I think about death. Not a lot, but enough to know how it takes its coffee (dark roast, black) and that it’s a Pisces. I talk about it at work, at parties, to just about anyone who will listen. I remember going into the hospital for gynecological surgery when I was 21 and preparing my will. I was confused and I bit annoyed when the nurses hesitated to witness my signature to the document. I was so young, they said. I shouldn’t think about things like that. And besides I would be fine.
News flash: we’re all going to die, ideally later than sooner. I’ve been sitting with it more of late because my cat, Clause, a Leo, is dying. I got the news about two years ago after taking him to the vet when his appetite waned and he was hiding away in spots that were not his normal haunts. The test results painted a dismal prospect: bladder infection, gum infection, feline leukemia, and the late stages of renal failure. This is a very sick cat, the vet scolded, his pronouncement sounding like an accusation and the exclamation point on a looming death verdict for my feline ward.
Bad cat mom! Bad! How could I have let it get that far along without noticing the symptoms earlier? Had I unknowingly allowed my other cat, Jack, to become infected with feline leukemia as well? Double bad cat mom!
I don’t listen much to doctors, at least the traditional western kind. I chose to ignore the vet’s dietary recommendations and acquiesced to one round of antibiotics for the infections. I researched alternative approaches to kidney disease and settled on a blend of herbs, a human grade immune system tincture and Bach Rescue Remedy. Since then I’ve tweaked the regime with raw meat, good canned food, and clean water (well, okay, I give in to the occasional toilet dive when both cats are screaming inanely for a taste of potty water).
Last year I took Clause to another vet when his feet could not hold him up and he appeared to have a seizure. There was no evidence of neurological damage and no real explanation for the weakness. The vet studied the original blood work from the year before. I don’t know how this cat is still alive, he muttered, shaking his head.
Me either, but he is. My friend and Clause’s previous slave, Dhar, states the obvious: The Dude still abides. This past year though has seen a steady decline in his health and stability. His previous big bad boy weight of 18 pounds has diminished to 9.5 pounds. His front claws have curled under and look like pearl buttons tucked between his toes. The vet who marveled at Clause’s 12 lives took on the task of trimming them last year which required leather gauntlets for the vet technician, me holding tight to Clause’s head and the vet tentatively cutting through the nails. All the while Clause was trying his Herculean darnedest to bite and shred us into obscurity.
This weekend I managed to trim all those gnarly nails without a drop of blood spilled by either of us. He screamed bloody murder and a couple of times pressed his teeth on my hand, but he didn’t bite. If I had tried the same procedure on Jack he would have sought witness protection and relocation to another province. I probably wouldn’t have seen him for a good day or more. Clause, for reasons of short term memory loss or benevolent forgiveness kept coming to my side after each session of nail surgery. He’s a good cat.
When I came home from my meditation retreat a few months ago, he curled up against my calf the next morning as I meditated. Lately he’s been sleeping on my cushion and the past week or so by my side when I’m meditating. I don’t call him my Buddha Kitty for nothing. I pet him a lot these days and send him waves of metta. I talk to him as well, asking him how he feels, urging him to rest. I lean close and tell him my wish that he’ll be reborn a human in his next life. I think he deserves a shot at opposable thumbs and a proper manicure.
He’s still here of course, still crying for his food and plopping on my yoga mat in the morning while I’m in downward facing dog. He still tries to pick a fight with Jack, although much less than before, and he still likes to sit in the window and dream of escape.
I hope I’ll meet him again someday. I miss him already.
Jubilate Agno, Fragment B [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]
by Christopher Smart
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.