Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ten Things I Learned from My Cat, or Goodbye to a Friend

For those of you living under a rock, my sweet little kitty Juliette died last Thursday. At 15 years old, she was well into her golden years. She had been in chronic kidney failure for at least a year and a half, and a few weeks ago I noticed she was eating less and losing weight again. I took her to her specialist who immediately did an ultrasound. She diagnosed Juliette with a kidney tumor that had metastasized throughout her abdomen. She prescribed steroids, but they had little effect. After several days of coaxing and pleading on my part, Juliette stopped eating and drinking entirely and slept almost all day long. She no longer purred when I pet her. I spoke with her regular vet, and we agreed it was time to let her go before she suffered any more or experienced any pain. It was a terribly sad decision and one I didn't want to ever have to make, but I couldn't justify keeping her around just so I could have her in my life for a few extra days. It simply wasn't fair to her. Her death was quick and peaceful.



Juliette came to me 8 years ago from a boyfriend who lived halfway across the country. He had five or six cats in his house at the time (a sign in and of itself) and at 7 pounds she was the runt of the bunch. She was bullied by the other cats and afraid of virtually everything, so she lived on top of a kitchen cabinet that was beneath the access to the attic. Her food and water were on top of the cabinet with her, and when she wanted to go out she bumped her head against the access panel and went up and out through the attic; she waited on top of the carport for him to bring her inside when she was done. Essentially out of sight and therefore out of mind, she got very little attention. But I thought she was adorable, so one day I climbed a footstool and reached for the far corner of the cabinet where she was huddled and petted her just a little. I created a monster. From then on, any time I was in the room she stood on top of her cabinet and meowed incessantly until I got a stool and climbed up to pet her. She was still skittish, though, and would retreat to the farthest corner for several minutes before she'd finally let me pet her. Eventually she trusted me enough to let me pet her readily, and after a couple weeks I started bringing her down from the cabinet and taking her into a secluded bedroom for an hour or two at a time, trying to acclimate her to life on the ground. Slowly, she began to trust me and let me hold and pet her without hesitation.

My then-boyfriend and I agreed that she'd do much better in a single-cat household, so I flew her back to Austin with me. Once I let her out of her carrier and she cautiously prowled the apartment to confirm she was, indeed, the only cat around, she began to blossom into an entirely different cat. She explored. She played. She stopped looking for high spots when she was scared. She claimed windowsills and chairs and pillows as her own. She was friendly with everyone who came over, demanding petting and affection like she was making up for lost time. Over the years we shared two apartments, one half of a duplex, and a house. She was there when I left to get married, and she was still there when I came home from getting divorced. She was my constant companion during most of my twenties and into my thirties, and through what I now call some of my most formative experiences. She was my friend.

I am extraordinarily sad without her. I hear sounds that trick me into thinking she's trotting down the hall, and I look at her favorite spots and still expect to see her sitting there. I was handling her collar and the tags clinked together, a familiar sound that made me turn my head and look for her. It's worst when I first wake up in the morning or right before bed, when I have to omit steps in my old routine and am acutely aware that she's gone. No more feeding her, leaving the bathtub faucet dripping for her, or cleaning her litterbox. 

But I'm also so grateful to have had her in my life. Like many pets, she loved unconditionally. She always wanted to be close to me and followed me from room to room. She was affectionate and playful. She was a great companion for the eight years I had her in my life, and despite all the sadness I feel right now, I wouldn't trade a single day I had with her to escape it.

   
I've never really had to grieve a loss like this before. Although several of my grandparents have died, I wasn't especially close to any of them once I moved to Texas. I saw them once or twice a year at best. But I saw Juliette every day, and I cared for her. We loved each other in our own ways. The grief feels so heavy and foreign and I'm not sure how to navigate it. In the moments when I'm able to think about her without falling to pieces, I remember that having her in my life made it better in so many ways. The best way I know to memorialize her is to share that with the world. And so, without further ado, I give you Ten Things I Learned from My Cat.

1. Don't be stingy with your affection.
If there was one quality that defined Juliette more than any other, it was the total abandon with which she desired and doled out affection. When anyone walked into the room, especially a new person, it was time to rub on them and snuggle them and head butt them while they petted her. She expected you to lavish the love on her, and in exchange she did the same. She kneaded strangers' tummies and rubbed on their faces and purred her happy little head off the entire time. She gave love freely, and in exchange she got it back in equal measure. We should all be so lucky.

2. Ask for what you want.
And don't take no for an answer. You can start by asking for it gently, like Juliette did: reaching out and gently laying a paw on my arm, scratching lightly, until I turned and petted her. If that doesn't work, step it up a notch: say (or meow) something. If that goes unheeded, get louder (because obviously they didn't hear you). If Juliette felt like playing in the middle of the night, she'd bring one of her toys into the bedroom and yowl loudly until I finally woke up. No matter how many times I took the toy away and stowed it away somewhere out of reach, she'd repeat the performance another evening. She never got her way, but she knew it didn't hurt to ask.

"It's not begging unless you're desperate."

3. Forget about the bad stuff ASAP.
One of the benefits of having a smaller brain is having a shorter memory. Juliette's short memory meant she quickly forgot about the times I accidentally stepped on her tail, or kicked her out of her favorite spot on the couch, or even left her at the vet overnight when she was sick. If something didn't continue to affect her daily life, she didn't continue to remember it. I imagine that not hanging onto the little bad things made her life much more worry-free.

4. Never, ever do anything you don't want to do unless you absolutely have to.
Claws are good for a lot of things, but some of their best uses include hanging onto furniture for dear life when someone tries to move you somewhere you don't want to go and shredding someone's arms when they're trying to dose you with medicine you don't want to take. Juliette never saw any good reason to do anything she didn't want to do, and as a result she spent the vast majority of her time doing everything she loved: napping, lazing in sunbeams, getting petted, and playing with her toys. While I know I can't completely shirk my responsibilities, spending a little less time shrugging off the things I don't care for would probably improve my quality of life quite a bit.

5. There is no such thing as too many naps.
Juliette understood the power of a good, solid nap. On the windowsill, on the bed, in a chair, or on a pillow, she knew that naps were good for the soul. I followed her example and indulged in my own semi-regular naps, sometimes with her. At the end, she'd crawl under the covers, snuggle up next to my stomach, and purr until she finally fell asleep.


6. Sharing is overrated, unless you want someone else to do it with you.
Your favorite spot is your favorite for a reason, and since you only have one favorite spot, you can't share it without losing it for yourself. The easy solution is not to share it. It's yours, you claimed it first, and you're keeping it. But if you see someone eating a little bit of cheese you'd like to eat, or snuggling under a blanket that looks like it'd be awfully warm around you, there's absolutely no reason you shouldn't insist they share it with you. And if they won't share it? Just steal it. That'll teach 'em.


"Your pillow? What do you mean this is your pillow? Finders keepers, loser."

7. There's nothing as tasty as a cool drink of water. Or salmon. Or bread. Or ice cream. Or cheese. Pretty much anything, really.
Juliette was a girl who had her priorities in order when it came to food. First, she was a carb fiend: flour tortillas, baked goods, and most especially, breads. Any kind of bread was fine, but specialty breads were best: challah, babka, and a good French bread were top notch. She would meow and paw at me until I finally tore off a tiny piece and put it at her feet, and when she was done with that she'd meow and paw until she got some more. The same thing was true with cheese: in her final days, bits of melted cheese that I pulled off my quesadilla were the only thing she would eat. Canned salmon and tuna were reliable favorites, and she absolutely loved to lick my ice cream bowl clean. But really, nothing could ever compare with fresh water, dripping straight from the faucet. Juliette knew what she liked and she took every opportunity to get her paws on it through begging, coercion, or just plain adorableness.

8. A girl can never have too many shoes.
This one really ought to go without saying. Juliette loved shoes - the stinkier the better. She sniffed them and rubbed on them and sometimes she even slept with them. One time she even took her favorite toy and stuck it in one of my sandals. 


9. Cleanliness is next to goddessliness.
Like many cats, Juliette was fastidious when it came to hygiene. She kept her coat clean, shiny, and fluffy. Her paws were usually litter-free and her claws were sharp. And Juliette made hygiene a priority: she wasn't above plopping herself down in the middle of the hallway, leg up in the air in some sort of feline yoga pose, and cleaning herself whenever she saw the need. Juliette knew that while appearances may not be everything, they're definitely worth keeping up.

10. Celebrate the little things.
Like pooping. Sometimes when Juliette would finish in her litterbox, she'd sprint from the bathroom, around the corner, through the bedroom, across the hallway, and leap onto her cat tree, where she would scratch on the post excitedly. She'd pooped! She'd pooped! Oh happy day, she had pooped! Sometimes, it's the little victories of everyday life (like still having control of our bowels) that we need celebrate to remind ourselves that life is good.

I miss Juliette every day, but I also love remembering her. I'll never be able to replace her, but I can celebrate her life and the time we had together. 

Goodbye my dear, sweet Juliette. You were an amazing friend, and I love you with all my heart.

8 comments:

Angela said...

What a beautiful tribute. I feel like I know her after reading this.

mrs mediocrity said...

Oh, you just made me smile (with tears in my eyes). Our old lady cat still does the same thing when she poops... I can always hear her racing across the floor upstairs.

I am so sorry about Juliette, I know how hard it is to lose such a good friend and companion. They really know how to wiggle their way into our hearts.

You gave her a great cat life, and she knew she was loved. xoxo

Anonymous said...

Just came across your post on Zite and shared it on fb (janvandiver) Thank you for sharing Juliette's life lessons with this beautiful tribute to her. I know the sadness but also the joy (my sweet one shared her love 18 years and lived her life as Juliette did). I can tell Juliette lived the good life.

Brahm Kornbluth said...

Love love love this post... beautifully written and touching, and more importantly sending warm thoughts and condolences your way... we said goodbye to our 13-yearold beagle last month and are going thru the same sense of sadness and readjustment. It is tough, and I believe reflects the love we shared.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

ohbettinadear said...

what a lovely post. i'm so sorry for your loss. sending warm, restorative thoughts your way.

Erin said...

Thank you all for the kind, supportive words. I could really bring myself to re-read the post and respond to your comments until now, but please know that they have brought me a great deal of comfort in the last few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. I lost my baby last night -Noel - same diagnosis - she was 20 years, 6 months and I am also heartbroken. This piece make me laugh and smile. Thanks for posting.

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