Tag Archive: death


The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

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Spiritual Nomad: Week Three


Ah, finally where everyone else is.  Except for the whole breathing and meditation thing.  Which is exactly where I was last year.  I’m actually getting to a really painful part of where I was in Spiritual Nomad last year.  Week Three, at least when I was doing it, is precisely when my favorite cat turned out to be dying very unexpectedly, and it just broke my heart into tiny little pieces.  I’m still pretty shattered about it.  I adored that cat, and thinking about his death still sends me into freshets of tears.  *pauses for a tissue*  Consequently, I didn’t do anything of spiritual significance after he died: I didn’t have much to thank God for right then.  She’d taken one of my best friends from me when I thought he’d be around for a few more years.

Before that happened, though, I got started on one of my favorite projects of Spiritual Nomad: the journey book, a collection of spiritually significant quotes and images.  I latched onto that project and didn’t let go for quite some time, greedily collecting images from all over the internet and my own collection of graphics collected over the years.  I had a book of wonderful quotes from one of my favorite magazines, The Sun, and spent quite a bit of time with my colored pens putting together a really lovely book.  I filled the first one quickly and went on to partially fill a second.  I filled a third with images of the Buddha and Hindu deities.  I even tried my hand at actual scrapbooking and made a few more much more formal pages centered around images of deities or representations thereof, but that was really complicated so it didn’t go very far (scrapbooking is an incredibly time and space-consuming hobby).

The other major focus of this week’s module is prayer.  I always conceived of prayer in the Christian sense: kneeling, hands together, saying “Dear God, etc…”, which didn’t resonate with me at all (probably because I’m not Christian).  It never occurred to me to think of other things as prayer, such as singing, or dancing, or even cooking.  Seen from that perspective, I saw that I engaged in a great deal of prayer: music, cooking, baking, learning, doing art, gardening, doing karate and yoga, and perhaps most importantly, by doing nothing at all.  By clearing my mental space of distraction, I make room for God, which to me is a form of prayer.  Done with appropriate intention, anything can become an act of prayer.  One’s whole life can become a divine act.

There were questions that went with this week’s module, but they weren’t really applicable to me.  Since they mostly had to do with what spiritual books were inspiring to me and I couldn’t think of any, maybe I ought to do a little more reading.  My bookshelves are packed with a myriad of spiritual, philosophical, and metaphysical books that I thought looked interesting at the used bookstore, but never bothered to actually read.  I’m bad that way.  I could probably read new-to-me books for a couple of years or more and never visit a library or bookstore.  So I think I’ll put reading up with meditation on my list of important spiritual things to do.  Hey, at least I’ve been going to yoga more often: it’s a start.

2012 in Review


Time to review the year to see what I was up to. Let’s see here:

January
*had nice Christmas
*terrible trouble with daughter’s teacher
*husband’s wisdom teeth out
*worrying about the cats: getting old

February
*really worrying about the cats, particularly Babalon
*trying to get my shit together on the home front, organization front, and health front
*still working on a suitable med regimen for the brainmeats
*want to go to annual women’s camping trip but am really over the woman-power thing

March
*despairing over continued brainmeat trouble
*despairing over my weight
*annual depression over daughter getting older
*gardening

April
*daughter turns 9
*lost best friend when she suddenly frittered her children away to another country, as did daughter
*yet another break with my brother
*more weight loss stuff
*more crap with daughter’s teacher
*more gardening
*miss women’s camping trip, rue loss of connection to pagan-ness
*begin Spiritual Nomad
*writing more
*car trouble
*watching Star Trek: Voyager start to finish
*realization Babalon is dying

May
*more Spiritual Nomad: serious re-organization of every spiritual surface and object in the house
*serious house flensing/culling of stuff
*YinYang dies unexpectedly: absolutely breaks my heart

June
*Babalon begins winding down and dies a month after YinYang: long time coming but no less hurtful
*get very upset with vet when they bungle Babalon’s death by not cleaning her up after her euthananization or taking her pawprints like they did with YinYang
*hit critical self-loathing point with body image

July
*working on book projects hard again
*seriously grieving over the cats, feeling guilty about not being able to save YinYang
*daughter loses two friendships, one in RL and one online, when their parents let their personal feelings overrule what’s good for the kids
*adopt a new cat, Alex, who turns out to have pneumonia and dies a week later on our bed in front of all three of us: good times
*begin fostering cats: will have six by the end of the month
*adopt two kittens, Shadow and Zen
*begin using new attendance tracking system at work: will take at least two months to implement

August
*get call from niece’s mother asking if she can come to live with us: she retracts her request a week later
*work like a crazy woman on my book: get a nice copy of the 4th draft printed out

September
*terrible brainmeat trouble: anxious, noisy head, mood swings
*realize it’s because of sporadic Wellbutrin intake due to putting off filling the scrip
*get my first foster cats adopted out: bittersweet parting
*very stressed out at work trying to do two major things at once
*begin watching all of Star Trek: Next Generation

October
*finally implement new attendance system at work after some serious stress and tears over setting it up
*continued brainmeat trouble: angry much of the time
*trouble relating to daughter: a lot of strife in the house

November
*siblings-in-law visit from out of town
*adopt out two more foster kittens: leaves just one, whom we consider adopting
*hear scary things about nearby middle school daughter might attend: think about moving
*go to 11th Rush show with daughter and husband: her 2nd and his 1st

December
*adopt last foster kitten: name her Bhakti (devotion)
*decide not to foster any more cats for a little while
*discover that B vitamins and a multivitamin do incredible things for my mental health
*get back on the exercise wagon

My repeating themes seem to be body image and weight loss, personal organization and improvement, mental health management, and cats.

I can’t believe I had three cats die this year. I can’t believe YinYang died. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. It still breaks my heart to think about it. And I still feel guilty about not being able to save him. All I can think about is every financial decision I could have made differently in the months before he died that might have freed up more money, or if I had gotten him to the vet sooner, maybe he’d still be with us. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just loved that cat so much. And it’s the first time in my life that anyone close to me that I cared for so deeply has died. The fact that he only weighed 12-18 pounds and had four feet doesn’t make any difference. We still ‘spoke’, and he was my friend. I miss him so much.

That’s what I will remember about 2012 the most. I’ll also remember how good it felt to turn right around and help out cats in need by fostering them. I fostered six cats this year and found homes for five of them. The sixth one wound up staying here. I adopted four cats myself this year, though one wound up dying. I was a bit of a crazy cat lady for a little while there. I liked it though. It was great fun having so many kittens in the house. They were just darling. It was good to have the life energy after so much death.

It’s hard, though. Particularly if they have any medical problem that needs medicating. I hate medicating cats, especially adult cats. Poor Evelyn absolutelyhated my husband because he was the one who held her while I gave her meds. Kittens are easier. Ringworm is a bitch to kill. It takes a long time.

At the end of the year, I’m finally getting back into the swing of being healthy and exercising. I’m just going to focus on the exercise for the moment and worry about the diet later. I can only do one thing at a time. I’m happy to be down to around 230, which is about 14 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the year. I’d like to get back down to below 200. Then clothes are easier to find and I don’t feel so chunky. Yoga is easier to do. Exercise is easier. Everything is easier. And I feel better about myself, which is the most important thing. Maybe more important than the physical health benefits.

My big goal for 2013 is to finish my book and farm it out to memoir publishers. I have this inner critical voice that keeps scolding, “What makes you so special that you think people are going to want to read about your life? What have you really done with your life?” Well, I’m still upright and breathing, which considering what I went through, I think is relatively remarkable. And for the most part, I haven’t succumbed to the same demons that plagued my parents and the people before them, and the ones that do plague me, I can’t do anything about except manage them (namely, having bipolar disorder). And I won’t know if anyone thinks it’s worthy of reading until I put it out there. I’ve already had a couple of friends read it and they basically said, “Wow.” I’ll take that and run with it.

After all of the death and strife of 2012, 2013 has to be better.

Head Down


I haven’t written in three weeks, not since the post I wrote about the third cat of the summer dying just a week after we’d adopted him.  I can’t imagine why I might not have been feeling very ebullient.

I did throw myself into a project, though.  In recent months, I’ve been working on my memoir, which will in all likelihood go by the same title as this blog.  It’s a story that’s impossible to tell without delving deeply into the nature of family relationships.  In the instance of my own family, the relationship between myself, my mother, and my grandmother in particular.  That was a story unto itself, so I outlined it with the help of a shitload of letters that I came into the possession of when my grandmother’s childhood and beyond best friend had them sent to me.  They spanned from 1940 to the mid-2000s and told quite a tale that told me a great deal about my grandmother and how she may have contributed to the troubled relationship she had with my mother.  I put all that together with what I had of my own material in the form of photographs, memories, and genealogical data to piece together a century-long tale of adventure, sorrow, intrigue, despair, and resolve.

It’s early yet, so I don’t know if it will be something that stands by itself or if it will be part of the memoir, which now needs its second serious editing pass.  That will take a while and will be an interesting exercise in seeing how good I am at slowing down enough to really analyze my own writing well enough to significantly cut it.  Right now it’s like a music piece with too many notes, so it sounds busy and muddy.  Some of them have got to come out.  I do think that if each project were edited properly that they could be put together, and that along with all of the photographs, letters, and genealogical data I have, it could be really really cool.

So that’s what I’ve been working on.  And when I’m working on a big project, everything else slides.  Including my blog.  I needed something to work on, though, to get through the stress of the cats dying.  After the first cat died, I planted a 6’x8′ garden with corn, beans, and squash that is now (mostly) looking pretty darn good.  The broomcorn is blooming and there are baby melons on some of the vines.  The beans are flowering, too, so I expect some of those soon as well.  The whole thing needs fertilizer, a tilling, and mulch.  It’s somehow comforting to see the continued result of something that I planted while deeply in pain and attempting to manifest life after experiencing death.

After the second cat died, I finished up the first editing and collating pass of the memoir and sent it out to anyone who had expressed interest in looking at it.  It was much cleaner after I had taken out some travelogues that should really be appendices or a little book of their own.  I also fixed some of my attempts at playing with writing in third tense rather than first.  It was fun, but sounded pretentious and removed my ability to use that device when I needed to fill in important events that needed describing in that sort of style.  Plus, it’s my story: I should write it from my perspective.  Then the third cat died and I worked on the family history project.

So here I am with a lot of potential, and a lot of work.  One of my oldest and best friends who also has an English degree has been graciously lending her help to me on this project and was kind enough to let me know that my request for editing help was a little premature, but gave me enough to work with using my introduction to allow me to do the same to the rest of the book (and to the other one, now that it’s been written).  Fortunately, I have the ‘problem’ of having to take words out, rather than put them in.  No teacher has ever accused me of using too few words!  I should just make a list of rules to follow and get to identifying everywhere they’ve been broken.

Back to cats, some good did come out of the whole situation.  In an effort to make me happy and to save face for the organization, the people who adopted the sick cat to us in the first place graciously adopted the two kittens we were fostering to us for free.  So we are a three-cat household again.  Our existing cat has warmed right up to them, incredibly.  We thought that she might not, given that she’s so old.  Indeed, she was quite upset for several days, particularly because we had moved her food dish to be closer to theirs so they could get used to each other’s smells.  Once everything was back where it was supposed to be, she was happy again and they’re all getting along fine.  And of course, kittens!!!

We’re still fostering cats, as well.  At the moment, we have a mama and her two young kittens, about 5-6 weeks old.  Which means they’re stupid-noises cute.  Mama’s still a juvenile too, and has a high-pitched chirrup-y meow that is also incredibly cute.  I’m looking forward to finding homes for them, despite my fondness for them.  I’m sure there will be some heart-tugging when it’s time for them to go, but I’ll be happy when they find their forever-homes.

But wait, there’s more, now how much would you pay?  Today, I’m picking up a set of 3-week or so old kittens to live in our back bathroom.  If they weren’t begging for kitten fosters at the moment, I wouldn’t, but I have the space and it’s hard for me to ignore emails telling me that if they don’t foster kittens, others will be euthanized.  Yes, I’m that sucker, but it’s me and suckers like me that are attempting to keep Austin a no-kill city, which we (mostly) are.  So having an extra set of kittens is a trial run.  If it’s just too much to handle, we won’t do it again, but hey, it might be fun and it’s a good thing to do.  The only drawback so far is the increased expense in cat food and litter.  And having to sanitize our hands constantly, at least for a couple of weeks (standard initial isolation procedure).  On the upside, kittens!!!  🙂


Last Wednesday, we adopted a new cat.  His name at the shelter was Bucky, but we named him Alex.  We used a local non-profit animal rescue group that makes a big deal out of adopting healthy animals that have been thoroughly checked out, neutered, and microchipped.  They were even having a special in order to move as many cats out of the shelter as possible, so he wasn’t expensive.  It seemed like the stars were in alignment.

Well, they were in a negative alignment, it seems.  The first day, we noticed he made an odd cough and that he seemed warm.  Just in case, we separated him from the rest of the house so he couldn’t infect our existing cat.  The second day, he coughed a couple more times, more severely, like a wet bronchial cough.  The third day he had his wellness check at the vet, where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and to bring him back in a couple of weeks if he wasn’t better.  The next day he was listless and his breathing had become bubbly.  The next day he was worse and I called the shelter where we had gotten him.  They scheduled a vet visit for the next day.

We took him in and they diagnosed him with pneumonia.  After a brief inner debate as to whether he should be hospitalized, the vet decided to send him home with me along with a number of treatments: antibiotics, appetite stimulants, subcutaneous fluids, a nebulizer, and a syringe for force feeding him if necessary.  I steeled myself for ten days of cat nursing.

The first day went fine.  At his fourth nebulizing treatment I noticed that the inside of his carrier was getting wet and musty, which  they didn’t tell me to watch out for (they didn’t give me any instructions at all, really), so I got it all cleaned out.  His breathing went back and forth between improving and getting bubbly again.  He still wouldn’t eat, so we had to syringe feed him.  He didn’t like it, of course, but we managed to get a syringe full of food into him.

He spent that entire night moving around the entire room about once every half hour.  It reminded me of Yin-Yang before he died, who just couldn’t get comfortable and kept moving around.  I couldn’t sleep for the sound of his bubbly breathing: it was awful.  He was laying in weird places, too, as well as laying very limply.  He may have already been on his way out.

The next morning, it was time for more antibiotics, food, and nebulizing.  He had trouble with his pill and I had to try twice to get him to take it, and I’m not sure if he ever swallowed it properly. Then we tried to feed him, which was much more difficult than it had been the night before.  I took his resistance as a sign that he was feeling better so we burritoed him in a towel like we had seen on the internet.  I knew to keep him in a sitting position much like he’d be in if he were eating normally so he wouldn’t choke, but this feeding was not going nearly as smoothly as the one the night before.  Whenever he appeared to be having trouble, I’d stop and let him settle, then try again.

Then towards the end of the feeding, he opened his mouth wide, arched his back, and went limp.  We laid him down, he exhaled, and he didn’t inhale again.  It was horrifying.  I’ve never seen anything die in front of me before, and I still can’t help but think that it was my fault somehow.  Everyone tells me that it’s not, especially since he should never have been sent home with us in the first place, but still.  I feel so terrible.  I was trying to help this poor creature get better, and now he’s dead from that very treatment, even if I was merely hastening the inevitable.  I just wish that his last few moments hadn’t been so tortured.  That’s what I feel the worst about, that I may have inadvertently caused this poor creature agony in his last moments.  I didn’t mean to, and I’m so sorry.  I’m so, so sorry Alex.

I wish that they had kept him for hospitalizing on Monday instead of sending him home with me.  I wish that they had realized last week that he was sick and not adopted him to me in the first place.  I wish that I had said no, I don’t want a cat with a history of an upper respiratory infection when they told me he’d had one while in the shelter, even though he’d been treated for it (not well enough apparently).  I wish that they had given me better instructions for how to care for this obviously very, very ill cat.  I wish that I had more experience in caring for sick cats and doing things like syringe feeding.  I wish that I had stopped the instant he looked like he wasn’t digging the feeding and just called the shelter again, but I had never done it before and didn’t know what to watch out for and he really needed to eat.  I mean, you’re force-feeding a cat: there’s going to be mess and unpleasantness.  I wish for so many things that might have changed what happened yesterday morning.

Even though he was only with us for a week, he was still part of the family, and we treated him as such.  He got the same treatment Yin-Yang and Babalon did when they died: I wrapped him up, smudged his body and his grave, and we said some words over him before burying him with his head towards the West.  He’s next to Yin-Yang, who will hopefully help him on his way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky.

As for us, we’ve spent the last 24 hours sanitizing as much as we can so the other cats don’t get infected.  To a certain extent all we can do is pray, because he was out and about for a while before we knew he was sick.  God only knows what he touched with his face.  I can only take comfort in the fact that the germs will die by themselves in a few days, and within 24 hours if they get hit with proper cleansing and some Lysol.  I’ve done probably a dozen loads of laundry to clean every single thing in the room he was in, vacuumed the carpet with germicidal baking soda, Lysol’d the areas he spent the most time in, and am fumigating  the air with more germicidal oils.  Anything that can’t be washed has been sprayed with Lysol and left out in the Sun.  And I’ve done similarly to the whole house since his disease may have been airborne (in which case the horse is out of the barn anyway).

It would be bad enough if our own cat, Samadhi, gets ill because of Alex.  It would be even worse if the two kittens we are fostering got sick because of him.  I would be up the ass and down the throat of the shelter who gave us to him in the first place to make these kittens well.  So far everyone has been healthy, and it’s been about a week since anyone was exposed to anything Alex might have breathed on or touched, so hopefully we’re in the clear.  I won’t stop holding my breath for at least another week, though, when I know it’s been two weeks, which is how long the shelter tells people to isolate pets to ensure health.  If nothing is wrong within two weeks, everything should be okay.

And they’d better be, because we like these kittens and are thinking of adopting them.  We were a house of three cats, and we’d like to be so again.

*shakes head*  It’s just not right, but I’m going to try and make it right.  This summer can just kiss my flabby white butt.

Ghost Feet


They say the fog moves in on little cat feet.  So do ghosts.  Mine do, anyway.  When I was a child, I had a cat who would jump onto the foot of my bed every night after I went to bed.  He’d nose open my bedroom door and *poomp* onto the bed he’d go.  So it went for a few years until he got sick and we had to put him to sleep due to a urinary blockage (something that is thankfully treatable these days).  I was in the third grade and absolutely heartbroken.  Sam was my best friend.  He died on the first day of school, which I always thought was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

In the days following his death, I swore up and down that I could still hear my door creak open at night and feel his feet hit the foot of my bed just like they used to.  Fortunately my mother was a fairly mystical creature and was open-minded to the notion that her daughter was being visited by the ghost of our dead cat, so she didn’t do anything to discourage the idea.

It hasn’t been since then, 1979, that my life has been such that I’ve been able to pay attention to such forces.  Not that I haven’t had pets die in that time period, but other energies have been in the way.  There was a Sam II, a lovely black-and-white critter who came with us from Michigan, and who was also my buddy.  He just up and disappeared in 1986, again breaking my heart.  There was no time or space to detect the subtle nuance of any spiritual return on his part, though: that was the year things began to go truly and horribly wrong at my house, and they would never be right again.  Then there as Bizarre, yet another beautiful creature who was all white with bi-colored eyes like David Bowie.  I gave her to friends when I went travelling, and she was regrettably hit by a car in my absence.  Since I was gone and she wasn’t really mine anymore, I didn’t get any visits from her that I noticed.

The next cat I got was Babalon, and if you’ve been reading in recent weeks, you should know her story by now, and of her kids.  I’ve missed their presence so.  The house is empty.  Babalon had a big personality despite being just a regular-sized cat, and YinYang had a personality twice the size of his massive body.  Samadhi is still here, but she was always overshadowed by the other two.  We love her of course, but she’s not her mother or brother, and I realize it’s not fair to compare her to the other two.  I can’t help it, though.  I miss them so much.

I’ve been “looking” for their presence in the house.  I remembered my experience with Sam, and I’ve desperately wanted something like that.  Well I think I have.  A couple of times the last week or so, I could have sworn I’ve heard Babalon’s faint yowling like she did before she died.  She’d just sit in an empty room and make these plaintive yowls like she wanted someone or something.  I’d always come to her and pet her and tell her everything was okay, and she’d lay back down.  And this morning, after I had awoken but before I had gotten up, just like with Sam, I felt the light footfall of two paws hitting the bed, just as Babalon would do in the morning when she had heard my alarm had gone off.

The only time I’ve felt YinYang’s presence was a couple of weeks ago when I was having a particularly hard sobbing fit of guilt and regret over having not recognized his illness sooner, and I had the distinct sensation of him by my feet walking around in a circle with the message of, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, I love you!”

I was glad for the message of reassurance, even if it might only be coming from my own subconscious, but it didn’t do anything to ease my missing him.  I suppose that’s one of those things that really is only healed by time.  I’ve learned in the last month and a half that grief comes in waves, like the ocean.  It washes over you until you think you might drown, and then it rolls back out so you can heave with breath on the shore.  They come slower and smaller over time, though.  I imagine at some point they’ll just be little waves lapping at my toes as I sit on the shore enjoying the shells of my memories.

Settling In


We’re trying to settle into our one-cat routine around here. The last month has just sucked giant donkey balls. Every little thing reminds us that we only have one cat now, like washing the food bowls. Samadhi’s perfectly happy to munch on her dry food, so there’s not much call for the other bowls any more. The last two or three that we used for Babalon last week got washed Monday, and I cleaned a couple more out of the fridge yesterday. All remnants from my attempts to get her to eat whatever I could. I knew it was a losing battle, but I was going to give it all I could for as long as I could. And so was she, little trooper. I put out so much tuna fish that even Samadhi is sick of it now.

I washed the last few rags and blankets related to Babalon’s last days as well, although I couldn’t bring myself to wash the blue-and-green blanket she slept on. I put it underneath the black shawl Samadhi likes to sleep on: maybe she’ll like having something that smells like her mama. She plainly misses her. The two of them slept together pretty much every single day, and even washed each other. Actually, it was rare for a day to go by that Babalon didn’t wash Samadhi. When I come home, she often yowls at me as if to tell me that the others are missing. I can only imagine how she must feel. If it’s anything like how we feel, it must be terrible.

I imagine this is the plight of the grieving everywhere, but I am trying desperately to keep my mental face pointed forward instead of getting mired down in hindsight and regret. Part of me keeps trying to get really angry at the vet tech who essentially ruined our experience with Babalon at the vet last week when she failed to take her to the back to be cleaned and to have her pawprints taken, but the rest of me is trying to take the experience in as a whole and remember all of the circumstances that created it. It wasn’t her fault: it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a shitty set of circumstances piled on top of an already shitty situation, and there’s nothing to be done about it. It just sucks, and I can’t do anything about it except feel bad. And in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything, and not having that set of pawprints doesn’t make me miss her more or anything like that. My expectations that were set with YinYang’s death weren’t met, and that’s all.

Then there’s all of the things that I’m noticing now that they’re gone, mostly related to how much water they were drinking. I’ve never had cats with kidney disease so these aren’t things that I could have known or noticed, but now that I AM noticing them, I still feel bad. YinYang had been sucking down huge amounts of water for years, and I thought it was just because he was staying indoors more. So had Babalon. Now that it’s just Samadhi, she’s drinking what I now remember as being what a single healthy cat drinks in a day, which really isn’t all that much. The water bowl we’ve been using looks gargantuan compared to what she actually needs. And the catbox looks similarly gargantuan now that there’s just one cat using it and there aren’t massive balls of urine clumped up in it.

I wish I had known what I was looking at. I know it’s not my fault and that I took really really good care of those cats and that they lived for a really really long time despite being ill. I still wish I had known, and I still really, really miss my cats. My house seems empty without them. It was sad to cook chicken last night and not be bothered by Babalon.

I know this will happen a lot, and probably without warning. Being struck by sadness. And then there will be the things that I know will make me sad, like eating yogurt. Scraping the sides of a yogurt container will always remind me of YinYang and the way he waited for the last spoonful. Chicken and raw meat in general will always remind me of Babalon. That green-and-blue blanket. Sitting down to visit in the yoga room. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say that the ones we love never really leave us.

Wrung Out


I feel very wrung out today.  There is, of course, the trauma of burying the cat yesterday on top of having to bury the other cat just a month ago.  There was also the dredging up of any bad feelings that might have existed regarding the other cat’s death.  His decline in health was so sudden that I still feel a great deal of guilt in missing the signs, even though we couldn’t have afforded to remedy them even if we had noticed.  It’s just hindsight kicking me in the ass.  I bet if I researched grief, it’s something everyone does.

There were also bad feelings surrounding Mama’s death that didn’t fully bother me until today.  YinYang’s death was handled so gracefully by the vet’s office.  Death is a messy business, and what is in typically comes out, shall we say.  They were nice enough to take him away and get him cleaned up before I took him home.  That didn’t happen yesterday.  Once Mama had passed, the doctor had to run off to tend to a dog that was having seizures, and they were short staffed due to people calling in sick so the vet tech that was assisting didn’t have any help.  And she really needed it because she had only been there a couple of months and wasn’t very experienced, particularly not in that kind of situation.  She just kind of stood there awkwardly while we tried to bundle our cat into the carrier.  She didn’t offer to clean her up, and no one took her pawprints (they took YinYang’s pawprints in clay and sent them to us a couple of weeks later, which we very touched by).  We felt hurried and uncared for and wondered if it was because we hadn’t been in and out of the clinic in the days before her death, spending hundreds of dollars the way we had been with YinYang.  After a sad letter to the vet, we were very apologetically assured that was not the case and the circumstances were explained to us.

I feel better after their kind response to my letter, but it was an unpleasant contrast to our prior experience with the other cat.  I know that from a physical standpoint, the mess is insignificant.  It is merely part of the cycle of life and death.  And I have many ways of remembering Mama other than having her pawprints.  I  just wish that we had not been left with those bad feelings, particularly with something like this.  I also know that I would feel terrible no matter what.  I will take that knowledge along with the vet’s sincere apologies and move forward, but I am still very tired in the soul today.

And Then There Was One


We took our sweet MamaKitty to the vet this morning to be put to sleep.  In much the same way as her son YinYang, she had greatly degraded in health in recent weeks.  Just more slowly.  By the time we decided that today was to be her last day with us, she was having trouble walking, was eating and drinking less and less, and hadn’t purred in days or weeks.  It was obviously her time to go.

The only thing that made me doubt our decision in the slightest, and then only fleetingly, was that she still wanted to be with us.  But she had always wanted to be with us.  She had always shown the highest gratitude for the life we had given her.  New Year’s Eve, 1996, I finally let her freezing, pregnant self into my kitchen to eat tuna fish.  I got tired of seeing her huddled next to the steam vent on my furnace outside when she had a perfectly good home next door that was neglecting her.  She was one of a pack of mostly and completely feral cats that roamed the block, and she was the only one friendly enough to let me touch her.  In fact, she was very friendly and would let me pick her up.  That’s how I discovered she was pregnant.

Our landlord had given tentative permission to have a cat but only with further discussion.  Further discussion be damned, I let the poor thing in.  She was starving, and let me know just how much by the plaintive wail and platter-sized eyes she displayed when I started opening the can of tuna fish.  She scarfed an entire family sized can of tuna in less than twenty minutes.  I left the back door open so she could do as she wished.  Within a couple of hours, she was curled up on my couch.  And so Babalon came to live with us.

She was very thin and fattened up so much over the next couple of weeks that you couldn’t tell she was pregnant any more, but that changed after another couple of weeks.  Before long, she looked like she had a large cantaloupe in her belly.  She slowly grew unable to lay on her belly, and then her side, and was eventually only able to sleep mostly on her back, partly propped up by her belly undulating with baby kittens.  She grew very insistent about asking for her food in the morning.

I knew that cats like to hole up somewhere private to have their babies, so I made a nice spot for her out of a large cardboard box once home to a stereo.  I taped up the bottom flap so it had a protective wall and propped the upper flap up on the sides so it had a bit of a protective roof, and put it in the corner of the bedroom.  One evening she kept coming up to me with an anxious expression on her face and repeatedly walked back to her box.  I walked back with her and encouraged her to hop into the box, which she did.  I walked away, and she followed me.  We repeated the dance a few times.  Finally I brought the box out next to the computer where I sat every evening.  Happy, she jumped in and laid down.

A while later she issued a single loud growl, and didn’t make a single sound for the rest of the night except to brace her paws against the sides of the box to push.  Her first baby was born at 12:45 am, Valentine’s Day, 1997.  That was YinYang, her only son, who died last month.  The rest were all girls, each one born about 45 minutes apart.  The last one was the runt, who I only knew was the runt because Mama tried to ignore her by laying on her rather than putting her with the others to nurse.  An awful squalling came from the box.  I quickly looked in to see what was wrong, saw the kitten underneath Mama’s back, and carefully picked it up and put it with its siblings.  She eyeballed me warily but didn’t object.  She would try to abandon that kitten twice more over the next week, but I would have none of it.  She gave up after the third try.  That would be Samadhi, now our last surviving cat, ironically.

The other kittens found homes and eventually we had our happy little trinity of cats.  Babalon became our shadow.  We lived a block or two from a convenience store and went there frequently for smokes, beer, and the like.  She always followed us to the corner, waited in the bushes of the house there, and followed us back home, or walked in front of us.  She was a beautiful cat, a tabby point Siamese, and as such the bottoms of her feet were black, so it looked like she was floating if you walked behind her at night.  When I was pregnant and we frequently walked up the hill to the local university, she also followed us.  She followed us so far one night that she exhausted herself and we had to make her stay home after that.  She waited for us, though, right where we had left her when she couldn’t follow us any more.  She must have walked through a dozen other cats’ territories, but she was going to stick with us.

She was an awesome mother, too.  Not just to her own children, but also to mine.  When we brought our daughter home from the hospital, she looked at her very oddly, but in a special way that I suppose Mother Nature reserves between all mothers and children.  As if to say, “Ah! You made another one!”  Our daughter was a fairly demanding baby and cried a lot.  If she had been crying for too long or too loudly, even if we were right there with her, Babalon would come up to us and plaintively meow and look at us as if to notify us that we really needed to be tending to this problem now, it was important.  As our daughter grew older and got to the tail-grabbing stage, she was very patient with her and didn’t get the claws out until it was really necessary, and even then she looked very sheepish and apologetic about it.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to!”

I’ve never had such a beautiful cat, either.  She had a very long tail with beautiful rings of black and brown, and the combination of the tabby stripes and Siamese coloration gave her the most gorgeous face and markings.  She was every color of brown from the lightest to the darkest.  It was a privilege to have been graced by such a creature for so long.  She was nearly 17 at the time of her death, almost precisely four weeks to the minute after her son died.

There are now two small mounds in the back of our yard.  The cat statue stands between them, on guard.  We have had quite enough of death at our house for a while.  My husband would very much like to not have to dig any more small graves, and I would like to not have to cut any more death shrouds.  We are now a one-cat house.  It will seem very quiet, at least when she’s not yelling at us (Samadhi definitely got the Siamese vocal cords in the cat family).  We will do our very best to relish our time with her.

Fair sailing to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky, Babalon.

Beautiful Babalon

The Four Noble Truths


The fundamental philosophy of Buddhism is The Four Noble Truths:

Life means suffering.
The origin of suffering is attachment.
The cessation of suffering is attainable.
There is a path to the cessation of suffering via the Eightfold Path.

What’s important to my essay here isn’t the Eightfold Path, but the notion of attachment.  I’ve become keenly aware of the concept in the last couple of weeks in the wake of the death of the cat.  I know there are probably people out there who are like, “Jesus Christ, it’s a cat. Get over it.”  I suppose those people have never had a deep and meaningful relationship with a pet.  And I admit that society’s “get over it” voice is trying to creep into my head, and I keep pushing it right back out.  That cat came into the world two feet away from me and left the world in my lap.  I think I’m entitled to some sadness.

And I’m perfectly aware that that sadness is the result of attachment.  If I were not attached to the cat, I would not be sad that he is gone.  I’m also perfectly aware that even the most devout Buddhist monk w0uld likely be at least a little diminished in demeanor if someone or something they were used to were suddenly gone.  Perfect detachment is for the Bodhisattva, not us mere mortals.  Nevertheless, to contemplate our attachment to things is a worthy endeavour.

Just exactly why was I attached to that cat so much?  I’ve never loved a cat in my entire life like I loved that cat, with the possible exception of my cat Sam who moved to Texas with me from Michigan.  Actually, I had two Sams growing up, and I adored them both.  Still, I had never had a cat as long as I had Yin-Yang, and I had certainly never had a cat since birth.  There was something special about being privileged enough to be a a part of his and his siblings’ birth, since his mother wouldn’t leave my side.  Watching him slowly open his eyes after a couple of weeks was just wonderful.

I learned a lot about cats that I didn’t know before by being a part of that process and by raising the kittens.  It made me feel like I was truly a part of their lives in a way that I had never felt with other cats.  Sure, with the others, we were a part of each others’ lives, but there’s an intimacy that goes along with birth and upraising that adds a completely different element to a relationship with a pet.

Then I had to pick who I was going to keep out of the five kittens.  Oh dear.  That was so hard.  In the end, I kept the biggest and the smallest.  When MamaCat was pregnant, I wished that she would have a big boy cat that I could cuddle with, and that’s exactly what I got.  I felt like he was the answer to a prayer.  His existence became inextricably intertwined with my own.

And that’s why it was so painful when he was gone.  It was like rending fabric apart.  We were truly attached.  And there really was great suffering when that attachment was separated.

I have no problem with the first two Noble Truths.  Life is suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Got it.  The next two Noble Truths, I struggle with greatly.  I can accept that there is a path that can ease suffering by easing attachment and that the Eightfold Path is the way to easing that suffering and attachment, but I have extreme difficulty understanding how it is that I can have meaningful relationships with people (and animals) without being attached to them.  If I’m not attached to them, then where is the meaning?  How can I incorporate the last two Noble Truths and still live a fulfilling life?

This is where my greatest philosophical crisis occurs with Buddhism, and I imagine I am not the only Buddhist who feels this way (in fact, if I knew more Buddhists, I would probably discover that this is the main stumbling block for all Buddhists).  Envisioning myself interacting with the world without attachment feels so distant, though I know that’s not what it’s supposed to feel like.  I know that the lack of attachment is directly related to the goal of Buddhism and meditation to “be here now”.  To truly appreciate each moment, each thing, each person for what it is right there and then without consideration for the past or future, for it is those temporal considerations that cause attachment.  If we have no notion of the future, then there’s no reason to be attached to anything.  And “be here now” is supposed to be a greater experience than anything we run across in daily life, so I shouldn’t feel that a lack of attachment should diminish my experience of life.

Still, my brain has a lot of trouble with the concept of banishing attachment.  It wants to stay attached to things for some reason.  I’m sure there’s a Buddhist concept and term for that desire and a way to deal with it, and I’m sure I’ll run across it at some point.  For now, though, I’ll have to deal on my own with my philosophical crisis regarding attachment.

And for reference, the Eightfold Path:

Right Understanding
Right Thought
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

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