How Do You Cope With Your Cat’s Mortality?
I'm sitting here with a browser tab open to Kitten Associates’ "SqueeTV" Pregnant Kitty Watch channel. A ready-to-burst Siamese cat spends her time alternating between sleeping, frantically licking at her nipples and genitals, and trying to get comfortable with several squirming kittens squishing her guts around.
Meanwhile, my 18-year-old cat, Siouxsie, is sitting on my lap and peacefully watching the letters appear on the screen as I type.
The contrast is amazing. And it makes me think, how much longer do I have with Siouxsie?
My first teacher cat, Iris, lived to be 16. Her daughter, Shaughnessy, lived to be 17.
I could come home any day to find that Siouxsie has drifted off to sleep, never to wake up.
I know cats are living longer than ever these days. I’ve talked to people whose cats lived well into their mid-20s. If anybody’s going to go that distance, I’m guessing it’ll be Siouxsie.
On the other hand, I know she’s very old. At 18, she’s the human age equivalent of 89. She has early-stage kidney disease. She has severe arthritis. I had her treated for hyperthyroidism earlier this year. All of these conditions are being well managed and her quality of life is still very good: She eats and drinks normally, she enjoys sitting in my lap, and thanks to medical cannabis, her pain is under control.
But sometimes I pick her up and she feels like she’s made of air. On those days when she feels like a furry spirit in my arms, I can’t help but wonder how much more time we have together.
I can barely imagine life without Siouxsie. She was just a tiny six-week-old kitten when I brought her home with me. She’s been with me through 10 moves, including a cross-country trip. Our life together has outlasted half a dozen jobs and a number of romantic relationships.
When I was suffering with such severe depression that I wondered if there was even a point in staying alive, and I honestly thought I was a burden to everyone else and that they’d be better off without me, Siouxsie and her sister Sinéad sat on my lap, looking at me with their big soulful eyes, and reminded me that indeed I do have something to live for.
I knew a cat who had witnessed his owner’s suicide, and years later he was still terribly traumatized. I couldn’t do that to my cats any more than I could abandon human children in such a grisly way. Because of Siouxsie and Sinéad, I reached out for help instead of reaching for a razor blade.
For the past 18 years, Siouxsie has been the only constant in my life, and I wonder what it’s going to be like for me on that inevitable day when she shuffles off her mortal coil and passes on into whatever waits beyond.
I’m not contemplating her death in a morbid way, mind you. I’m preparing myself for the reality that it will happen. The challenge for me, as it is for any other cat caretaker, is to stay fully present until that day.
On those moments when it hits me that Siouxsie’s and my time together may be pretty short, and I feel that strange combination of sadness, awe, gratitude and love, I look in her eyes and promise that I’m going to enjoy every single moment we have left together. I’m not going to dwell on the future or the past, because the present is really all we’ve got.
Have you had a long relationship with a cat? How did you prepare for her passing? Did you obsess about it, avoid thinking about it altogether, stay present and enjoy the time you have, or some combination of those four things? How has that experience changed the way you relate to the cats in your life right now? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.