Tear-stained thoughts from a broken heart

Maci, my feline companion of 15 years, died on Saturday morning, just two days after my 46th birthday. He’s left an enormous hole in my heart, bigger than you would think such a little guy could leave. It was a sudden decision I had to make without prior preparation. He’d been losing weight and was little more than skin and bones, but I still never thought cancer. Maybe I was too wrapped up in grieving for my mother, and that’s something I can’t make up for.

On Wednesday, he had a brief moment where he couldn’t stand up — his back legs just wouldn’t support him — and I finally made an appointment with the vet. The back end problem went away, but he still wasn’t eating much. And he was just, well, “off”. I had reiki healing done on him on my birthday — to support him until our appointment on Saturday — and he spent pretty much the entire session in my arms or on my shoulder. It seemed odd at the time, but I think he knew by then what was going to happen to him. Me, I was firmly in denial. He was supposed to be around for at least a few more years, damn it.

On Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to go, he actually came out of the bedroom where he was sleeping, climbed up on a box of cat litter, and started nosing at his cat carrier, which was sitting on top of my laundry cart. He got into the carrier with little fuss. That should have been enough to warn me something was going on, but I brushed it off. At the clinic, he was less vocal and upset than he usually is and I had the thought that I should take him out of the carrier and hold him…but I didn’t want to stress him. I will always regret that I didn’t heed that impulse, because, looking back, I would have braved any amount of biting or scratching to have one last cuddle with him.

I’ve been reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On Grief and Grieving” lately, trying to come to grips with the ongoing grief from my mother’s death in August. I was reading the book in the examination room while we were waiting for the vet to finish up with an emergency patient. I talked to Maci — he was mostly lying quietly, though he hissed when I moved anywhere near the carrier door. (I’d brought a blanket with me for him, but that really upset him for some reason, so I tucked it into my purse, out of sight.) I told him we were going to make him feel better….and I suppose we did, though it wasn’t at all the way I’d expected us to. In hindsight, I should be thankful for that long wait in the examination room as it was the last time I got to spend with my sweet boy while he was conscious.

The vet finally came and took him into the back for his examination. After several minutes, she came and brought me into the back with her. That’s when I knew things were going badly. Maci has to be — had to be — masked in order to minimize the trauma of vet visits and he was still masked and lying on the table. The vet had me feel the mass in his intestine — it was so long, but hadn’t been there in January at our previous visit. She recommended letting him go. It was like a punch in the stomach. It wasn’t a decision I’d expected to have to make that day and it broke me to make it. I stayed there until it was over — I’ll be getting his ashes in a wooden box with a name plaque on it later — and then left. I cried at the clinic and then managed to hold it back in until I got home and into my apartment. Then I started hyperventilating and I’ve been doing that pretty much ever since. It is unbelievably empty here without him.

A heavy thread of guilt underlies my grief for Maci that doesn’t exist under the continuing grief for my mother. Guilt because I was responsible for his care and quality of life: I should have noticed how serious things were sooner, I should have had my own shit together enough to have been able to afford regular vet care, I should have been a better companion. My mother controlled her own life and environment, but I alone am responsible for what Maci ate and what his environment was like.

He’d been sick for some time, but I had lots of reasons for not taking him to the vet when it all first started: unemployment and lack of money, not believing in the seriousness of the situation, putting it all down to getting older, not wanting to stress him out more with a vet visit, my own personal emotional issues…lots of excuses, but it all comes down to a failure of my responsibilities and, for that, I don’t think there is or can be forgiveness, certainly not from me.

Right now, I’m precariously balanced on a precipice. Do I use this powerful grief as a catalyst for change and growth, to honour the memories of this most beloved creature and my mother who preceded him? Do I just fall fully into the darkness? Or do I just continue to teeter forever in this sorrowful, apathetic limbo?

I know what my answer *should* be, but it’s too soon to say how it will actually play out.

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MYOB

In May, when she could still hold a lengthy conversation without veering off into another world, my mother mentioned in passing that my brother once told her that she was responsible for my being overweight. (How we got to that point in our conversation is a very long story that I will spare you.) Or, rather, that she was responsible for my not losing the weight once I had gained it.

(I should explain. This particular brother has never had an excess weight problem. Not as a teenager and not as an adult. Like my sister, he’s always been one of those people with a need to be physically active. When we were younger, he and I looked alike enough to be twins. But we do not have the same interests or the same minds or the same outlook on exercise. He’s always been a bit of an exercise freak. He worked out all the time, ran even more, and was continually on the go. As a result, he’s always been kind of wiry. Me, on the other hand, I’m more cerebral, more indoorsy, sedentary. My pastimes were things like reading or painting or writing poetry, while his were judo, running, and suntanning.)

I’m not sure my brother actually understands my mother or where she comes from. Oh, he knows the dry facts of her early life, but I don’t think he really understands what that early life has done to her. Still, that’s his issue to deal with and really  none of my business except as I try to clean up the damage his comments leave behind.

But when you start blaming my mother for the road my life has taken, you’ve crossed the line well into my business…which, interestingly enough, is none of his concern. He has no idea why I’m overweight, or why I do or have done anything in my life. We really hardly know one another as adults. I’m not privy to the details of family conversations about my size, though I’m sure there has been one or two, but the fact of the matter is that no one involved in those conversations knows anything about me that I haven’t shared with them (or that isn’t several decades out-of-date). And I may or may not have shared the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some days I don’t even know what the Truth is with respect to my life and my internal motivations. Humans are complex creatures.

I don’t really care if family members talk about me, behind my back or in front of my face, or speculate to their hearts’ content about my life and my future. But I have a huge problem with people deliberately making my mother feel bad — adding to the guilt she has been carrying since she was ten years old — on my behalf. It’s mean, and it’s cruel.

Dude, look after your own house. Mine is none of your beeswax.