I CARRY HIS HEART WITH ME

Buzzy, my handsome boy, in December 2013.

Buzzy, my handsome boy, 2013.

Buzzy’s favorite day of the week was Caturday. He couldn’t get enough Caturday time. He especially enjoyed stay-at-home vacations of several Caturdays strung together, making his severe dislike of Monday known when I went back to work (you and me both, pal!). The irony that we said goodbye on Caturday isn’t lost on me. Maybe that’s how he wanted it–to go out on a high note.

Buzzy came to me by way of Adrienne, his mom. Adrienne accidentally got out one day and came home ten days later pregnant. She had a litter of several kittens, with one little black and white one as the runt. That was Buzzy, then called Chase. That fall, I put Buzzy’s brothers and sisters out in the barn. He was too small, though; he’d never survive. Ever rooting for the underdog (or undercat, in this case), I grew quite fond of him. So I tried to find him a nice home indoors. After my first attempt fell through, I decided to keep him. Or, rather, he decided to keep me. Our bond was immediate.

Adrienne, sitting in our apartment window in 2010.

Adrienne, sitting in our apartment window, 2010.

That was back in 1999/2000. I was still a teenager, trying to figure out my place in this world. Buzzy and Adrienne went along for the ride. They comforted me when I broke my back in 2003. They moved with me out of my parents’ house and into the city. They moved with me again into my first house. They gave me a reason to keep living on more than one occasion. They provided comic relief and warm snuggles without end.

In May of 2011, Buzzy and I said good-bye to Adrienne. We were heartbroken. Devastated, even. I’ve never had my heart literally ripped from my chest (of course), but I imagine that would feel less painful than the loss of that cat did. We never found out specifically what went wrong, but I am very thankful for that final small month I had to say goodbye. Putting her to sleep was the hardest decision I had made in my adult life. Buzzy took it as hard as I did. He could feel my grief on top of his own. He had never been without Adrienne his entire life. Now, suddenly, there was an almost tangible void.

In October of 2011, we brought home (then named) Layla to be his new companion. The two quickly took to chasing each other around the house. I’m sure Layla (now called New Cat/Boss) kept Buzzy younger and extended his quality years. And Buzzy finally had a relationship where he felt like he wore the pants. Unfortunately, these two were separated in my divorce in late 2013/early 2014. But bear with me here…

Buzzy was never quite the same after we moved into a little apartment of our own. I gave him time to adjust, and he managed ok, but he had lost a lot of his spark–his zest for life. Even his catnip mice barely caught his attention. He had also started dropping weight, a few ounces here and there, coupled with some recurrent bladder issues. The blood work always came back pretty good for a cat of 15 years–no obvious cause for alarm. After a couple of months, I decided to find him a friend, thinking perhaps he was lonely or bored and another companion would help ease any stress or anxiety he was feeling.

Ivy, playing with one of Adrienne's favorite toys.

Ivy, playing with one of Adrienne’s favorite toys.

Ivy became part of our family on March 22. Buzzy wasn’t thrilled by the idea, but they were starting to warm up to each other and develop respectful boundaries. Ivy went to stay at the vet’s for a couple of days. That same night she left, Buzzy changed. It was like a switch had been flipped: suddenly he looked like a 90 year old whose body was giving up. He was lethargic and grouchy and hid under the bed. I slept on the floor next to him most of the night. I could tell this was serious; something just felt immensely heavy about the situation.

The next day, he barely ate any breakfast. He still showed no other signs of anything being wrong. I wanted to believe he just felt yucky, like maybe he had the kitty flu or something. I left work early to find that he wasn’t any better. As he walked across the floor, I saw his bloated stomach sway. I felt it gently; his abdomen was swollen and firm. Understanding that this was serious, I immediately called the vet who said they could see me right away.

After some blood work and a couple of x-rays, preliminary guesses were either liver cancer or lymphoma–neither of which looked good for Buzzy. The vet diagnosed him with a slight heart murmur (something new), anemia, and a high white blood cell count. His liver enzymes were alarmingly low. But all of the fluid in his stomach was preventing a clear view to confirm tumors. They kept him overnight with an ultrasound scheduled the next day. Even as I said “see you later” to him that evening, it felt like one of the last times I would do so. I left my hoodie with him in his cage to comfort him while we were apart.

The next day, I met with the vet to discuss the ultrasound results. Buzzy’s mesenteries appeared abnormal with several masses showing on the images. His spleen also looked abnormal in shape and transparency on the ultrasound. “We would need to biopsy to be absolutely sure, but our best guess is lymphoma.” Even if we had biopsied, there wouldn’t have been anything we could do for him. He was fading fast, the vet said. “You don’t have much time with him. Days, maybe the weekend.”

I don’t know how I remained standing. Dazed, I softly asked if he was in any discomfort; she replied that he probably felt like he had the flu but no real pain. “If you aren’t ready to make a decision today, you probably have a couple of days–maybe even into next week.” A million things raced through my mind, but I kept coming back to Adrienne. Because I wasn’t ready, she suffered for longer than she probably should have. I couldn’t do that to Buzzy. He was my everything–the love of my life. I scheduled an appointment for the following morning to say goodbye.

One of my last photos with Buzzy the night before we said goodbye.

One of my last photos with Buzzy the night before we said goodbye.

We spent our last night together quietly in bed. As the hours slipped by, so did the life in his eyes. I didn’t try to hold him for fear of hurting him. I curled my body around him, a protective barrier warding off death for a little while longer, and gently stroked his head. My eyes became heavy with grief and drowsiness. I fought to stay awake, white-knuckling every precious minute. Eight hours became four. Four hours became the sun coming up. And then it was time.

I wasn’t ready, of course. You’re never really ready. That’s the one thing I’ve learned about losing someone you love: even when you see it coming, the heart will never be ready.

I didn’t even bother with a cat carrier. I wrapped Buzzy in an old blanket–one of his favorites–and cradled him the five minute drive to the vet. It was drizzling. The wet on my face hid my tears.

“We’ll be in exam room 4,” the vet tech said. This was the goodbye room. The last time I was in there, I collapsed with loud, body-racking grieving that I’m sure unnerved other pet owners at the clinic that day. I kept telling myself to keep it together this time, at least until we got to the car. Just hold yourself together until then.

When your pet is so very, very sick, they don’t struggle against the euthanasia. It reminds me of when I’ve been utterly exhausted, barely able to hold my head up. Deep sleep is a welcome reprieve. You just drift off into it. Both Adrienne and Buzzy were this way as the drugs were administered–first the sedative and then the final goodbye solution. Adrienne was so weak, she was gone almost immediately. Buzzy gave a relaxed sigh before leaving us. It’s over in moments that feel, at the same time, like an eternity.

One of the things I love about my vet clinic is that they are endlessly compassionate towards pets and pet owners alike. There was no rush to get us out of the room. They hugged me as I sobbed. Everyone in the room had tears cascading down their cheeks. I made arrangements for cremation and paid for everything the day before, allowing us the luxury of quietly slipping out the back door.

The drizzle had just transitioned into snow. A weird, fluffy-flaked, late-March snow. The sentimental part of me felt comforted, taking the display as a loving farewell message from my best friend. It snowed most of that day.

Ivy/NuNu and I enjoy some morning snuggles.

Ivy/NuNu and I enjoy some morning snuggles.

I went home and nursed my grief. Ivy returned from the vet that afternoon. Of all the cats I’ve ever known, I’ve never seen one so elated to see me. And because she is so very different from Buzzy, there was no false hope of her being a replacement. No, the hole he left in my life will likely never be filled. I know this. But I also know that each day, the ache lessens, healing into a scar–the scar of a love only a fraction of pet owners will understand.

Part of me wonders if he was waiting on a cat like Ivy before making his exit–someone to whom he could entrust his very large kitty-shoes to make me smile, laugh, and yell, “Hey! Get out of that!” In hindsight, the events seem too coincidental to be mere coincidence. Another example of Buzzy taking care of me? Perhaps.

Since we said goodbye, I haven’t had time to properly mourn my friend–not the way I wrenched grief from my pillow every night like I did with his mother, if that is indeed “proper.” Instead, the grief has processed slowly and gently beneath the surface. That’s another thing I’ve learned about death: no two people process it the same, and no two experiences are processed the same by an individual. Each loss is unique. Some are explosive, palpable, and devastating; others are slow burns that sometimes choke you in the night with their smoke, often when you least expect it.

Ivy (nicknamed NuNu) is incredibly grateful to share my life with me. In that, Buzzy’s memory lives on. I will continue to support local (and even not-so-local) pet welfare organizations. In that, too, his memory lives on. And, like I did with his mother, a memorial will be inked on my skin to reflect that he is always part of me.

Buzzy II--my new godcat through the Independent Cat Society in Westville, IN

Buzzy II–my new godcat through the Independent Cat Society in Westville, IN

Today, I chose to memorialize him by becoming a godparent to a kitten. For a donation fee, I was given naming rights of said kitten, and that money is used to help care for the animal until it is adopted. Perhaps this is something I will continue to do, sponsoring myriad black kitties and hoping that their new owners continue the Buzzy name. I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of my sweet, sweet boy.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
by E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
 
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REMINDER: MAKE LOVE YOUR LEGACY

Let us begin. (Photo credit: Pensive Pilcrow.)

Let us begin. (Photo credit: Pensive Pilcrow.)

Life is short. This cliché has been said countless times in millions of different ways, making it easy to dismiss… until you glimpse it every day.

I started the Pep Tweet Project a little over a month ago. The idea is simple: tweet little messages of encouragement to complete strangers who need it. Since it began on March 10, I’ve reached out to almost 100 people who tweeted various things such as asking for luck on exams, requesting prayers for a sick relative in the hospital, or venting about a bad day. My “pep tweets” aren’t always acknowledged, but that’s ok because that isn’t the point. If even one person a day–a week–gets some wind back in his or her sails from a tweet that took me 60 seconds or less, the project is fulfilling its purpose.

What I didn’t bargain for were some life lessons for myself in all of this. In reaching out to folks, I’ve noticed a recurring theme of life being short–sometimes extremely short. I’ve seen myriad people talking about lives being snuffed out early and abruptly, often when those lives had so much more to give. It’s been a jarring reminder that we don’t know what tomorrow holds. We take minutes, hours, entire lifetimes for granted. We bitch and moan about the smallest of meaningless things. We put off telling a loved one how deeply we care, thinking we have another day and another.

The Pep Tweet Project has forced me to ruminate on the kinds of relationships I’m nurturing in my life and the legacy I am crafting for myself. If I died tomorrow, would I be satisfied with my work in this world thus far? Would there be words regretfully unsaid or acts of kindness remorsefully left undone? Would I take moments back, longing to spend that time in a different way?

What I’m saying has been said before. This is nothing new to you. But the Universe likes to send us little reminders every once in a while; perhaps this is yours. It’s easier to let the hustle/bustle of life push the important-yet-everyday stuff to the back burner than it is to make it a constant priority. But make yourself a note if you have to. Schedule it in your calendar. Tie a string around your finger. Tattoo it on your heart.

Because this is the stuff life is truly made of. Not money, things, or how someone did you wrong. In the end, you’re left with how much you loved and how much you were loved in return. That love is how we live on–even after we are gone.

A NOTE OF APPRECIATION

This amazing thing happens when your tank is empty and your heart is running on fumes. Some people hear the sputtering a mile away; others can read the “E” blinking in your eyes. Then there are those who are so in tune with your psyche, they can ineffably sense it without a word spoken or glance given.

These folks are a soft place to fall when the gas eventually runs out. And for all their softness, there are no saccharine words on silver platters here. They talk about the real shit–the tough shit that gets tangled, pushed down, and forgotten. They let you borrow their eyes and selflessly donate their hearts. They assure you that “Yeah, you’re a little weird, but you’re certainly not crazy.”

I’ve never been good at willingly burdening others with my baggage. The Ruth-to-my-Idgie and I were discussing this last night and decided it’s an INFJ thing. We are unwavering when it comes to being a rock for others, but when we need that kind of support, we turn inward. It’s not easy for us to let someone see behind the curtain. And the bigger the issue, the harder that is. So if you’ve glimpsed the behind-the-scenes, know you’re likely in a rare, trusted group of confidants.

To those who have offered their broad and strong shoulders, unending patience, and sharp insight, you forever have my gratitude and love. I don’t know what I did to deserve such high caliber people in my life. I can only hope to someday repay the kindness and love that you have shown me. An empty, angry, overly pensive heart isn’t an easy thing to handle, yet you’ve done so with grace, honesty, and care. You will never know what your words, hugs, and simply being there to listen have meant to me.

Specifically, to my Soulmate Kit and Girfriend Jess: I owe you two more than I can ever give. We’re the same brand of crazy, and I’m so, so fortunate to have you in my life. You’re more than my friends: you’re family. And I love you both to pieces. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(UN)MOTHERHOOD IS A CHOICE

photo credit: elizabethdonoghue via photopin cc

photo credit: elizabethdonoghue via photopin cc

While poorly written and incredibly vague, this article from The Telegraph asserts that “the urge to be a mother decreases with higher I.Q.” I’ll admit it: as a woman in my early 30s who has chosen not to have children, I felt a bit of smug vindication upon reading the headline. The meat of the article is bullshit, but if the headline preaches it, it must be true, right?

As I read the comments (I’m a glutton for punishment), I noticed a vitriolic whirlpool of accusations, defensiveness, and hot tempers. People were up in arms over a woman’s decision to be a mother. Mothers took offense at the implication they were less smart than their non-mother counterparts, calling their childless peers “selfish” and stupid. Men chimed in as if they can even fathom what goes into motherhood for most women. And childless women wrote pretentious comments that only further polarized the audience.

Why the hell is this even still an issue?

We live in a time marked by redefining the word “family.” Marriage rates continue to drop. And while more women are having children outside of marriage as a result, birth rates have hit a record low, as well. Men choose other men as partners; women make lifelong commitments to other women. Single parents, adoptive parents, no parents. The old adage of “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family” really has no place in society today. “Family” is no longer trapped by traditional institutions or definitions. We make our own meaning of the word, and often, it changes as we grow.

My (very smart, mother-of-three) friend Jessica Squires said, “Women get judged no matter what their decisions are. Have kids/don’t, stay home/work, get married/stay single. The sad thing is it’s usually other women doing the judging. We’re incredibly cannibalistic as a gender.” This touches on the nerve of the issue: our own insecurities regarding the choices we’ve made in constructing our versions of “family.” Because the traditional measuring stick no longer applies, we’re all looking around at what everyone else is doing, trying to verify if we’re doing the right thing. It’s the very basis of identity management: we learn who/what we are by comparing ourselves to who/what we are not.

The unfortunate part of this process is that no one can tell a woman if she’s making the right decision to (not) have children except herself. Ladies, it takes a lot of soul searching. It takes bravery. It takes being honest with yourself. And it takes self-compassion, something many of us have to work at on a daily basis.

Growing up in a single-mother home, I contemplated questions of family very early. I saw how hard my mother worked (and appreciated it more than she’ll ever know) and wondered if that would be me some day. I learned what being an independent woman meant before the age of 10. I pondered names for any theoretical children in my future (deciding on Quinn, boy or girl). But as I entered my teen years, an incongruence emerged that would continue to plague me into the present day.

As I looked around at other girls (now women) my age, I realized I didn’t value the same things they did. I didn’t swoon at the idea of getting married or planning my dream wedding. I didn’t go ga-ga over babies, who always looked like weird, little aliens to me. I had no desire whatsoever to be a mother. Was I broken? What was wrong with me? “Oh, give it time. You’ll change your mind,” people would say.

Except, so far, I haven’t. And I’m finally getting to a place where I feel good about that.

There’s immense pressure on women–even in today’s modernity–to procreate. “It’s what our bodies are built for.” “It’s evolution.” “Only selfish women don’t want kids.” I assure you that the issue goes far beyond biology and egocentricity. The question of whether or not to have children is a complex, multi-layered one for most (bless you ladies who knew from the start that you did/did not want to be mothers). For me, it involved uncertainty over my health, what my husband wanted, my career and education, my lack of “motherness” I just mentioned, the state of the world (and its future), and other contemplations. Ultimately, it comes down to going with my gut. In my heart of hearts, I don’t have a desire to have children.

And should that change one day, maybe I’ll adopt. There are countless kids out there who need a loving home–youngsters I could corrupt with bathroom humor, teach how to drive, and pass on my love of literature. Maybe I’ll be that fun, quirky, childless lady in the neighborhood who looks out for all the kids on the block and throws the best holiday parties. Or maybe I’ll change my mind in 5 years and decide I really do want a child of my own.

Whatever may come, I choose to practice compassion–for myself, other women like me who choose not to have children, women who desperately want children but can’t conceive, and women who choose motherhood. With all of the anger and chaos in the world, couldn’t we all benefit from more compassion? Here’s to you, ladies, for all your heart, intelligence, and grit–regardless of your motherhood status.