If you’re a fan of the book, “Homer’s Odyssey,” you know that Homer has two kitty housemates: Scarlett and Vashti. The sad news is, Vashti’s kidney’s are failing, and Gwen (Homer’s person) is providing updates on her blog. Drop by and send some purrs Vashti’s way.
But beyond just the updates, Gwen eloquently describes how the illness or loss of a pet can isolate us. Unlike the cocoon of support most people have when a family member is gravely ill, many pet owners sit it out alone, even though the pain and grief over the loss of a pet is as real as losing a child.
Fortunately, a lot of us have a cocoon of support called Catster. When a cat is ill, or goes to the bridge, members rally around each other in a way that only fellow cat lovers can understand. It’s a blessing and a curse. A blessing to receive a few hundred virtual hugs when you need it most. But a curse when you get to know the Catster cats so well that they become extended members of your own feline family — and you mourn their passings as you would your own cats.
Here’s an excerpt from Gwen’s post.
Yesterday morning, I left Vashti at the veterinary hospital where she will spend the next several days receiving intensive treatment for her kidneys, which are failing. Theres a range of scenarios for her eventual prognosis, some very positive and others, obviously, far less so. We should know more in a couple of days.
I brought her in yesterday at around 10:00am, and spent the rest of the dayuntil I eventually passed out at around midnightwellI spent it drunk. I am not proud of this. The only other time I can remember having used alcohol as a coping mechanism was the night of September 11th. Ah, wellthere are always good reasons to do what you know you shouldnt.
Vashti has been declining for several weeks. Ive avoided writing about her, or about any of the cats, not wanting to talk about her illness until we knew more, but also feeling that it would be dishonest, somehow, to write about the cats as if everybody were fine. But, since I left Vashti at the hospital, I havent been able to think about much else. Out of the full heart, the mouth will speak, the saying goes. And so, at last, I speak.
I think one of the hardest things about the illness or loss of a pet is the way in which it isolates us. There are no rituals, no protocols, no acknowledged bedside vigil when youre waiting for news about your cat. If (god forbid god forbid) it was Laurence in the hospital fighting for his life, I could stay at the hospital around the clock, waiting for updates from the doctors. Friends and family members, both of ours, would be there to wait with me. Calling them and telling them what hospital and what was going on would be, in itself, a mercy of temporary productivity. They would hold my hand, bring me food or things I needed from home, or take turns relieving my vigil while I ran my own errands or caught a couple of hours of sleep. I wouldnt even have to think about doing any of these thingsthey are simply What One Does when someone we love falls ill.
But Laurence and I are waiting here alone. Weve told a few friends, of course, whove been wonderfully sympathetic and supportive. Still, the illness of a pet isnt acknowledged by society as the kind of thing that uproots your life, that hollows you out with fear and grief, that leaves you incapable of doing anything else or that others should rally to your side to help you bear. And so we have only each other as we wait and worry, worry and wait. I dont mean to minimize thishaving Laurence with me, and knowing that Laurence loves Vashti as much as I do, is the only thing holding me together.
Ive received thousands of letters from readers since Homers Odyssey was published. Ive been extraordinarily lucky, in thatout of those thousandsI can literally count on one hand the number of negative letters Ive gotten. One of them was from a teenaged girl in Roanoke, who claimed that she would have liked the book except it was so obvious that I had replaced Scarlett and Vashti with Homer, and then eventually replaced Homer with Laurence.
I wrote back to the girl (I answer every reader letter I get), and explained that, when youre a writer telling a story, you have to be selective of what you tell and where you put the emphasis, for the sake of creating a narrative. For example, I told her, because this was a book about Homer, I never wrote about things that had nothing to do with him, like the boyfriend I was madly in love with who was unfaithful and broke my heart; or the boss who made me so miserable that, for a year, I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning; or the time the drycleaner lost my favorite shirt; or the day when, out of the blue, I found the birthday card my grandmother had given me on my second birthday (signed, Love, Bamma and Bampa), and how, even though I was in my thirties by then, I slept with it under my pillow for a month because it made me feel closer to her than I had since her death.
None of those things had anything to do with Homer, or his story, or the story of our lives together.
And because the story was Homers, Scarlett and Vashti ended up being cast in the roles of supporting characters. This was necessary for story-telling purposes, I explained, but in no way reflected the strength of my feelings for them, or their individual importance in my real life. more…
Do you feel isolated when your cat is ill, or do you draw strength from the Catster community?