How long can it last, this thing we have? How long can it endure the test of time? Will I be old and gray with you by my side?
My heart aches in the realization it can never be so.
The Boys, Grendel and Loki, were adopted early in 1997 and are now nine years old. For cats, they are middle-aged, equivalent to being in their early 50s. They reach 56 years of human age on their tenth birthday next February.
The Kids are my children, the source of unconditional love that fills home and heart. But how long can such a thing last?
Not long enough, I’m afraid.
My first concern is for Grendel. His health has never been excellent with asthma, arthritis (for which he had to have hip surgery), and now this inflammatory bowel problem caused by an errant bacterial infection in his intestines. Add to that the discovery of stones in one of his kidneys as well as his bladder, issues we have not yet addressed directly because they are not causing significant problems at present.
Not only is it bothersome that his own body seems to rebel against all hope of normalcy, but the medication he must take to manage both the asthma and intestinal problem has the unfortunate side effect of causing damage to the body with long-term use. It places him under threat of diabetes, organ damage, immunosuppression, and a handful of other problems. Sadly, the treatment for his health issues will almost certainly shorten his life. Perhaps even significantly.
My heart sinks at the thought that my roly-poly, my love sponge, the knower of no strangers will not enjoy the full life his brother Loki will probably have.
Yet this is an assumption based entirely on what I know. The greatest concern comes from what I do not know. About any of them.
Kako, likewise, has health issues. As she is prone to deadly urinary tract infections, it is possible she too will go sooner than expected. If, with age, her body becomes less able to manage the problem alongside the special food they must eat because of it, and given the suddenness of her approach to death in past experiences with this ailment, I also fear for her well-being. When she suffers from this problem, she does not indicate it until it is almost too late. The vet made clear that waiting even less than 24 hours in each case would have significantly altered the scenario. She likely would not — could not have survived.
What if as she ages her body weakens and is no longer able to manage the problem long enough for me to seek treatment? Could it be her innate need to hide weakness will be her undoing? Might she wait too long to speak up about the pain and anguish? I lament the thought.
Age has a funny way of changing the rules when it’s least expected, and watching The Kids grow older, especially now that all four of them are at least middle-aged, causes me to ponder what heartbreak waits in the ever-nearing future. Which of them will be the first to hear my weeping goodbyes? Upon whose fur will my tears fall in those final moments of companionship? Whose life will I watch drain away in my arms as I am forced to yield my love and devotion to the natural progression of life? On whose final stillness will my sorrow first be cast?
I watch my children grow. I watch them age and wonder at the continual development of their personalities. I celebrate in the awe of such love and companionship given freely and unconditionally.
When I myself am in pain, whether physically or emotionally, it is they who stand by my side, who tend my wounds, who ensure I know I am not alone. I have wept the bitter tears of a thousand lives stemming from a thousand pains and a thousand losses, and yet these fur people remain vigilant and unrelenting in their care of me.
Lying on the bed curled in a ball with a blinding migraine headache, tears streaming from my eyes, was it not Kako who wept with me, who spoke in soft and loving terms only a father could understand, who rested herself next to me and gently caressed me with her paws to let me know she was there with me even if she could not take away my pain?
Sitting on the couch after Derek’s death, rending my own heart upon the altar of memory and time, was it not Kazon who so gently wrapped himself around my shoulders, purred comfortingly into my ear, repeatedly kissed my cheek and nose, and whispered soul-to-soul his unyielding devotion, and all that despite knowing he could not undo the past?
With Kako in the animal hospital under threat of imminent death from her own illness, and with my own pacing and crying, was it not Grendel who wrapped his arms around my hands, who silently meowed to me as a gentle reminder of his love, whose purr right next to my face kept me anchored despite the trembling of my body with mourning, and who stayed with me no matter where I collapsed under the fatiguing weight of emotional distress?
Having cried my soul upon the veterinarian’s counter with Henry’s limp body wrapped in my arms, my tears wetting his fur for the last time, did Loki not reflect the greatest of the absent feline’s teachings by sitting upon the pillow that later caught my sobs, stroking my cheek with his paw, and speaking to me in reassuring tones as he shared in the anguish and desolation of it all?
And today, for some unknown reason, I awoke with this sudden dread. Why? Is it that some unconscious revelation while I slept gave me in waking the unwelcome knowledge that, at least for most if not all of The Kids, there are fewer days ahead than there are behind? Especially for Grendel, I think, but for any of them, perhaps even far fewer days ahead than what has already been shared?
With my stomach tied in knots, I sit here typing this while Loki rests comfortably against my arm. He is sleeping, his breathing a soothing rhythm, his fur barely moving in the gentle breeze from the ceiling fan, and I marvel at him, at this predator, this once wild animal who is, as a species and in the historic scheme of things, the only creature to have chosen humans as companions rather than having been chosen by us. His ancestors surrounded the ancient cities of Egypt and as a whole accepted humans in light of the opportunity we provided with our granaries overrun by destructive rodents.
We had no solution to the indiscriminate consumption of our grain stores. Cats did. They partnered with us and adapted to life with us. As a species. Consciously. They chose us.
At first, we hated them, and then we tolerated them for they certainly helped us a great deal, and then we grew to revere and even worship them. As life goes, we humans had never seen another species intentionally join us, engage us in a mutually beneficial relationship, and that could endear itself to us with ease as they enjoyed our company as much as we did theirs. Even if they care not to admit it and try very hard to hide it.
To this day, no other species has willfully joined us in this way. It is the only personal human-animal relationship that was not our idea.
And you wonder why cats fascinate me so.
To the loving and critically important predators who share my home, I am truly sorry I will not be able to save you. There will come a time when we will part. We will have to say goodbye. My heart will break in those final moments, if it is not already so, and it will pour upon you all that I am and all that I feel. My soul will encompass you and wrap you in its eternal warmth. Your essence will join mine, and together we will be both more and less complete.
Like a fire in the night sky, your memories shall burn within me and will forevermore shine a light on the emptiness you leave behind. It will be a reminder to me that all things end. It likewise will be a reminder to me that not all natural beauty and wonder can be found in the likes of man. The hollow will bring forth a wellspring of giving, for as I rescued you from uncertain fate and gave you the life and home very few enjoy, and just as you came to us in our need and provided more than we could ask, so again will I open my heart to your kin and kind, offer my home as a place of joy and peace, a retreat into which they are welcomed, and shower upon them, and certainly in your memory, all of my love and care, a gift as unconditional as those they present me.
But whether it be with me or within me, your life will exist so long as I breathe. This solemn vow I make to you.
And your legacy will survive in those who follow, your descendants who will find refuge just as you did. They, too, will know of home and family.