5 will be beyond me for a while) and a 30-day plank challenge. At some point I might add stretches, but this is enough for now.

That led to not a resolution, but a life shift I could truly embrace: exercising my mind and body every day.

The mind part is easy, because I have reading and learning to do on the way to writing a dystopian novel one day. Right now I’m going through material related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first required reading in a no longer available Canvas Network course on surviving a zombie apocalypse, brought to my attention by the nice folks who promote The Walking Dead. I was too focused on other things to participate while the class discussions were going on, but I snagged all the reading before the course disappeared from the network.

I also have an ever-growing reading list, to which I’m sure to add more from Dystopia.com’s book list. Finally, I signed up for another Canvas course, this one on sustainability, and I plan to participate weekly this time.

Body and mind. So simple, so vital.