Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Drunken, Staggering Lines

One of my favorite novelists once wrote in a book that grief is very much a funny beast, with tentacles all over the place, popping up where and when you least expect it.

That's very true. It's a description that has stuck with me for years.

Grief is a process. As such, it lingers. Its tentacles reach deep into places you didn't expect to find them.

If only it was a simple process.

Anyone who's ever grieved knows that there are stages, whether or not they've studied psychology and Kubler-Ross's five specific stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You'd think that you march through those in a straight line.

But you don't.

There's nothing straightforward about grief, except that it must be endured until you come out the other side, not necessarily "fixed" or "better," but with the bittersweet acceptance that your life has changed, you have a new normal, and that more time will make your memories less bitter and more sweet.

It's still not a five-steps-and-done deal, though. It has no set timetable. And, as I described it to my best friend JJ several years ago, it never walks a straight line. You bounce back and forth between the stages, depending on the day (or week...or month). It's more like drunken, staggering lines, weaving back and forth as you try to find your way through grief's fog.

The fog is pretty thick here in my house at the moment.

Last Thursday afternoon, about 4:40 p.m.

The last couple of days had been untenable. I wanted to scream and rail at my brother for his stupidity. (I still do.) I was tired. My muse had deserted me, and after Tuesday's startling email from Ms. Sciuto, I could not pull my brain together enough to write the Christmas short I was supposed to for writers' group that night. Heck, I had nothing for the devotional I was supposed to present, either!

So I sat in the oversized armchair in the living room, gazing at the Christmas tree, and trying to will my brain to cooperate.

That's when I heard it. A distinctly-Pa'ani yowl. No, wait. That was a howl. That was pain. What the heck?

Kitty-corner (yes, I can't help the stupid pun) across the room sat the old 1948 Crosley radio/turntable that Hubby had picked up at an auction not long after we moved into this house. (He paid a whole $5. Because he felt sorry for the poor auctioneer and bid on it. We needed a TV stand anyway.) The howl had come from that corner.

Medium had just stuck her head in to ask me a question, so she was in the doorway when Pa'ani yowled. "What was that?"

Pa'ani struggled out from behind the cabinet.

What did you do this time, buddy? I thought.

"Oh! Weeeeasel!" Medium cooed, and started to take off.

"No." I held out a hand and stopped her. "I think he's hurt. You need to leave him alone." If he was hurt, he could be mad, and definitely not in the mood for Medium's effusive affection.

Pa'ani limped over and curled up under the Christmas tree. Hubby came up a few minutes later, and I figured one of the kids had told him I thought the kitty was hurt. He laid down on the floor, on his stomach, peering under the tree. I joined him, kind of worried now because Pa'ani hadn't moved from that spot.

"Hey, bud. You okay?" Hubby asked quietly.

Pa'ani's trademark Edsel purr rumbled softly. "Mrow."

He didn't sound like he was screaming in pain anymore. This sounded kind of normal.

I explained to Hubby what had transpired: just a sudden howl of pain. It definitely wasn't normal.

"Maybe he zapped himself," Hubby commented. "There's some bare wires back there."

This much was true. The cabinet was old, and didn't really have a back to contain all of the wires coming out of it, and the radio was so old it ran on glass tubes. I reached over and unplugged it anyway.

"The tree skirt is wet."

I stared at Hubby. I had just put that thing under the tree a few hours before. I felt along the fleece near Pa'ani; Hubby was right. But it wasn't soaked. It was more like Pa'ani had drooled on it. Or foamed at the mouth and wiped his lips.

I was worried enough at this point that I almost didn't want to go to group, but my friend Anne had specifically asked if I was going, and I'd said yes. And I was responsible for devotions. And I'd made goodies that day specifically for our potluck. He'd probably given himself a shock and needed some time to settle all the gangling electrons in his cells.

So, I dropped off Hubby and the Fries at church for the kids' Christmas program rehearsal and then drove out to my party. I ate good food, listened to some great stories, ate more food, and finally sent Hubby a text near the end of the party, asking about Weasel.

"He's not walking right. Kind of like Po."

I knew what he meant; our late cat Popoki had suffered from diabetic neuropathy to such a degree that she walked while putting all of her back weight onto her rear legs' hock joints. That was what had led us to find out what was going on. But that had been a gradual onset, not sudden, like this.

I drove the forty minutes home with fear grabbing at my throat. Anne had hugged me as the tears threatened. But in the car, I was all alone, and it was difficult to keep the tears at bay, despite TPG's happy Christmas album providing my drive soundtrack.

Pa'ani still huddled on the floor in the living room, but near the ottoman, not under the tree. I tried to get him to move, and he limped. Horribly.

I found Hubby in our room. We speculated that it might still have been a strong shock, but it should definitely be wearing off by now. It'd been nearly five hours. And Weasel's left rear leg was kind of floppy. We decided to move Pa'ani downstairs, nearer to food, water, and litter boxes, and keep him comfortable overnight. If he was still having issues, I'd call the vet in the morning.
Pa'ani, 2007

Pa'ani, however, had different ideas. He settled on a big comforter near the fireplace...until I went upstairs. Then he painstakingly hobbled his way back up to the living room, which I discovered when I went back down to the lowest level to check on him.

He was under the tree again.

Okay. If that's where he's comfortable, I'll let him stay there. I checked on him again after another hour or so; he was still in the living room.

I knew I was calling the vet in the morning.

Friday morning

I wiggled my fingers through the cage door of the cat carrier, stroking under Pa'ani's chin. Just like a regular doctor's office, I mused. Our appointment was 20 minutes ago, and we're still in the waiting room. Pa'ani's constant cries had settled since we arrived; he'd been very vocal on the trip down.

The tech opened the door and directed us to room two.

Dr. Chaplin came in and I explained what had happened. No sound of any kind of trauma, but maybe he got his leg caught or zapped himself or something. I heard him howl, so I knew when it occurred.

Dr. C and the tech worked together to get a protesting Pa'ani out of his carrier. The tech held him while Dr. C palpated his left rear leg and hip.

"Well, his knee is definitely swollen, but he's also acting like his hip hurts. We need to get some x-rays. It could be that he's dislocated his hip. And we'll probably have to sedate him, given his reaction. You'll need to leave him here for awhile."

The tech came back a few minutes later with the estimate of how much this was going to cost, and I left Pa'ani there, going home with a heavy heart. The best possible outcome was a mild hip dislocation, where it could be easily popped back into joint without surgical intervention. The worst? Orthopedic surgery.

The vet called several hours later. "He's fractured his knee," Dr. Chaplin explained. "He's also got more arthritis in there than I would expect for a cat of his age. And it's more than his other leg. His hip looks great. Can you come in this afternoon at 2:40? I want to show you his x-rays, and I'll give you the names of some orthopedic surgeons."

Stunned at how badly this had turned, and meeting Hubby's equally shocked gaze, I agreed to the appointment time. This seriously can't be happening! Pa'ani is only 10!

I didn't wait long when I arrived at the veterinary hospital this time. Pa'ani was back in his carrier, still loopy from the sedation for the x-rays. Dr. Chaplin was already in the room, looking at the x-rays.

He showed me the break. Not in the knee itself, precisely, but in the upper long leg bone, at the malleolus of the bone at the knee. Similar to an avulsion fracture, it was broken along a curve from the side of the bone down to the base. Dr. C indicated the arthritis, which was much more prevalent in the left knee than in the right.

It was possible, he said, that the arthritis had weakened the bone to the point that it caused it to fracture without warning. But he also said that the orthopedic surgeon would do a biopsy if they got in there to fix it (much the same way that my own bimalleolar fracture of the ankle had been fixed, with screws), and the bone looked spongy. He'd prescribed some pain medicine to help Pa'ani get through the weekend.

I swallowed the lump of fear in my throat and asked. "How much do you think this surgery is going to run?" Hubby and I had talked before I'd left the house. I knew what our financial limits were.

"I'd guess $1500-$2000."

My heart plummeted through my stomach and was well on its way to my feet as I thanked Dr. Chaplin and hefted Pa'ani and his carrier and walked somberly out to the car.

The Fries were home from school by the time Pa'ani and I returned. Medium was in tears when we entered the house.

Hubby and I sat on the couch and talked. Well, he talked. I mostly cried and heaved sobs and sniffled. I took Hubby to our bathroom and showed him the x-rays. And then I called the closest of the two specialists. I explained to the receptionist what had happened.

"One of our vets is out on maternity leave right now, so our other vet's schedule is booked solid for the next two and a half weeks. But I could get you in on Monday on an emergency consult. Our normal consult fee is $145, and an emergency consult is $195. Depending on the severity of the break, and what the doctor needs to do, surgery will run anywhere from $2000 to $6000."

I thanked her kindly for her time and hung up.

And collapsed in tears. I had so hoped...

Pa'ani was the one who I expected to outlive the others. Koa and Minou are both 13, and Mika is 15. Hubby and I had both expected it to be one of them next. Not the youngest. Not the one who looks as strong as an ox.

I tried to calm myself down. "When are you wanting to do this?" I finally managed to ask.

Hubby's eyes were regretful. "Today if possible. Or tomorrow."

Tears fell. "I can't make the call."

Hubby smiled sadly. "I know."

He called to make the appointment, and I went looking for my kitty. My baby. The holy terror who'd
My Weasel. I love him so.
come home in a KFC bucket, three days after my birthday ten years ago, when we were two and a half years into infertility and every new month hurt. He'd gotten the nickname Weasel for good reason. Happy-go-lucky and never caring about the feline hierarchy of the house, he'd dragged my stuffed cats around when none of the real cats would play with him. I could count the number of times he'd purred with an actual rhythm on one hand. Otherwise, he sounded like a misfiring Edsel engine. My ginger boy had never met a stranger, just friends he'd yet to make acquaintance with. He tried to run off with the pizza guy more than once. He greeted everyone who came to the door, and regaled anyone who visited with his tales of woe: overworked, underloved, underfed (all 17.5 pounds of him). He managed to charm even my friends who weren't cat people.

Despite the pain medicine he'd been given already, Pa'ani was in no mood for affection. From anyone. My already-broken heart cracked some more. He hardly ever hissed or growled. Yet, that's what came out of him. How could I let him stay in pain and confusion? I couldn't.

Medium insisted on going with Hubby. She refused to say goodbye to Pa'ani, her favorite, her buddy, her baby, unless Hubby let her come along. Hubby finally caved and said she could come, but she had to hurry. It was time to go.

Tearfully, I opened the cage door of the carrier. Pa'ani meowed and tried to get out. I stroked his head and ears, sobbed that I loved him, and gently pushed him back so that I could close the cage again.

When Hubby and Medium returned some time later, Hubby gently pulled Pa'ani's body out of the carrier. My tears dropped on his fur as I bawled and apologized and said I loved him and apologized some more. Medium had been very brave during the trip to the vet's, probably too brave, and seeing my open grief helped her with hers.

Hubby had gotten yet another flagstone from the yard, and had dug a hole before he left, while there was still light out. With the rain and the dark, he performed the sad task of laying our beloved friend to rest by himself.

Hubby said later that the vet totally understood our decision, that he thought it was probably the right one. To have such a serious fracture with no inciting trauma...that couldn't possibly be good news. We could have opted for the surgery, yes (the specialist's office's estimate was higher than he'd expected), but could very well have been facing the exact same outcome if there was indeed bone cancer there.


The grief is smothering, like a wet heavy blanket but only moreso.

I don't know why today is worse than yesterday. It just is. Hubby is at work. The Fries are at school. It's just me...and the three.

It feels wrong.

I should have a purring Weasel, sprawled half on my lap, giving me a hot flash because he generates so much body heat.

My house feels empty. And wrong.

I stuffed Pa'ani's collar in my pocket this morning as I got dressed. I just want him with me again.

My prayer right now is the same as the one I prayed Friday night.

Jesus, take care of him for me until we can be together again.


  1. I am so sorry. They get so far into our hearts, then we have to let them go. I'll add this to my prayers tonight.

    1. Thanks, DB. It's been a rough couple of weeks around here.

      I know you how how we feel. I've been thinking of you guys and praying for you and Bluegrass as well.

  2. I am so sorry for the loss of your furbaby. I lost my furry love 2.5 years ago and still grieve. She was 16. It will get better, but the tears come when they want to. Still do, for me. I understand your loss and grieve with you.

    1. Thank you. We lost two other cats about two and a half years ago as well. You're right; tears come when they want to. I miss them all.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks. As you can imagine, the last couple of weeks have been really hard.

  4. So very sorry for your loss - I know what you mean about it feeling wrong. Every time the loss leaves a huge hole in your heart. Our Thomas, Tabitha, Nicky, Maggie, and Mr Darcy will show Weasel around and keep him company until we all get there. Prayers and tears.

    1. Thanks, Scott. His collar has been in my pocket every day since. Someday it will probably migrate to my purse with the others...I've carried them there since we lost Popoki and Keiki. But for now, it helps to have my Weasel's collar with me. We got a new kitten, because we all needed something to be happy about this Christmas, and I love him to bits already. I don't regret getting him, but I miss my old friend.


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