This is a post I could have written two months ago, even three, and had it ready. That's how long I've known this post was coming.
If we acknowledge the realities of life, it's a post that has been coming for 15 years. I don't like to think of life as nothing but a rush towards death, especially as death has overshadowed so much of my life for the past 14 months. But we are born, and we die, and occasionally, we witness both ends of the spectrum for those we love...
Friday, May 4, 2001
Let it be known, here and now, that Hubby is a seriously soft touch. We had gone to visit his family for Easter, and his sister-in-law had told him how there was a pregnant female cat in the group of strays that she feeds on her back porch...a very pregnant cat.
Hubby had looked pointedly at me. "No."
I had quickly swallowed the lump in my throat (pretty sure it was my heart), steeled myself—because I knew what happened to pregnant cats and their kittens in a community of semi-feral toms—and stared him down. "I wasn't even going to ask."
And, truly, I hadn't been. We were full up at home. We had four adult cats, Popoki, Keiki, Mika, and the most recent, Niele. It was just the two of us (and them). We didn't need any more.
But somehow...when we left, we were carting a cat carrier, borrowed from my in-laws, with a very pregnant, very cranky, very long-haired guest cat.
|One very pregnant Inoa|
"We are adopting them all out," Hubby said. "Even the mama."
"I know. That's fine."
We had enough friends that we'd find homes for them, including the mama cat.
"We're not naming them. We'll get too attached. We'll call them by number for birth order. One, Two, Three."
That naming scheme worked great for the kittens. But what did we call the mom? Just kitty?
Hubby had a brilliant solution. We'd call her Inoa, the Hawaiian word that meant nameless. I almost chuckled, but it seemed to fit.
(The girl cats—Popoki, Keiki, and Niele—were less than pleased about the presence of feline girly hormones they no longer had. Mika was indifferent.)
Inoa was calm and unafraid of us and trusting, so we figured she had either been left behind when someone moved away (there's a special level of hell for those fiends), or she'd gotten out after moving with her family and tried to come back "home." And found trouble. Or, more likely, it found her. We didn't know how many kittens to expect, but we didn't figure a recent stray—she looked too well-cared-for to be anything but that, especially being a long-haired cat—could have gotten too pregnant.
And we'd never been feline midwives before. What did we know? We just knew we'd promised our nieces and nephews we'd call when the kittens arrived.
Lo and behold, we had a book, so we read up on the subject, and then we made a box and set it up in the second bedroom of our postage-stamp apartment. The book said a cat's gestation period is about nine weeks, and they start to look pregnant at about six weeks. Hubby called his sister-in-law. "Hey, how long has she looked pregnant?"
Val wasn't sure. "I don't know. Maybe around three weeks now?"
Fabulous. We're lucky she didn't drop these kittens in the car!
But here we were, another three and a half weeks later. Hubby was at work, and I was moseying down the hall for the first time that morning.
Erm, afternoon. It was about 12:30. And since nothing had been going on, I suppose we'd gotten complacent.
I stopped in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, and looked down. Huh. That's odd. Inoa had her lower half, including her rather immense belly, wedged into the bottom of our two-"story" kitty condo. "Inoa, are you stuck?"
I crouched down next to her. She was visibly panting, much like Po did when we traveled. Po hated the car, and pretty much panted from start to end of any trip and double-timed her shedding. "Here, let me help you get out of there. That's got to be uncomfortable." I reached under her to gently try to ease her out—the opening began a good inch and a half off the floor, and that'll give anyone a crick in the back, even a cat. Maybe especially a pregnant cat.
I half-muttered something about "a bear wedged in a great tightness," for she was shoehorned in there pretty good, but when I pulled her loose, she didn't come out alone!
Yeah, sometimes I'm not too swift.
A teeny, tiny brown tabby kitten followed her out, mewing in itty-bitty indignance at being so rudely interrupted from her first meal.
I quickly apologized to Inoa, but she ignored me (she was just a little busy), and I raced back to the other room. "Perfectly acceptable box, but noooo, she wants to have a belly full of babies in the kitty condo, which doesn't have enough room for her." I grabbed a pair of rubber gloves, the box we'd set up, took it back to the living room, put the condo in it, then gently placed both mama and the new baby (using gloved hands) in the box.
Within a few minutes, kitten #2 entered the world. This one looked like his mama, but with more white than she had.
I called Hubby at work. "The kittens are coming!"
His supervisor happened to be a cat person. She offered to led him come home right away. He said he was sure Inoa was fine and I was fine; he could stay at work. (She let him stay until he had an hour left in his day, and then insisted he come home to the babies.)
It was probably another forty minutes to an hour before kitten #3 arrived, looking much like her brother except black and white, without a bit of tabby to be found.
|Minou, about 6 weeks, with a favorite playmate, Kermit.|
Inoa coaxed all the babies back into the bottom of the condo and stuffed her still-obviously-pregnant self back in there.
"Okay, sweetheart," I crooned. "You can have them in there for now."
I tried to keep her from eating every single afterbirth, but I think she snuck them all around me. As it turned out, she probably needed them all.
When Hubby arrived home a couple hours later, I told him, "I know for sure there's three. But I think we might have four. I think one arrived, and I just can't tell, because it's so dark in there. And she's laboring again."
Hubby bent down and scratched behind Inoa's ears, talking softly to her. He was able to get a better look inside the kitty condo, and sure enough, we had four kittens now. The fourth was a little all-black spitfire.
Inoa seemed to be struggling with delivering the next kitten, so Hubby gently moved the four others out into a laundry basket with some clean dish towels and coached her through the birth. (Yes, Hubby can list feline midwifery among his skills.) This kitten was big, and another little brown tabby girl. No wonder Inoa was tired.
|That's a baby Minou, by the wall,|
at the far side of the kitten pile.
He hurried over, phone still pressed to his ear, to confirm.
The sixth kitten, also a hefty chunk of a thing, was coal-black like kitten #4.
After he hung up the phone, we sat and watched a very good mom taking very good care of very tiny babies, being very trusting of two humans she's known a very short span of her life.
And we realized... Good golly, we live in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment that we now share with eleven felines.
The next eight weeks were a delight as the kittens became bouncy little troublemakers and did all the cute kitten things. Kittens 1 and 6 were named Amber and Zeta, and moved in with very dear friends of ours, Snarky Dad and his wife, who took our advice to get two kittens, so they'd kill each other and leave their much-older cat, Niban, alone. Kitten #2, the lone boy in the lot, Max, went to live with my friend Airman, who was also expecting a baby in a few months. Pregnancy was rough on her, and she
|Minou was unthreatening, even to squirrels.|
Kitten #3 departed our home for a short while, to live with a co-worker of Hubby's and his French wife. They gave her the name Minouchette, which translates as sweetiepie. When the wife's allergies proved to be too much, the little long-haired black and white fluffy bundle came home...and never left again. We considered renaming her, giving her something Hawaiian to go with everyone else's names. But we couldn't. Minouchette was the perfect name. It suited her well. We kept it. We kept her.
August 3, 2016
In the last year and a half or so, since we had to say goodbye to Pa'ani so suddenly, we've watched as Minou has no longer hidden upstairs in the bedroom so much. It's been nice. The Apparition, as Dad often called her, now regularly haunts the house, and perhaps, we mused, Pa'ani's happy-go-lucky, weaselly little self had had far more of an impact on the feline hierarchy of the house than we thought, because here Minou was. Not hiding.
|I have claimed you, hooman.|
Just like today.
Today is different.
Today, I'm a little more tolerant of the interruption to my work.
The eyes are the windows to the soul, and this is no less true in animals. Minou's eyes have been her most effective communication, particularly in the last few weeks.
The dramatic weight loss—from a healthy 12–14 pounds in February or so, to a startlingly small 6.5 pounds last week, bringing her weight lower than Mika's for the first time in, oh, probably 13.5 years—has been nearly as eloquent.
Still surprisingly nimble, Minou alights on the cushion next to me. Our eyes meet. I can only see her right clearly, the left pressed deeply back into the socket by chronic swelling of an old cyst site that has flared again, and done what the vet has warned us it would eventually do, turned into a cancer we cannot see.
Her gaze is clear, though, love still shining through the knowledge of her condition. She knows. She knows I know.
I reach up and stroke her now-dainty head. It's funny to say that, but the weight loss is so extreme that it's even affected the shape of her head. "I know," I whisper.
There have been times I've sworn I've seen her eyes wonder and toss questions at me: I see that you see, Mama. I know that you know. I'm sick. I'm dying. ... Why am I still here?
The one thing I've never seen is censure.
Over the last two days, I have whispered my goodbyes at night, before going to bed. "It's okay, sweetheart. You don't have to stay. You can let go. If I wake up in the morning and you've gone home, that's okay. You don't have to stay for us. It's okay."
I was terrified, though, of the kids finding her like that, of me finding her like that.
|Youngest and Minou|
We'd told the kids on Monday when Special Edition and Mr. Nurse made a special trip out to say their goodbyes. Special Edition had been astonished when she touched Minou at just how much weight had simply vanished. Youngest, in particular, didn't want Minou to die; Minou was her baby. She'd developed a very strong attachment to her in the last year or so. But it was time. Oh, it was time. In fact, it was probably long past time. Minou was ready.
I gently rub her still-soft ears. "I was there when you were born. I will be there when you leave this life here." I whisper the promise gently, having already made the call. "I will not let you go alone."
Thursday, August 4, 2016
It's been a terribly rough morning. Hubby opened, so I was up very early to take him to work. The first thing I did when I came downstairs was to see how Minou was.
It was both a scalding relief and a searing pain to have her walk out from the dining room.
The twins had early counseling appointments, and then I had to find something to make to take with me to the August potluck for my monthly writers group. Is it selfish of me to go, after what will happen this afternoon? Is it bad that I'm leaving Hubby to deal with the kids, and going to be with my friends, knowing I just need to get out of the house after all this?
I had enough time after errands and appointments to get home in time to make the cupcakes and pull them out to cool, and then I fetched the carrier from the upstairs hallway. I pulled out the filthy towel that was inside it; apparently this carrier had sat out after the last vet visit (probably Makaha's) with the gate open, and someone had hacked up a hairball. This would not do. I grabbed a clean one and rubbed it all over my arms and neck. Minou should at least smell me, and not some laundry detergent or fabric softener. Not on her last trip.
I cried as I carried it down the steps.
"Mama, why are you crying?" Middle asked.
I tried to rein in my temper. "Because of Minou," I managed to say. I set the carrier on the island and bent to pick up Minou, who was at the water bowls, unable to stop my tears. She meowed as I cried into her fur. She's so light! I think she's lost even more weight!
Everything within me rebelled at the though of putting her in that carrier. I did not want to do it, even though I knew this was the right thing. I knew this was what she wanted. I knew this was what she needed, to not suffer anymore, to not be so sick anymore, to not lose what decency of life and dignity she had left. Her eyes had been giving me permission to act for weeks. They spoke that this was what she wanted, release from the disease that had corrupted this body.
It did not make it any easier to do, even as she did not fight being put into the carrier, and did not try to escape before I closed and latched the gate.
Youngest wanted to hold her on the way down. That was impractical. I put the carrier on the front seat, removed the ring on my right hand so she wouldn't cut up her face on it, and let her stroke herself against my fingers on the drive down. We picked up Hubby at work, and he drove us over to the vet while I held her in the carrier on my lap.
In the conversation during the short drive between Hubby's store and the vet's, we talked about what was going to happen, how the kids could come back if they wanted, but didn't have to, and could see as much as they wanted, but leave if they felt uncomfortable. As we pulled into the parking lot, Middle asked, "Are vets murderers?" There was a devastating pause as Hubby and I just stared at each other. "Because I think they are."
Hubby took a deep breath. "No, they're not. When you get a cut, what do you do?"
"I get a bandaid."
"Well, kitties can't do that for themselves, right?"
"And when you're sick, what do you do?"
"Tell you or Mom, and you take me to the doctor."
"Minou doesn't talk, so she can't tell us what's wrong. But we know she's sick. She's lost a lot of weight. Her body is starting to shut down." This was definitely true. I was glad Hubby was the one answering her, though. He went on, "We see these things that are happening to her, how much weight she's lost. She's lost most of her teeth. And her fur doesn't look as nice anymore, because she can't take care of it. It hurts her to move to do that. She's very old, and very sick. And as good pet owners, we know that sometimes we need to act when our pets reach this point."
You know, there really is nothing worse than sitting in the vet's waiting room, with a bunch of you wearing teary-eyed, shell-shocked expressions, with a carrier...and a small cardboard box next to it. Everyone knows why you're there, and everyone hates to be you. You're like some sort of vile disease, as you sit there and wait to be called back, twenty-five minutes past your appointment time.
The tech finally called us and we went back to the exam room. He pulled up Minou's chart; her weight two and a half years before was 15.25 pounds. I gently pulled her out of the carrier and we got her on the scale. Five pounds, 15 ounces. I answered the tech's questions about why we were there, and he said the vet would be in to talk to us.
Oldest did not want to be in the room with us, but nor did she want to be in the waiting room alone, so she settled for the furthest corner of the exam room by Daddy. Dr. M came in as I held Minou—who was not fighting being held, a pretty unusual thing for her—and did a brief exam as I explained again the sudden weight loss, the loss of bodily control, the signs of pain we'd started to see quite suddenly, the eye pressure that she had to be experiencing with her left eye. Middle and Youngest crowded close, wanting the comfort of touching their beloved friend. I asked them to step back at the same time Dr. M very kindly did, too, as she moved on to palpating Minou's belly and other things most cats offer up strenuous objections about.
Minou did not complain. Minou did not try to jump down after Dr. M finished and waved the girls back over.
Dr. M was wonderful; we have seen her before, and she explained everything she was going to do before she left to gather supplies. She looked between Hubby and me and confirmed that we were in agreement about euthanasia today. We both nodded. Dr. M left the room and came back with a soft fleece, a legal form for us to sign stating we had asked for this procedure, and the sleepy drug she had said she would use first, that would basically send Minou into a very drowsy, sleepy state, where she would feel no more pain. Dr. M laid the fleece on the table, and gently positioned Minou on it, so she wasn't laying on cold, hard, stainless steel, and injected the first drug along Minou's back. I don't know that Minou even felt it, tiny pinch that it was. It was so effective, so fast, that I was terribly afraid we were actually going to lose Minou before the barbiturates were administered.
That seems so silly to write...but I suppose I was afraid she was going to suffocate under the effects of the first drug and it would cause her pain, and that's what we were trying to avoid, giving her more pain, more suffering. But Minou merely drowsed. Middle and Youngest joined me by the exam table as we told Minou how much we loved her, how much we would miss her, that she should go find Poppa when she got to heaven, and we cried. But we loved on her as much as we could in those last few moments.
When Dr. M came in with the barbiturate, Oldest asked if she could go back out to the waiting room. We let her go. We knew she would process her grief in her own time. Youngest turned tear-filled eyes to Hubby. "Daddy, I don't think I can watch." He opened his arms and she ran into them, burying her face against his chest.
Dr. M gently shaved off some of Minou's surprisingly still-thick fur on her back leg, located a vein, and pushed the final dose. Middle stood by me, her hands on Minou's shoulders the whole time. I felt the last gentle puff of air exhale with Minou's final breath, and cried in relief that she was at peace. "I promised," I whispered nearly inaudibly into her fur. Dr. M pulled her stethoscope from her neck, popped in the earpieces, and pressed the bell against Minou's chest. "No heartbeat," she gently confirmed. "Stay as long as you need to, okay?"
Hubby came over with Youngest and the four of us stood there and cried. When we were ready, Dr. M helped us carefully move Minou's body into the small cardboard box we'd brought with us. We would, we explained, take her home and bury her there with her brother and sisters.
As we helped funnel dirt back over the body of our dear friend, whose life we have had the privilege of caring for, from before her birth until today, her last day, Oldest wandered over with some flowers. She'd wanted to write on the flagstone we used as a marker, too. "I miss her," she said.
I squeezed her shoulder. "I know you do. I do, too."
My faith tells me that God loves His creation—all of His creation. He believes all of it is good. And if God cares enough to know that two sparrows are sold for a farthing, if He cares enough to daily dress the lilies of the field, if He promises to redeem His entire creation as His word says, then I know Minou now races in His presence.
As Middle wrote on the stone, we will see you soon, dear one. See you soon.