Grief and the Dreaming

What was supposed to be an overnight vet visit to stabilize some low blood pressure readings became something of an emergency situation, which at midnight last Sunday became a very difficult decision we had to make.

Chloe, my wife’s beloved cat of 15 years went to sleep that night and didn’t wake up, and now our house feels very empty and in want of a small, inquisitive face peering out from the shadows or from some corner of the back garden.

It was a pretty good death, all things considered. She was at a point where she was only going to get worse as the night went on, but she was awake and tired and aware of her people around her, giving her gentle pats as she got to close her eyes and nod off. It’s the kind of passing I wouldn’t mind for myself one day. It was a case of making all the right decisions, as the vets confirmed for us, but life throwing a wrench in the works at the last second. The initial prediction of 4-5 months wasn’t wrong because it wasn’t the initial illnesses that got to her, it was a random bug that hit her weakened immune system and caused a chain reaction. There’s nothing we could have done, even if we had tried different treatments earlier this probably still would have happened.

Strangely, all the logic and rational thinking in the world doesn’t make it any less painful.

I feel worse for my wife than I do for me, obviously. I was only in this cat’s life for a little over a year, she’s had her for nearly half her life and their bond is as strong as any mother and daughter you could name. She’s holding it together much better than I would have anticipated, and we’re both acknowledging that there’s no one at fault but nature, and after a week the pangs are still sharp but not enough to leave someone bedridden with grief.

It’s really weird how different people process it, though. Personality-wise we’re definitely in the opposites attracting category, and beyond the shared interest in keeping ourselves distracted with movies, and television, and books, it’s tackled in such different ways. She’s grieving in what I would definitely call a normal way, how I’d expect someone to grieve for a lost pet.

I find myself thinking back on a page from the very end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics where Shakespeare is lambasting Morpheus. Earlier they had made a deal that the latter would help the former become a world-changing playwright, and at the end of his life William is coming to understand the repercussions of that deal:

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I saw Gaiman speak a little while back and he talked about how he’s always had a hard time with processing grief, because it’s filtered through a lens of wanting to capture exactly how it feels, how to put that down on paper, how to make other people feel it by reading those words as a shared grieving, a way of forcing empathy and emotional connection and drawing the reader in. He mentioned that he felt that way when Terry Pratchett passed away; the immediate shock, followed by turning inside and carefully documenting that shock and the following emotions as they happened, adding them to a toolbox to be pulled out later if necessary.

I totally get that. I’ve never heard someone so accurately describe how I experience mourning. I’m sure part of it is the toxic guy “bury-your-feelings” process I grew up surrounded by, but my immediate response to feeling so awful is to try and figure out how I would translate that to a piece of fiction, locking it away not because I view the emotions as shameful or bad, but because someday I might want to write a scene where I want to evoke the same kind of feeling.

It seems to be a running theme with writers both professional and hobbyist, but it feels strange to examine it and to be aware of that routine even as it’s running.

On the plus side, it kind of frees me up to help with others whose grief is rawer and more immediate, which I view as a blessing. If I can take that step back and observe even my own sorrow as a bit of a third party, it means I can take care of things that can’t be stopped just because we’re mourning.

We’ve started idly looking at other cats now. We’re not in any rush to adopt, but neither of us has been in a no-pet household for more than a couple of months. It would be unfair to “replace” a member of the family because you then project a lot of expectations on the new adoptee, and we’re both hyperaware of that, but we also find ourselves in a position where we could do something like adopt bonded pairs that might have more trouble finding homes, or black cats that have a notoriously difficult time due to lingering superstition, or eventually even a puppy that we wouldn’t have been able to get with an elderly and then fragile cat. So from these particular ashes we’re certain a Phoenix will rise and we’ll move on, just with new scars for us.

 

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Cats, Beaches, Television

SO, as I alluded to in my prior post, things have been pretty busy in my small corner of the world.

There have been two big events in our household over the last month, one good and one bad.

The good thing is that I got brought on as a full time employee at what had been my temp assignment that kept getting extended, which is a huge weight off my shoulders, and very exciting. I have successfully tricked enough people into thinking I know more than I actually do, which is really, really funny because the basis for it is tragically nerdy. I am doing data as someone who has historically sucked at math and numbers (which is one of the many reasons I took refuge in English and History and a sprinkling of Psychology in college) and 90% of my successes at the office draw from having minmaxed video game stuff. Looking at analytics? I basically treat it like I’m going through damage meters in an MMORPG and trying to find the reason for gaps in different sequences. On the money side of things it’s from resource management in strategy games and looking at sustainable incoming-outgoing levels.

So, you know, if there are any wayward teenagers in your life who seem to be playing too many video games or D&D or what-have-you, it might actually be applicable later in life even if they don’t want to be throwing it on their official resume.

Outside of that, my wife’s cat has fallen quite ill. Well, our cat now, really, but my wife has had her for over a decade and a half while I’ve only been in her life for a couple of years, so she takes precedence there. A few weeks ago she went badly off her food and was acting quite sullen and sick, so we took her to the vet for a check up. The check up spiraled into a multi-day stay as they tried to figure out if it was kidney disease (a death sentence) or lymphoma (a slightly slower death sentence).

It has turned out to be both. The kidney disease is somewhat manageable–you can slow its severity–with dietary changes which we’ve begun to implement, but the lymphoma is kind of a… hard cap on how long she has. There was the option of treating her with chemotherapy, but in a best case scenario that would be seven months of her being absolutely miserable, us not being able to pet or hold her, her feeling achy and sick the entire time. She’s already an eighteen year old cat on top of that, so for all we know we might be making her miserable for seven months only to get one good month afterwards. What we’re doing instead is essentially palliative care, or kitty hospice. She’s on a daily dose of prednisone to keep any potential pain in check and to stimulate her appetite and her desire to drink, since the lymphoma might make her too nauseated to eat enough, and the kidney food is different than what she’s eaten before even as we slowly wean her onto it. She’s fairly stable now, and the vet thinks we could get up to half a year of “normal” lifestyle out of her before one of the diseases becomes too advanced to manage, and then… well, we make that decision when we come to it, but both of us have lost pets before and we know the drill, even if it’s going to feel awful.

But for now she’s quite perky, eating regularly, cuddling in the mornings and evenings, and spending a lot of time sunning herself in the garden.

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Our coping mechanisms of choice, outside of doting on her until she gets fed up with the attention, have been trying to spend more time out at the beach together before the weather gets too cold, and catching up on a backlog of television shows we’ve been meaning to watch since forever.

We finally finished Twin Peaks a couple of weeks back, this being my… ninth or tenth time through, I think, and my wife’s first. She liked it enough that she helped me design the Dale Cooper tattoo I’m actually about to go get two and a half hours from now.

We also watched Legion religiously up until its finale the other week. Probably my favorite show since Hannibal was cruelly taken from me. I seriously can’t think of any way to talk about it without spoiling it, since the entire show is dense with tidbits that become huge things, but it’s the kind of show I could recommend to anyone. It’s a superhero show that doesn’t require you to like superheroes, it has enough X-Men easter eggs to keep a fan happy while being separate enough that you won’t feel lost if you’ve never picked up an X-Men comic before. The acting is top notch, the music is amazing, and the visuals are like someone has hooked up several different feeds into your brain and is overloading it.

We’re almost done with The Expanse, or as I like to call it, the Amos Hour of Power this season. I’ve read the books a few times through over the years but they’ve managed to throw in enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes, to the point where I wish the Game of Thrones showrunners had taken more of this kind of approach to their material.

We just finished Stranger Things last night, even though I knew I’d love it since the first trailer came out we just never found time to watch it together while we were living in opposite time zones, and then it fell off the radar after I moved. It’s glorious, though, and manages to make me feel genuine nostalgia for a time a couple of years before I was even born.

Currently I am marathoning my way through Orphan Black, which, again, I knew I’d love but never had the time to sit down and watch. I started Thursday night and I’m just on the last episode of season 1 now, so I’m pretty sure I can get through the whole thing by the end of Easter weekend.

So yeah, that is the state of things right now. I have a giant pile of books to review over the next couple of weeks, and a ton of historical tomes I picked up at the library that I also need to delve into on top of that.