Pet Loss

CJ kittenIt’s been a tough week in our household.

Nine years ago, my oldest child — then thirteen — was visiting family in Oklahoma. And behold, there was a litter of kittens. I have never regretted saying yes when I received the phone call asking if one of the kittens could come live with us.

CJ Cat was my oldest child’s best friend through some difficult times, a consistent source of comfort and companionship. She was a talkative cat, leading us to speculate she may have been part Siamese. She was afraid of strangers and generally hid from company, but loved being with all members of the family. If we gathered in one room, watching a movie or playing a game, it didn’t take long before she’d establish herself in the middle of the group. And when there was a nap to be had, she helped with that, too.

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My son sneaked this pic of me and the cat, both having given up on all of the paperwork.

 

CJ was part of home. She was so present so much of the time.

As she grew up, she developed a weight problem and I became one of those people I used to laugh at for spending ridiculous amounts of money on special, expensive food for a pet. Her weight was heading in the right direction, slowly. We had the goal to bring her down from a high of nearly sixteen pounds to twelve. She’d made it to thirteen and a quarter. We set up elaborate systems and plans to keep her from getting to the food bowls of our other two cats. But she was smart and always on the watch for an opportunity to get any extra nugget.

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CJ Cat loved sunbeams.

We had our morning rituals, and they normally culminated with CJ settling onto my and the husband’s bed for a nap about the time I left for work in the morning. When I’d come home, she’d hear the door and come thundering down the steps, directly to her food bowl in the kitchen.

Last Friday, a week ago today, I’d taken her to the vet for booster shots and a checkup. Everything looked good and she seemed fine. On Mondays, I work a split shift: 9-1 and then evening, 5-9. Monday morning, CJ was okay, eating her breakfast with the usual gusto, getting her morning pets and chin scratching, getting under the humans’ feet as we moved around the house. Then she got into her nap place on our bed.

That’s where I found her, lifeless, when I came home in the afternoon and she failed to run down the stairs to get her lunch. She looked peaceful and at rest, like she simply went to sleep and never woke up, which is what happened, I suppose, and the one comfort in the midst of the shock of losing her so unexpectedly.

My 19-year-old son was home, getting ready for an afternoon college class. I called my husband, who left work. We all agonized over how to break the news to our 22-year-old, CJ’s main human, the one who had brought her home as a kitten. They (our oldest uses they/them pronouns) work as an assistant manager in retail and were scheduled to be the floor manager for another three hours that day, unable to leave until another manager arrived. We all agreed they couldn’t get the news without being able to leave work.

My son went on to his class, as it was a couldn’t miss session that day. My husband and I wrapped the body in a towel and moved it to his desk chair, a place CJ loved to bogart, often jumping up to the seat the minute he left to go get a snack or use the bathroom. I washed all of the bedding and then sat vigil while my husband went to meet our oldest as they got off work and brought them home.

My heart is aching not only over the loss of our much-loved companion, but also knowing how devastating it is for my child. Let me tell you, seeing your child bereft and heartbroken is no easier when they’re 22 than it is when they’re 5, or 13.

We buried CJ in the back yard, in a spot where the morning sunbeams hit every day, because she loved basking in the sun when it came in the window.

Well, we’re ridiculous people who open our home and our hearts to a ridiculous number of small creatures. My oldest child, in particular, has always had an affinity for animals. When they passed the G.E.D. exam, for a graduation present, they wanted a pet hedgehog and even found a breeder about three hours away.

Haymitch Hedgehog lived in a largish, customized home in said child’s room, and often traveled around in a little carrier when his human went to sit in a park and write or eat lunch. He was close to six years old, which is elderly for one of these animals. Two days after CJ’s passing, Haymitch followed her across the Rainbow Bridge. At least this one wasn’t a surprise.

Haymitch

I’m not sure what the neighbors think, with my family out in our yard two different nights this week, wielding our flashlights and shovels. As we laid Haymitch to rest, it began to sleet on us, because of course it did. I actually laughed at the universe going so over the top. The precipitation lasted only a few minutes, ending as we were heading back indoors.

We still have two cats and also two pet rats, all of whom have been receiving lavish attention the past few days. But there are still big empty places. I know the pets we have now will eventually pass (one of the surviving cats is coming up on sixteen years old in the spring) and we’ll mourn again. I don’t see any of us changing our essential natures by not taking in animals as they come along. I grimly joked that some day archeologists will excavate the site of our home and yard and it will just be full of small animal bones.

That’s the nature of life when you like having pets around. They have shorter lives and you get your heart-broken over and over. Do you ever get numb to losing them? Not in my experience. It’s difficult every time. Is it worth it? So far, yes, absolutely.

 

 

 

 

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Of Bloggers and Mothers and Death and Cosmic Coincidences

I spent two and a half hours this morning writing about my mother’s death. I know I haven’t been blogging much, but I have been writing. In fact, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), trying to pound out 50,000 words of new original writing during the month of November.

I finally finished the first draft of a novel I began two years ago. But with it ended, I still had 18,000 worth of words to write about something, so I’ve been working on shorter pieces. Twenty-two months after my mom’s passing, I decided I was ready to write about my experience of her death in more detail than I have so far. I can do so now without completely breaking down.

I met one of my writing buddies at a coffee shop this morning and we sat together with our laptops, composing our individual pieces of prose. My friend left earlier than I did, as I wanted to stay until I’d gotten my word count done. Besides, I was on a roll, typing up my memories as they came and I didn’t want to forget anything.

The piece I’m working on is therapeutic for me. I don’t know yet if I will share it or if it’s only for myself. But it surely did bring up a lot of feelings and recollections for me, including the memory of how I spent my first several weeks of grief surprised by my own intense desire for some sort of communication from beyond the grave.

After two and a half hours of work this morning, I came to place where I felt comfortable stopping for the time being. I swear I am not making this up. The minute, I closed my laptop, my phone buzzed in my pocket. When I checked it, here’s what I saw on the screen:

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I almost fell out of my chair. Gmail was alerting me that a blogger I follow has a new post published. I don’t pretend to fathom the ways of the universe.

Labors Around the House

When my children were small, we lived in a cute little house. With one tiny bathroom. Where the two kids shared one teensy bedroom. As the kids got to be bigger, the home seemed smaller and we decided to look for a domicile with more space.

Golly, did we ever find it! A 2,800 square foot home, originally built in 1901, with a huge yard in a wonderful neighborhood, within walking distance of a nice park and the public library. It was (barely) within our price range, due to the fact that it had been sitting vacant for a few years and needed some work. A lot of work. So much work.

But my husband and I fell right in love with it. We liked tackling projects on our previous house and figured we could restore this one to its former glory, or something resembling it. So, some window panes were missing, and there was a hole in the upstairs hall ceiling where a light fixture used to be, and someone had removed every single rod from every single closet, and the entire house needed to be rewired, and a former do-it-yourselfer had mixed up the plumbing in one of the bathrooms so that the sink didn’t have hot water but the toilet did. When you’re in love, none of those things matter. Besides, by the time we’d fixed it up and were ready to downsize, we would have increased the value so much, buying it was like investing in our retirement. Right?…Right?

We’ve lived here for fourteen years now. There have been good times and bad. The first few years we got a lot fixed and improved. Window glass was installed, crumbling plaster was replaced with sheet rock. Knob and tube wiring was removed and replaced with safer, modern methods.

Then I picked up more hours at work for the much-needed income. My husband was working long hours as well. We found ourselves with teenagers (which is more time-consuming and energy draining than anyone can prepare you for.) And we moved my mom to town, so I could be close by and take charge of her affairs. Those years will go down in our family history as the Whack-a-Mole Era. Nothing much got done to our house, not even in the way of cleaning, beyond the bare minimum to keep it livable.

Now the two kids, though still living with us, are both grown (22 and 19 respectively.) In a nice development, they have become helpful around here. I have seen my mom out to the end and more or less settled all of her affairs. I still have some of her possessions to deal with, but am pretty sure all bills are paid off and legal paperwork finished. This year, the hubs and I finally have a little time and energy to refocus on our relationship…with the house.

We had three large, dangerously near-death trees removed. We hired someone for that – an expert who told us the locust would have ended up on top of our house or the neighbors’ be year’s end if we hadn’t called him in to take it out.

The sexiest and most exciting project involved getting a shed, a carport and – drum roll – solar panels. We are on solar energy, as of about seven weeks ago. Remember how I said the grown kids have become helpful?

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That’s my husband in the green and my 19-year-old son behind all the hair, installing the first solar panel.

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All solar, baby!

My husband is trained in electrical systems, so he knew what he was doing. We did have a licensed electrician put in the new meter and hook it all up.  It’s fun to go outside and watch the meter run backward on a sunny day.

 

 

 

 

 

Our next project involves fencing. The west side of our house has been pretty much a mess. One of the trees we got removed had been shading an area over there more than I realized. After it was gone, a new jungle sprang up. I got about half of it cleared out this weekend, along with some other yard work, including an epic battle with a sticker bush. Once it’s all out, I’ll figure out what to do plant-wise in that spot, but we already know we’re putting in a fence panel to give us some privacy from the next Google Streetview car that comes along.

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Yesterday morning, the top half of the photo looked like the bottom half.

 

Farther back along that side of the house we had an old, rotting, falling down wooden fence covered in various vines and weeds. We’re replacing that, too. In an amazing feat, the hubs cleared it all away in two days.

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Half the fence and overgrowth gone.

 

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Ready for new fence panels.

I’ll post photos when the new fence is in. Right now, the spouse and I are in the midst of a decision about buying vs. renting when it comes to posthole diggers.

 

My Baby Off to the Jury

Sniff. Yesterday was my baby’s first day of jury duty and I didn’t even manage to get pictures.

I guess I have to admit my child really is grown up when they get summoned to sit on a trial. And I don’t get to go along to offer moral support or take pictures of how cute they look sitting with the group in the courtroom.

This was federal court, too, so not even in our city. They had to drive to the state capital, thirty-five miles away, where the U.S. District Court is located. During rush hour. On the morning when a lot of out-of-town visitors were leaving after eclipse viewing.

As it turns out, after half a day of vetting, my kid was not selected and got to come home. I have received jury summonses approximately every three years going back to the dawn of time, yet never actually had to report to a courthouse. I’ve only had to make the phone calls to find out whether to go. So I was full of questions.

Thing 1 (nickname for my firstborn) reported that the case was “Some old super rich guys suing each other because no amount of money is enough for them.” It was a property dispute of some sort. Apparently many high-paid attorneys were involved on both sides. Thing 1 was dismissed when the judge asked if anyone in the jury pool felt uncomfortable with the amount of money being sought – $80 million dollars.

So, there we go. Another milestone achieved. I need to remember where I put the baby book, so I can write it down.

 

I Grew Food!

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During the years I was sandwiched – raising my kids and in charge of my mom while also working a paycheck job – I wondered what I would do with myself once I came out the other side and ever had a minute. In that time period, which I refer to as the Whack-a-Mole Era, a lot of things got neglected on the domestic front as I spent all of my time and energy handling one crisis after another. My husband was working long hours during this time, too, and our house got the bare minimum attention to keep it livable, while I tried not to notice how my physical surroundings were falling apart.

Now I do have some minutes occasionally, which gives me the leisure to look around my house and see all of the things that could be better. Add in the fact that I’m an introvert who spent years with no time to myself. These days I find myself with a desire to simply be home and focus my energies there.

One of my efforts this year was growing a few plants. My husband has always been the gardener. I’ve helped with weeding and harvesting, but never actually grown any food myself. I’ve put in a couple of shrubs and I plant annuals every year along our walkway, and that’s about it.

This year I decided to try starting a few things from seed. My greatest hope was to put in milkweed, as food for monarch butterflies. Beyond that, I thought I’d start simply with a couple of herbs for us, some to be put in the ground and a couple in planters.

I bought peat pots and staked claim to a spot by a sunny window. I got great starts with half a dozen each of milkweed, cilantro and basil. Three basil plants survive to this day. That’s right, every last milkweed and cilantro shoot died. But I have basil! Two in a pot and one in the ground. Yesterday, I harvested some leaves and cut them up into a pasta salad. For the first time in my life, I ate food that I grew myself.

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I also threw in some of my husband’s banana peppers.

It feels good, mastering a new accomplishment, feeling somewhat competent in basic survival skills (if I don’t think about the cilantro or milkweed.)

If the apocalypse happens and the grid collapses, you can depend on me. I’ll supply the salad garnish to keep us all going.

 

My YA Offspring Handling Things

Even though my children both live with me at the moment, and even though I sometimes find myself wishing they both were more independent in some ways, they will occasionally surprise me with what they handle on their own.

This is Captain Marvelous (Marv for short), in his heyday:

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R.I.P. Captain Marvelous

My firstborn, C, has had a succession of little pets over the years — rats, gerbils, hamsters and mice who are treated to the best life and care a rodent could ever hope for. (Rats make excellent pets. They’re pretty clean and usually very affectionate and well-behaved.) Unfortunately, even the best cared-for rodent has as shortish life span. Marv was not quite three years old, elderly for a rat, and we knew his time was drawing to a close. He’d been having breathing difficulties for several days.

This morning, C told me Marv passed during the night. I expressed my condolences and started to talk about what to do with his body. That’s when I discovered everything was already taken care of. My two kids had taken him out and buried him in the yard at first light, while my husband and I slept. They put a large rock over the grave to keep other neighborhood animals from digging there.

This feels like a big milestone. They didn’t even wake us up. Or wait for us. They simply took care of it. Is burying your own deceased pet without parental help a marker denoting childhood’s end? Maybe? It’s just not one I had considered.

A Whiff of Schadenfreude in the Air

Is it wrong of me to take a little joy in hearing my firstborn vent frustrations with the difficulties of supervising a teenaged employee at work? There was no breach of manager/employee confidentiality, in case you’re wondering. Just a generalized statement about the struggle of getting a young person under your authority to see and accomplish needed tasks without being prompted every step of the way.

I can sympathize. I really can. (Laughing up my sleeve.)