I’ve been quiet for a very, very long time. First it was site issues, but then…Then life, and death, intervened.
Several weeks ago, I found out that my father’s brother Bob, my favorite uncle when I was growing up, passed away. My mom doesn’t like me to be too specific about details, so I’ll just let that end here. Suffice it to say, I miss my uncle, and am in mourning.
But my uncle isn’t the topic of this blog.
I wrote recently about the mental acuity of one of our cats – the cat that Lona and I had been calling our “fuzzy little son,” since he’d very clearly decided that we were his mommy and daddy. Ziggy is twelve years old – and now, he’ll never be any older.
Very rapidly, over less than the last month, he began losing weight incredibly fast. He was still eating, and we had recently seen another of our cats (though this one upon reaching fourteen, not twelve) go through the weight loss that’s common in old age in cats. Ziggy was acting fine, otherwise, and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him.
He started having a little trouble leaping up to his favorite spot in our bedroom – the top of one of our bookcases that he accessed by leaping from a table, up to the top of our old TV, and from there to the bookcase. But again, cats lose their agility with age – we had no reason to believe anything was wrong with him other than that.
He started refusing to eat the pate food that the rest of the cats were eating – but he would eat the Meow Mix that Lona and I had taken to buying specifically for him, with the intent to wean him onto food we wanted him to be on when we moved out and took him with us. We basically decided he was trying to sucker Lona’s mother into buying the food he liked too.
But he was still losing weight.
Come this last week, and it had become very obvious. He was snuggled next to me and I suddenly realized I could count his vertebrae and feel the muscle “knobs” on his pelvis. I talked to Lona’s mother about taking him to the vet, worried that he had a worm or something. But both Lona and her brother have birthdays this week – Lona’s is today, her brother’s in two days – and we came to the agreement that we’d take him in this Friday and find out what was up.
Turns out Ziggy didn’t have until Friday.
He lept up, with difficulty, to his spot atop the bookcase for a few hours night before last. On the way down he missed the jump to the TV and fell. Thankfully a mass of blankets caught him and cushioned his fall. He walked out, weaving a little on his feet, but walking. I checked him over and he didn’t seem to have any pain reactions, so I figured he was just dazed from the fall.
Come yesterday morning, we got up to find that he was having a LOT of trouble walking – his back end kept giving out and he’d just fall to the floor. It was Sunday – our Vet isn’t open on Sundays, and we couldn’t imagine putting him through the trauma of taking him to an emergency vet when we were all very certain that he likely wouldn’t be coming HOME.
His cry, which used to be the loudest you can imagine, was weak and pitiful. We decided that if he were still around by the next day, Monday, we’d have to take him in to be put down. His body was very obviously and suddenly just DONE.
Now, as you know from my previous post, Ziggy was a very astute cat. Let me elaborate on that.
When Lona and I began making plans for moving out, Zig, who had previously been just a “house” cat, not specifically bonded to any one person (though he was FOND of me, probably because I was the only one who didn’t kick him off my desk if he wanted to sit with me), suddenly decided that Lona and I were the best people in the whole world and we were who he wanted to spend ALL his time with.
If we were in the bedroom, he wanted to be in the bedroom with us. He had never been a lap cat, never liked being held or picked up. In the bedroom, he began crawling into our laps and sleeping with us. When Lona sat in our comfy chair, he would either curl up on her lap or by her legs. If she needed him to be off her, he’d get on the table next to her and stretch out, usually with his head facing us so that every time he opened his eyes, he’d see us.
If we ate dinner in the bedroom, I’d take to bringing him something as well. Some cut up chicken, a little tuna, and eventually, the Meow Mix that became his favorite. He’d eat his food, then sit beside us and ask for tastes of what we had. At first, he was pushy – but Lona would tell him to back off or he wouldn’t GET anything. And slowly he’d sit down and just wait. He learned that waiting got him more treats than meowing and pushing at us.
The next thing he learned was that if he sat on the table beside the chair, he would block Lona’s view of the TV. She didn’t like that, and told him, “Zig, get down. I can’t see.” And the first couple of times, she had to push him down to get him to lay down – but then he did. In less than three weeks, “Zig, get down. I can’t see,” became something he would respond to. But the amusing thing was that he responded to it in stages.
The moment Lona said she couldn’t see, he would lower his head below his shoulders, giving him the pose of a vulture sitting on a branch. She’d laugh and say “I STILL can’t see.” And Zig would slowly, slowly lower his front end down until he was actually laying down. At which point, Lona would thank him, pet him, and we’d get on with what we were doing. And Zig would either decide this new spot worked for him and go to sleep – OR he would stand up, in a crouched position, keeping his head low and belly touching the table, and slink over onto the second table we put there specifically FOR him to sleep on so that he’d stop knocking things off of Lona’s table. He did this consistently – and ONLY walked like that after one of the “I can’t see” statements.
This statement would also extend to OTHER screens, though. If he got on Lona’s desk, and was blocking her from seeing her monitor, she’d say “Zig, get down. I can’t see.” And he would glance at the monitor, then slowly lay down until he wasn’t blocking it anymore.
What makes this even more interesting was that he was obviously not just responding to it as a command. Because if the “command phrase” were used when he was NOT actually blocking Lona from seeing the TV or her screen, he would actually look around, as if trying to find what he was blocking her from seeing, and if he did NOT find the TV or her monitor, he would just look at her and blink his eyes. It was like he was saying “You can’t see? There’s nothing HERE to see. I’m not moving.”
In his time practically living in the bedroom with us, Ziggy also developed a common sibling rivalry for cats. He saw our phones, Lona’s iPad, and our 3DS’s as competition for our attention. I witnessed him stop on his way to get food in favor of climbing up onto the chair and getting very carefully BETWEEN Lona and whatever electronic device had her attention at the moment. He did NOT like when the glowy things kept mommy from paying attention to him, thank you very much.
If he and I were alone in the room, he would be have similarly for both my DS and my phone. I have a tendency to use my phone as an e-reader, and Zig would watch me for a few minutes and, even if I was petting him with my other hand, would insist I PUT the glowy thing DOWN and pay attention to him with BOTH hands. And I would. We both would.
My point in all of this is that Zig was a very intelligent and surprisingly intuitive cat.
The morning that we talked about having to take him in to the vet to put him down on Monday, Lona said that she really didn’t want him to die on her birthday. But it didn’t look like there was anything we could do to prevent it. Zig was in the room with us, lying on the floor. And when Lona said that, he lifted his head (for the first time in awhile) and looked at her. Then, not ten minutes later, he got up and very carefully made his way out the back door onto our screened in back porch. He fell down several times along the way, but ultimately he made it.
A little while later, Lona’s mom went out back to see where he’d gone. He had hidden himself behind an old recliner, and was all stretched out, but not in a way that made him look comfortable. He basically looked like he’d collapsed there. Lona’s mother returned to the house and informed us all that Zig was actively dying and was probably going to pass on without help.
The family came outside to sit vigil with him. He came out of his hiding place, crying pitifully with every step, and collapsed again. We all sat with him, talking to and about him while he laid there, breathing shallowly and rapidly. He was very deliberately putting himself into transition, preparing for his body to shut down.
There were a lot of tears, and more pity when Lona’s brother petted him and it apparently drew him back to his body enough that he began to cry again, then got up and moved to a new spot – closer to the house and more surrounded by all of us – and collapsed again. We agreed not to touch him – no matter how hard it would be. He was in the process of dying, and pulling him back like that was cruel.
Less than two hours later, he breathed his last.
We all cried. Honestly…I can’t even begin to express this level of grief. I know it sounds cliche, but considering that as little as a week earlier we were discussing how best to move in such a way that he’d be traumatized as little as possible by the move – even though he quite obviously wanted to be with us and therefore we couldn’t leave him – I swear…I feel like I’ve lost a son.
Over the last year, I can’t think of a single daily activity that didn’t involve Zig in some way. If we were at our desks, he was on one of them or walking around meowing trying to get us to go into the bedroom. If we were in the bedroom, he was in there with us. He woke me up at night to open the door and let him out so he could go to the litter box, and scratched to be let back in when he was done. When we woke in the morning, he was so happy we were awake that he’d just start talking to us. Enter a room where he was, and he’d always meow in greeting. Touch him, and he’d purr powerfully. Go out, and does the cat need food or anything before I come home? Picking up fast food? Well I’ll grab him a plain burger or a chicken patty and tear it up for him when I get home.
Zig has been ever present in Lona and my lives for awhile now. And…until today…we thought he’d continue to be so for at the very least another four or five years. He was twelve.
Now he’s gone. And there is a huge gaping hole…Not just in our hearts, but in our plans for the future. At one point Lona and I both broke down saying we felt like our son had just died. And there’s no other way to describe it. He’d made himself more than just a pet – he was a staple, a part of life that…I don’t know how we’re going to handle being gone.
The pet crematorium was closed on Sunday. And while Zig was absolutely amazing right to the end and honored Lona’s wish that he not die on her birthday, we WILL have to take him in to be cremated today. His body has been wrapped up in a soft towel and placed in a cardboard box, seeming so much smaller in death than in life. The box is out on the back porch, only a couple of feet from the spot where he chose to die.
Zig had a way of dragging the eyes to him. If you didn’t see him at first, his meow would draw your eyes like a magnet so you knew he was there. Every time I walk into any room in the house, I find my eyes darting to wherever he usually is. The counter in the kitchen. The sink. Lona’s desk – because he’s not on mine. The middle of the office floor. The top of the bookcase in the bedroom. The table beside the bedroom chair. The floor where his bowls were.
But he isn’t there. And he’ll never be there again.
I find myself trapped in the mental cycle of the “nevers.” I’ll never hear his meow again. I’ll never pet him again. I’ll never sleep with him curled up in my lap. Never feed him. Never watch him demonstrate how smart he was. Never watch him stretch out on his back on the floor, looking like he abruptly dropped from the ceiling and is lying there dazed, showing the pure white spot on his belly that was the only spot of pure white on an otherwise orange tabby. Never. Never. Never.
I’ll never see him, in the physical, again.
We lost a cat. We lost our son.
And that will never, ever, be okay.
Goodbye, baby boy. We miss you.