Note: This post is about “real life" stuff. There's almost no reference to LotR or Tolkien in it. Also it’s picture-heavy, but with pictures of cats, not Frodo.
I feel as though I haven’t posted for years, although I’ve posted twice since I got back from visiting my mother in the first half of May. The thing is, when I came back from my mother’s, I came home to sick cats. So this post is a cat story. I'm afraid only pet-lovers will enjoy it.
Our Cat Story (LONG).
As long-timers know, I grew up with Siamese cats. We had Siamese because they were the only sort of cat my mother liked. She'd been raised with dogs and hadn't liked any cats until she met a neighbour's Siamese. When I moved to NYC after college, I got two Siamese cats of my own, two lovable brothers named Kita and Ira. Eventually, however, I left NYC to go to graduate school. I could only afford to live in the school’s dorms, and no pets were allowed. So I gave my darlings into the custody one of my old friends from high school, then one of my apartment mates in NYC. He loved and looked after them for the rest of their long lives.
I didn’t have cats again for six years. I was graduated, married and had a child, and was living in a small town in eastern Long Island (NY), when I thought it would be nice to have cats again. My husband had met my previous cats. I had been doing an intern year in NYC when their “uncle”, with whom they had lived for three years, went to Europe for two weeks and we looked after them again. My husband fell under the Siamese spell; he just loved them. So when I said I’d like a cat again, he said he only wanted one if it was Siamese. We ended up buying two, litter mates, purchased from a nurse in a nearby Long Island town whose hobby was breeding her champion queen, Bouja. We named our two kittens Arvo (Finnish, for my husband’s side) and Raoul (because I thought the kitten was so handsome in a Mediterranean way). That was in 1992.
~ Raoul at four months in Long Island, NY, April,1992.
~ Arvo and Raoul, just turned two years old, on Dec. 24, 1993.
We loved them both, but Arvo became more “my” cat, always preceding me to bed to curl up beside me, and Raoul became our daughter’s cat. An only child, she made him her constant companion. Raoul was her baby brother, her best friend, her TV buddy, her bed buddy and bathroom buddy (he sat on the bathtub while she took a bath or went to the toilet, or on the sink when she brushed her teeth). She even had him sit and watch her play board games. She’d pretend he took turns. He was a terrific sport. He wasn't as talkative as Arvo, but when he did speak it was in a deep, rich Siamese voice, as if he were lowing. When he was feeling distressed his call had a profoundly melancholy sound.
~ Raoul gets a pretend bath in the sink, March 1993.
~ Our daughter holding Raoul on our front steps, June 1993.
In 1996, we moved to San Francisco. Arvo and Raoul came with us. But they flew there while we drove across the country. The cats stayed with my northern-California sister while we made the trip.
Three years later, in 1999, we moved to Minnesota, where we live now. Arvo and Raoul again flew on ahead while we drove across the country, this time staying with my husband’s parents (who live nearby in a smaller town). They, too, fell for the Siamese charm, but felt themselves too old to make the commitment to have pets.
The next year Arvo became sick. It was a very aggressive cancer. Less than a month from his diagnosis he was dead. Because Raoul seemed to miss his brother so much, we decided to get a kitten. At a Siamese cat breeder north of here, we decided to get two, so the kittens would have someone to play their lively games with. Raoul was rather a couch potato at nine. Our daughter, incidentally, had liked the mother cat better than any of the kittens there. Her name was Pixie. I said to the breeder, should she retire Pixie from breeding and put her up for adoption, we’d love to have her.
It was early 2001 when we brought home the two little brothers, Angelo and Friedrich. They attached themselves immediately to their big, cuddly, warm placid “Uncle Raoul” like limpets. Raoul thought they were exasperating at first, but soon they loved sleeping together in a pile.
~ Raoul with young Angelo and Friedrich, March 2001.
Friedrich was our little acrobat, very tidy in his habits, with a tidy, springy gait and a little blatty voice like a sheep. Angelo was a big loveable goof, long and lanky, with a walk like a lazy cheetah, and a voice that ranged the octaves and produced every sort of sound as he talked and muttered and sang and yowled around the house seemingly non-stop.
~ Angelo posing in the doll cradle grandpa made, Sept. 4, 2002.
In 2002, the breeder called. Did we still want Pixie, the kittens’ mother? Did we!?!?!?
~ Pixie making good use of her breasts with her first litter in 2000 (our guys were from her second litter).
Thus we became a four-cat family:
~ Raoul, Friedrich, Pixie and Angelo in their basket, Dec. 14, 2002.
~ Angelo, Raoul, Friedrich and Pixie in their basket in the end of March 2003.
Pixie ingratiated herself with the others immediately....
~ Pixie, a little handful, on New Year’s Day, 2003.
I am sure the “boys” had no recollection of her and she didn’t remember them, but she was used to bossing kittens and she bossed Angelo and Friedrich.
~ Pixie parking herself on Angelo on our daughter’s lap, May 15, 2003.
Raoul, fat in a stately way, and everyone’s favourite bed-buddy, was treated with respect and affection.
~ Raoul, stately: Dec. 13, 2002.
~ Raoul, silly: Sept. 28, 2003.
Pixie had a rather wicked-looking face, and a prowling walk like a cougar’s. But she was very affectionate and oozed charm. Sitting on her “bawling chair” (a forty-year old step-stool now in our kitchen), she’d meow her requests in the most Marilyn Monroe-ish sort of high, wispy voice, barely like a Siamese. At the same time she'd lift her left paw daintily, like a gentlewoman lifting her pinky when sipping tea. It always cracked us up, and it always gained its end.
~ Pixie lolling, May 8, 2004.
Going by looks, people sometimes couldn’t tell the three related cats apart, but their personalities, walks and voices were completely different.
In 2005, Friedrich, just turned four, suddenly became very sick. He had been Mr. Health, more fit and active than any cat we’d owned. Yet, mysteriously, he was in acute kidney failure. With frequent trips to the vet's we kept him going for many months, hoping he’d get better, but it turned out he too had a “rare aggressive” cancer. He died in May 2005, the day before my husband’s sister died of a “rare aggressive” cancer. What a month that was!
~ Pixie keeps company with Friedrich, May 8, 2005. He died two weeks later.
So once more we had three cats: old Raoul, Angelo (the remaining kitten), and his mother Pixie.
~ Pixie, Angelo and Raoul, Sept. 2, 2006.
~ Angelo, Pixie and Raoul, March 9, 2008.
After that, until this year, everything’s been hunky-dory. But, in January, at Pixie’s routine check-up, the vet noticed a lump under one of her enlarged nipples. And another. A biopsy on the larger one confirmed she had malignant breast cancer. Since Googling it on the Internet, I've learned that breast cancer is not that uncommon in female cats that have been neutered after they’ve had their first heat, and even more common in females that have been pregnant—just like humans. Pixie has had three litters of kittens. Further, feline breast cancer is twice as common in Siamese than any other breed. Should we have not got her? No, we wouldn’t have missed falling in love with her for anything.
Some shots of Pixie:
~ Pixie with her hair tie (she used to love to play fetch with these before she got sick), February 10, 2008.
~ Pixie having a happy nap, March 1, 2008.
The lumps were small, but large enough to have spread. Yet her health was so good, it was hard to take it seriously that she had a fatal illness. We cried, wiped our eyes and resolved to enjoy each other in the time we had left. Our daughter, who was home from college at the time, suffered more at the news because she was flying away for a semester abroad then straight to her college in HI for the summer and fall terms after that. She might not see her darling Pixie again and she knew it.
In the meantime, Pixie’s problem nipples continued to get bigger and redder, the lumps under them getting bigger, too. Otherwise, you’d still never know she was sick. Angelo and Raoul felt good. We were content.
~ Pixie dreaming on the rug, March 16, 2008, her reddened nipples beginning to show.
~ Raoul dreaming on our daughter’s bed, February 11, 2008.
~ Angelo enjoying a lap, February 29, 2008.
So: May 2008.
Here we bring the story to my May visit to my mother. The visit went great. My mother, 84, has been a widow for fifteen years and lives alone. She has a *great* neighbour who has a drink with her every afternoon that he’s in town, and my brother lives half an hour away, taking care of her household and legal needs, seeing her for dinner every week and calling her every morning on his way to work. Still, she is a lonely person. We have asked her for ten years to come and live with us but she won’t, because of our “awful weather”. She is painfully arthritic and hampered by the effects of a small stroke a few years ago, but she was nevertheless cheerful, loving the little outings I took her on every day, taking her meals with someone she loved, having her house cleaned, her garden weeded, and etc.
~ My mom on her back deck, May 7, 2008.
~ My mom on May 20, 2008, persuaded to come and look at my brother’s boat (that's not his in the picture).
As I said, the eleven day visit went very well, but when I got back in mid-May I saw that Raoul was in decline. Like my mother, he is creaky with arthritis, but, for 16 ½, he has been very healthy. I came home to a cat that wasn’t talking, was in bed all the time, and was eating only half the normal amount of food. (This was a cat we’d put on a slimming diet years before for obesity.)
I also discovered blood on the dust sheet on our daughter’s bed. Was anyone injured, I asked my husband? Well, he said, Pixie had been chewing on her nipple. I picked her up and looked. For heaven’s sake, she’d chewed it off! The bleeding had stopped, but the place was raw and red. How irritating and/or painful had that breast become to have made her do this to herself? I made an appointment for both Pixie and Raoul in the morning.
Pixie was scheduled for surgery the next week. The vets would take off the three problem breasts. As for Raoul, he had blood work done—fine, x-rays—fine, and a needle aspiration of a lump on the side of his neck I had found—not fine. It was cancer.
To top things off, our last healthy cat, Angelo, *also* got sick the week of Pixie’s surgery. I was beside myself.
~ Angelo, before he became sick, May 17, 2008.
Angelo, a cat who inhales food off a plate like a dog, and who never throws up, had thrown up repeatedly and stopped eating, actively refusing all food as if he feared it. He whimpered when he spoke and sat hunkered down, usually under tables or chairs. This had gone on four days when I took him to the vet’s, too, the day after Pixie’s surgery and Raoul’s second trip for tests. There was blood work for Angelo, then x-rays, then back again for a barium test to see if he had a blockage in the small intestine. It turned out he was acutely constipated, probably from the stress of all the household routines being in disarray because of the other two sick cats. He’s a high-strung, extremely other-oriented cat, in constant need of company and affection. He was given an enema at the vet's, which cleared him out. I changed his food so he wouldn’t avoid it.
After two more bouts with painfully impacted stools (the last one resulting in a post-enema trashing of our kitchen, where I had to leave him while I went to work—every flat surface was tracked with poop, and Angelo himself was a very poopy, distraught cat), he is doing excellently with the help of a stool softener I give him by mouth two times a day. I will begin tapering it off after Raoul dies and see if he can be brought back to normal.
Yes, it remains that the noble, good-natured Raoul is rapidly diminishing towards death.
~ Raoul, outside for the last time? (the weather’s been terrible). May 18, 2008.
Pixie, although she is far more comfortable after having the problem breasts removed, and her surgical sites have healed up nicely, continues to recover slowly. First constipation, then days of diarrhea and terrible appetite, but she finally seems to be coming round.
~ Pixie in a doctored-up pink baby shirt she hated, coming to eat, May 27, 2008.
~ A few minutes later, Pixie deigns to eat.
~ Angelo and Pixie waking up after a nap on our daughter’s old Mickey and Minnie blanket, June 6, 2008.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. My life has become what seems an endless series of visits to the vet’s (we don’t like dwelling on how much it all has cost—and will continue to cost), making different meals for each cat, hand-feeding my sickest, holding little plates under their chins, making cajoling noises to get them to eat, administering meds, cleaning cat boxes and washing bedding. I sound like I’m complaining, but these acts are actually a comfort to perform. When one knows one cannot cure a loved one, it can be a consolation to do the things one *can* do for them.
More bothersome has been doing the things that normally need to be done. Now fully spring, the yard and gardens want my attention, there’s my job to go to, plus all the usual household stuff (I’m the shopper, laundress, cook and cleaner). And during April and May (with a bit more to finish still), we’ve been helping my husband’s parents move house. There still has been choir to sing in, birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate, and so on. I’m also the primary letter-writer and news-bearer, whether by phone, emails or regular mail. The hardest part has been knowing how much to tell our daughter. It's been agony for her, being so far away. It was bad enough, leaving knowing that was Pixie sick, but now her darling “Raoully” is sick and dying, too. It hurts her to know she almost certainly won’t see one or both of them again. How she loves those two!
~ Raoul and Pixie (in her the more comfortable “convalescent shirt” I made her) after her surgery, May 24, 2008. She had to wear the shirts so she wouldn’t chew on her sutures.
So, the point is, LJ-wise, I haven’t had a spare moment. Except for the post I had already prepared before I went to my mother's (the one about Blossom's site), I've only managed one short birthday post. Heck, I am still reading the same book I began reading when I got back from my mother’s in the middle of May, and I’m a reader! I haven’t made a screencap, worked on a manip, written in my fic, or done any writing except letters and updates about the cats and our daughter.
Oh, did I mention? Our daughter has had a change of heart regarding her intended career: she has discovered she does not want to be a nurse; she doesn’t even want to continue college. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Far better is it to discover this sooner than later. Why waste precious time trying to study for something one does not want to do? Work consumes so much of our lives, it would be folly to spend years (and go deep into debt) preparing for a career in which one could take no satisfaction. But, even though we are glad she has admitted this to herself and to us, thinking about it all and talking it through has been a taxing experience.
I know there are far more stressful and eventful things going on in the world and in other people’s lives: in your lives, in fact. I know from your LJ’s that some of you have been dealing with sick pets, sick loved ones—even the death of loved ones—or have been sick or are sick yourselves. And some of you have far less time than I do, and more responsibilities. I really don’t have it too bad. I know that. I just feel a little ... stressed.
One of the things I’ve thought a lot about during this latest sick-and-dying-pet crisis is the way the Elves were said to refrain from making friends with mortals. Every time they became close to a mortal, it must have been in the backs of their minds that they would, eventually, have to go through the grief and heartbreak of watching their mortal friend age and die. Maybe that was the reason so many resisted seeking out friendships with people from the mortal races.
~ Frodo with Glorfindel, detail, from an illustration by Alan Lee.
I talked with one of the vets about the special sorrow involved in loving pets. He noted that however much we love our pets (he has pets, too), we love them always knowing that until we are dead ourselves we will continue to outlive our pets, because their lives are so brief compared to ours. Every pet we love we will lose, and grieve for, over and over, with each new pet. I mused that maybe it was a sort of practice for the deaths of the humans in our lives, and the loss by death of really long-term love relationships. Maybe it was even practice for our own deaths. He said he thought that might be so.
He added that he found that, over time, the experience of living through and with the deaths of beloved pets changed his own attitude about death, helping him to accept it as inevitable, and that he need not feel compelled to stave it off by any means possible. That made me think of how the Numenoreans originally had had the gift of laying down their lives freely, when the time was right, rather than having their last breaths torn from them through dire sickness and the ravages of extreme old age, which was what happened to Men later.
Well, I've said enough. This has grown very long. But I am planning to post again on my favourite topics. I just don’t know when it will be.
I do feel relieved, now that Angelo has recovered and Pixie is beginning to feel better, even though Raoul is dying. Heck, I'm relieved enough to write this long post, and it was a pleasure to be able to do so again. I just wanted you “regulars” to know that my LotR ship (with Frodo as captain) hasn’t foundered or anything like that. I’m just unable to pull into port at the moment because of choppy seas.