The End of An Era


My 18 year old passed away from cancer in April. It was the hardest experience of my life. Kitty and I have been together since he was 4 months old, and I was 19. He taught me how to be an adult. I grew up for him. I had to be sure I could provide food, shelter, and medical care. I’m sure that if it wasn’t for my furballs, I would have continued on the downward spiral I was on at that point in my life and continued to live on my car/in the streets, or worse.

Kitty, as you may know from this post was predeceased by Kip. Together, they constituted the dynamic duo. After Kip passed away, Kitty and I adopted Jude. While Kitty and Jude bonded extremely well, they did not have the depth of connection held by Kip and Kitty. With Kitty’s passing, it is truly the end of an era.

The past month or so has been extremely hard for me, I feel like I go through many of my days on autopilot. Some days, I am unable to determine if I am having trouble because I messed up on my post-stroke medication (I didn’t) or if I am having trouble simply because I am so upset (more probable). I feel dead inside. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who greeted you at the door every day, who slept with you every night, and was your constant companion for almost two decades.

The hardest part about the entire situation is that, let’s face it: Cancer sucks. This was not a clear cut illness as it was when Kip died of pancreatitis. Kitty turn a turn for the worse, and even with pain killers was still in pain. I could not let him continue like that. If I could have traded places with him and took the pain for him, I would have.

I’m sure I will have more clarity on the situation when I am able to fully function again. For now, our family of three is now a family of two. Jude and I have been trying to figure out what that means. In his own way, Jude is grieving too. It’s not just about me. The hardest part is that Kitty was the child I never had, my best friend, and my life partner. I am at a loss currently on how to move forward without him.

I am thankful that these past few years I have made a concerted effort to slow down my life so that I was able to spend as much time with Kitty as possible. While he has been a huge part of my life for 18 years, I was the only person in his. The steps I have taken the past few years in minimalism have helped me to focus on what is most important in life: the people and activities that bring me happiness and joy.

I have been quiet the past few months dealing with Kitty’s illness and my own. There are always challenges in life. How you respond to those challenges are a reflection of the type of person you are. Hopefully soon, I will be sharing some ways in which I am moving forward and some changes that are happening in my household.

For now, I am still hurting. That is okay. It’s healthiest to feel feeling and be able to work through them instead of shoving them aside. I am thankful that I have had a better support network in working through Kitty’s death than I had back when Kip died.

It is the end of an era in my life, and I am now facing uncertainty. One of my good friends told me recently that you don’t ever “get over” something like this; you have to “go through.” It’s hard to go through when you feel like you are stuck. If there is one thing I have learned running marathons, it is to keep moving. Walk, run, dragged, or crawl, you have to cross the finish line.

I’ll be sharing more in the future about the changes I am making as I make my way through this difficult time in life. For now, I am thankful that I have been rewinding my life real slow so I could focus on what is most important.

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Bottom of the Seventh

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Above photo: watching the 2013 World Series with Kitty

For some baseball fields, it’s the 7th inning stretch. At my baseball field, the bottom of the 7th is when we actively rally behind the team to turn it around if it is a game in which we are behind. As a lifetime fan of perhaps one of the most controversial teams in baseball, I can tell you that the bottom of the 7th has taught me a lot about patience, perseverance, faith, and how to stand strong in the face of adversity.

The past few weeks have been extremely challenging for me. In addition to my autoimmune disorder, my work schedule has quite literally blown up in my face in epic proportions, and we have also learned this week that the most important person in my life has cancer. This is one of those moments in which it is the bottom of the 7th in my life.

When it is the bottom of the 7th, you know the end is near. You know the outcome will probably not be good, but if by chance, it is good, then not only will it be good, but also it will be great. When you are trailing at the bottom of the 7th, you are either going to fizzle out like a dud or pull something off with a bigger bang than the inception of the universe. Either way, it’s time to rally. No team just walks off the field at the bottom of the 7th just because they are trailing. No sir. There is still time to write your own ending.

The bottom of the 7th has taught me to have faith in what may come. Just at that moment when you think all is lost, all of a sudden, there will be bases loaded and someone hits a homer to bring everyone in. Just because the game has been lackluster to this point does not mean that it’s not about to turn around. You prepare yourself for the worst, yet hope for the best.

One of my favorite quotes is from Satchel Paige: “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Knowing that you have done your very best is all you can do sometimes. When you are at the bottom of the 7th and under pressure, this is the time to be sure that you are using all of your coping skills and doing adequate self-care to face all the challenges ahead.

I’m not sure how I am going to react when I lose the one who has been the only constant in my life for almost 18 years. I am preparing for the worst. I’ve been through some major crap in life, but I already know that when this death occurs, it is going to be the lowest and worst point of my entire life. I am at the bottom of the 7th; I already know how the game is going to end. It’s time to just start throwing strikes because home plate don’t move.

I am very fortunate in that at least I know I am in the bottom of the 7th. It’s not like some Mario game, where all of a sudden, the guy goes belly-up and falls off the screen, and it says, “Game over.” I know what is coming so I have time to prepare. This is not the first time I have watched someone I love die from cancer, and I am sure it will not be the last. However, this is the one who has been with me the longest in life, even longer than either of my parents, and I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my body.

There have been many times in my life that I have been at the bottom of the 7th, and I have been able to rally every time. This is the only time I have ever been at the bottom of the 7th and I honestly don’t know how I am going to be when I come out the other side. I just know I have to be strong while this person is alive to take care of them. It’s not about me. It’s about the ones we love and spending time together and being able to show love. It’s about being able to enjoy the time we have left because life is so short.

I am very fortunate in that I am finally done with school after spending 20 years in college so that I finally have leisure time to be able to attend to what’s important. Spending time with those I love is the most important thing in life, and when I was in school, every single relationship in my life suffered.

I am thankful that for the first time in my life, I only have one job. This month marks the one year anniversary of my only having one job instead of two or three. It is so amazing to only have to work one job 40 hours a week instead of running around everywhere working 60-70 hours a week. I’m not sure if I’m getting old, or just plain tired after 20 years of working multiple jobs, but it feels so good to only have one job.

Being done with school and only having one job are things I try to be thankful for as I face the most challenging bottom of the 7th inning in my entire life. If I am about to experience the worst thing ever, than at least I am coming at it from a foundation of being at the best place in my life.

The bottom of the 7th reminds us to look forward and re-evaluate priorities. When the game is all done, you want to know that you gave it your all and did your very best. Are you giving your very best? How do you rally from the bottom of the 7th?

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 4th Birthday, Jude

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Two years ago when we were still grieving the loss of Kip, who completed our triad, Kitty and I decided to open our home, and consequentially our hearts, to a timid, shy newcomer for companionship. Not only is today the two-year anniversary of the day we adopted Jude, but it is also his 4th birthday.

Jude stole the show and is one of the loves of my life. In the two years since he has entered our home, he has come out of his shell to share with us his spunk, ingenuity, and childlike love of life. Jude has reminded me to not take life to seriously; sometimes we need to just enjoy and laugh. While his antics are sometimes aggravating, they are, for the most part, harmless, and always bring a smile.

When he is clinging to a window frame tittering about a bird outside, I jokingly call him Spider Cat for his ability to climb places I never thought possible. He is actually able to do so not only with agility but also without destroying anything in the process. With a preference for high, small spaces, Jude has figured out how to hide in the empty cupboard above the refrigerator and has also realized that if he pops out of said cupboard when I walk into the kitchen, he can usually get a rise out of me. Jude definitely keeps us on our toes.

He is the perfect companion for Kitty, who, believe it or not, at the ripe old age of 17 still likes to play every once in awhile, and Jude is happy to oblige. When they are not playing together, Jude always brings a smile in the way he plays with toys by himself or by simply chasing his own tail. He is well acclimated to the fact that it takes Kitty longer to eat due to his advanced age, and it respectful in allowing him time and space to eat his food without trying to steal it from him.

Jude still freaks out over vacuum cleaners and guests. We rarely get visitors at our house, but when we do, he always hides as if his life depends upon it. Jude has warmed up to both Kitty and I over the past two years. He often sits on my lap and loves to sit right next to Kitty. Honestly, I am surprised and delighted at how well Kitty has accepted him into our lives.

Two years ago on Valentine’s Day, I was home from work on a snow day, yet the roads north of us were bare and clear. Friends knew that we were looking for a new addition for our home, and on that day, the phone call came that the fit for us was at a shelter about two hours north. I made the drive, and spent some time confirming, that yes, this was indeed the one. Jude entered our home at a time in our lives when we were still raw and sore from Kip’s passing. Jude entered our home and our hearts with grace and style. He has completed life for both Kitty and me these past two years. Happy 4th Birthday, Jude. You are truly the love of our lives.

 

The Lead of Love

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This is the monthly Feline Friday post on Rewind Real Slow.

“We die containing the richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

About a week after Kitty’s first birthday, Kip walked into our lives. Literally. I had seen this scrappy little orange kitten running around the neighborhood. At the time in the late 90s, Kitty and I had housing, but it was in one of the most drug and crime ridden neighborhoods in a 60-mile radius. I was on my evening walk and saw this little orange kitten on the side of the road, obviously quite hurt. A car had hit him. I tried to find his owners, but no one seemed to claim him or even to care. Not wanting to be accused of cat napping, I talked to him, and he literally followed me home.

So small that he fit inside of a child’s shoebox, I took him to the animal hospital, where he remained for a week. He had a broken arm with permanent nerve damage resulting, as well as severe internal injuries to his side and kidneys. Even after a week in the hospital, he came home with tubing in his side that required me to keep moist and flush with fluids to remove toxins multiple times daily. Due to his size, I had thought he was only a few weeks old. According to dental analysis done by the veterinarian, he was actually 4 months old, his stature diminished by severe malnourishment and neglect.

I already had a Kitty at home, and I did not want to traumatize the orange treasure by renaming him and instituting an identity crisis. I was searching for something close to Kitty (as almost all cats will respond to kitty) that was not kitty; he needed unique nomenclature to fit his persona. I borrowed a name from one of my favorite movies and novels. Kip Quark Anderson had entered our lives.

What I did not realize at the time was how appropriate this name would be to his place and impact upon our lives. Kip was the apple, the joy, and the love of Kitty’s and my life. We had 14 wonderful, beautiful, glorious years together, many of them spent regulating his resulting chronic kidney condition, before he finally succumbed to pancreatitis a few years ago.

Kip was a happy go lucky, playful cat full of joy. He taught Kitty how to not be so uptight, how to relax, how to play. Everyone who met Kip loved him. Kip was leash trained and quite enjoyed walking on a leash, often emulating a dog. He was a frequent visitor to my preschool classroom, where he never failed to delight, entertain, and draw out even the most shy and precarious child in the class.

He handled his chronic health condition with grace and dignity. The nightmare-ish visions of having to “pill a cat” never happened with Kip. I would set his medication on his plate with his breakfast or dinner, and he would happily eat it the same as his food. Towards the end of his life, he was on 5 different medications daily, one of them by dropper, and he never squirmed or protested when it was time for his medications.

Kip kept both Kitty and I from losing our minds. Life was hard in the late 90s and early 2000s, as we faced bad relationships, and sometimes lived in the car. Kip’s attitude was always upbeat and helped to remind Kitty and I of the brighter side of life, that things do in fact, get better. Of all my kids, Kip is probably the one who most taught me how to adult and forced me to create a stability in my life and theirs that I had never experienced as a child. I made sure that he received all the medical care that he required and that I was home to give him his medications on time. I was even able to keep his medication on schedule during my early grad school years when I had a one-way 6-hour plus commute from Central New York to Boston for school.

I had spent my first three years of college as a physics major; The English Patient movie came out my freshman year of college. I was particularly drawn to the character of Kip, as his profession in the novel and movie was exactly what I was studying to do in college. In many ways, Kip the cat fit his namesake. He was proficient in diffusing many tense situations with his absolute love of life and easy-going personality.

What Kip taught me the most in his 14 short years on this planet was love. He taught Kitty too. He taught me that every experience, no matter how dark or dire, has a small sliver of hope. He taught me that every single person we meet in life changes us in ways we may not even see or understand. He lived a very full and very bright life that was nothing but a lead of love to everyone he met.

This month, for #FelineFriday, we honor the memory of Kip. At times in my life when I was trying to go too fast, when I was trying to accelerate at 100mph, Kip always reminded me to slow down and remember the important things. Each experience in our life changes us and stays with us forever. Kip not only led with love, but he has changed my life in ways that will have repercussions until my dying day. Even as I held him in my arms a few years ago, as he passed away, he still taught me in his final breaths, the meaning of love.

Cheers to the memory of Kip this month on Rewind Real Slow. If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

Hey, Jude

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Here is the newest installment in the monthly #FelineFriday series.

How my third and youngest son took a sad song and made it better.

My 3 year old is in charge. When Kip passed away from a chronic illness at age 14, it left just Kitty and I. Again. I always called Kip and Kitty the dynamic duo. They grew up together. Kitty and I were alone the first year; then Kip had arrived shortly after Kitty’s first birthday. So after Kip passed away, Kitty and I were alone. I was okay with that.

Kitty was not. He needed a companion. We spend a lot of time together. We grieved together. As time went on, I noticed that instead of getting better, Kitty actually got worse. He was clingier and his anxiety levels seemed to increase when I left the house. He needed a companion.

I spent some time searching for the perfect companion for him. Being that Kitty is an older cat in his teens, I did not want to bring in some young punk that was going to push him around. I also knew that neither one of us has the tolerance to be able to survive kitten phase again. We needed a young adult with an easy-going personality.

I searched four local shelters talking to staff about cats and their personalities trying to find someone who would fit into our family. When I adopt, I adopt for life, so I wanted it to be a positive situation for everyone. I was not going to adopt and return or rehome if it did not work out. It needed to work out.

I had pretty much given up hope, thinking that the cat that would be the perfect match to join our family just wasn’t out there yet, but that it would happen in time. Quite a few people in my social circle knew I was looking to adopt. Then, one of them called me and said, “I’ve found the cat you want.” He was in a shelter about 2 hours away from where we live.

I called the shelter on a showy Valentine’s Day to inquire. I explained Kitty and my situation to the shelter manager, who seemed to think that the cat in general would be a good fit. We were in the middle of a central New York snowstorm. Both schools and my work were closed for the day. But, the plows had been out, the roads appeared clear, and I decided to make the 2-hour drive north to visit with our potential new family member.

Once I arrived, I spent a few hours at the shelter visiting with our potential new family member and talking with staff that had interacted with him. I learned of his background as a stray that had been taken from a hoarding situation that involved over 30 cats in a singlewide trailer. I talked to the shelter animal trainers about how he interacted with other cats in playgroups and socialization times.

We found our family member. Jude Raymond Anderson came home on February 14, 2014. He was 2 years old at the time.

I did the slow introduction method where I had Jude in a separate bedroom for about a week before I introduced him to Kitty. It did not go as planned. They had some accidental meetings. They were positive. They each knew the other was there and would put a paw under the door. Jude escaped. Kitty tried to enter Jude’s room. The introduction was not as gradual as it was supposed to be, but it was positive. There was no hissing or fighting involved.

Sometimes I am skeptical about their relationship. Jude is young and playful. Kitty will play with him to a point, but then gets tired, probably due to age, and seems irked that Jude continues to pursue him. Yet there are also times when they lick each other. I am pretty sure they are friends. Kitty’s anxiety level is almost non-existent now that he has a companion.

Jude is a joy in our household. He definitely keeps both Kitty and I on our toes. I am glad we did not get a kitten. It is challenging enough trying to keep up with a 3 year old. We play every day. He runs around the house. Jude is pretty good about settling down at night, though. He even sleeps with us sometimes.

By the way, Jude is the boy name I had picked out for a human child. Given that I am unable to have children, Jude is actually the first of my fur-babies to have a name I had reserved for a human child. It took a lot for me to do that. I think that when you are told you cannot have children that there is always some part of you that holds out hope that they are wrong. Giving Jude the name I had chosen for a human son was a big step for me in being able to accept my life, flaws and all. I love him like a son. I truly do. I have now raised 3 boys. Yes, they may have 4 paws and a tail, but they are all each very much my sons.

Jude entered a time in our lives when Kitty and I were perhaps the saddest we have ever been. We have a very different dynamic in our house with a 3 year old. I would not change it for the world. He has brought life and love to our house. In the true meaning of the Beatles tune after which he is named, Jude has indeed taken a sad song and made it better.

Hey, Jude. We love you.

Happy 17th Birthday to my Son

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This is the first in the monthly #FelineFriday series.

My kids have 4 paws and a tail. It’s not a joke or some redneck colloquialism. After having four different doctors inform me that I cannot have children, my cats are the closest to a child for me. They have been with me longer than any human being, including either of my parents.

When I adopt, I adopt for life. I am not a crazy cat lady that lives with 10 or 15 cats. I live with two cats, because that is what is reasonable for me to handle given time, money, love, and other resources to ensure they have a life of true children.

Kitty is my oldest and my first.

Today he is 17.

I’m not sure if I adopted him, or if he adopted me, but in the past 17 years, he has made me a better person, taught me how to grow up, and shown me more about myself and others than I ever thought possible.

The first 7 years of his life were pretty rough for both of us. I was not yet settled, but I kept us together as a family. This was back in the time when my relationships were tenuous, my housing situation even more so, and the most stable things in my life were the fact that I had a car and a cat that made a family.

Kitty has an anxiety disorder, which he was diagnosed with by the Feline Behavioral Specialist at one of the most prestigious colleges of veterinary medicine in the country, which happens to be in our local community. I’m pretty sure his diagnosis is mostly my fault. It probably comes from homelessness.

From times that we were living in the car, Kitty has been my protector. He has always been hypervigilent and very possessive of me. I am definitely his human. At times he acts more like a dog than a cat. Most of the time, I am quite certain that he is more human than any being I have ever known.

As Kitty turned 7, I was finally able to give us some stability in life. We have had stable housing since he turned 7. In fact, the past decade has been the most stable decade of my life. I have worked hard to keep the family together. Yes, there were times that we were living in the car, but no matter how bad things were, I have always made sure that my kids have never gone without. They have always had food, and their medical care has been better than mine. Those are the sacrifices that you make as a parent – when you love someone so much with your whole being that you do everything to take care of them.

Kitty has been with me for 17 years. He has been here every time I walk in the door. He sleeps with me every night. Some days, he is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. He has seen me through multiple relationships, many of them abusive. He has become my litmus test for being able to judge a potential partner’s character. Does my Kitty like you? If so, then I’ll think about dating you.

Kitty has his own personality, and he takes care of me. In fact, his name was never intended to be Kitty. I named him Molecule. He would only ever answer to Kitty. I guess he chose his own name. Kitty is also a purebred Maine Coon with no papers. The breeder turned him in because his traits “weren’t desirable.” In 17 years, I have not found a single thing undesirable about him.

Kitty and I adopted each other when he was 4 months old. We were alone together that first year, and then, his younger brother Kip, entered our life. Kip had a chronic health condition, which contributed to my desire to provide more stability for all of us as a family. Kip passed away from his illness a few years ago, when he was 14.

When Kip was alive, I administered and kept track of all his medications. As he quickly declined, I even took to washing him with a washcloth his last day or two of life when he was just too tired to deal. I will always remember the night before Kip passed away. It was one of those moments when Kitty, in the way he interacted with Kip, showed me the true meaning of love. This is a manner of love so deep, that I have not seen it anywhere else in life.

They say that love is watching someone die. The night that Kip died was the only night in 17 years that Kitty did not sleep with me. He slept with Kip. Then, he woke me up at 3 am when Kip got bad to let me know it was time to say goodbye.

Kitty and I also grieved together. I would not have made it through Kip’s passing without Kitty. When Kitty’s time comes, I honestly don’t know how I will survive that moment. I hope it does not come any time soon, but I know that at age 17, our time together is now more limited.

I have a lot of guilt over the fact that I have worked most of his life. I mean, I had to work 60 hours a week or more in low-wage jobs while going to school just to pay the bills. Yes, I was finally able to provide housing and stability for our family, but the price that was paid was missing out on our time spent together.

I am looking forward to completing grad school and so grateful that I am now only working one job 40 hours a week or less so that I can have more of the short, precious, sweet time together. I know that our time together is shortening. When it is Kitty’s turn to pass away, I only hope that he knows I love him more than I have ever loved anyone. He needs to know how very much he is loved and how he is the best and most important thing that has ever happened to me.

I honestly think that if it hadn’t been for trying to keep the family together, I would probably still be drifting. I don’t think I would still be living in my car, but I would probably still be burning the candle at both ends right up until the wick was gone.

Kitty has been with me every day. He loves me when I’m happy, he loves me when I’m sad, he loves me when no human person in my life has loved me. He has taught me so much in life. I don’t think I saved him. I think he saved me.

When I say Happy 17th Birthday to my son, I really mean my son. Kitty has shown me what family means.

Happy 17th Birthday, Kitty. I love you.