It’s very hard to have an aging pet. We tend to put all our grief about anything sad that has ever happened to us, and symbolize it with the impending death of the animal. I’m facing this right now with my beloved Clovis. As time ticks on for my 17 year old kitty, I can’t help thinking about the day he isn’t going to be here… And it terrifies me.
When I first realized that Clovis was becoming less functional, I experienced a lot of fear. Weight-loss, obvious joint pain, lethargy & eating habits started creeping in about 2 years ago. When we adopted a new kitty (Morty) last September, he was pretty tough on the old man. Clovis turned into Mr. Grumpy Pants and we immediately went to the Cat Doctor. $500 later were told that our buddy was in the very early stages of kidney failure, but still very, very healthy. He had lost weight and was having trouble with bowel movements. It was time to give him a daily dose of laxative and make sure he was drinking enough, and that was about it.
That news, although mild as far as pet diagnoses go, terrified me. I started thinking about the mortality of everyone around me. Just like I have always thought of my dad as capable and strong, it is frightening to anticipate a role reversal — one where you are now there to care for them. This is exactly how I feel about my cat. How do I take care of this fragile, little animal now that he weighs 3 lbs less than he used to and obviously has way more needs than I’ve ever experienced with a pet… What the hell is going to happen when I have to step in as caretaker for my father? What about when my spouse gets sick? Oh man, I better just go first, I better… go… first!
After the initial panic of it all, I calmed down and realized that just like anyone (including myself) Clovis has good days and bad days. Some days he sleeps all day, barely gets up to eat and doesn’t even make an appearance at the litter-box. Other days the little guy runs around like a maniac meowing at the wall and playing with fuzzy mice until I wish he would just settle down and… take a nap.
Then I put it into perspective by thinking of myself. Some days I sleep all day, barely eat, and ONLY get up to use the toilet. Some days I am productive, happy, busy and active, too.
I realized that it’s important to do some “living grieving” even if it’s unpleasant… I think living grief prepares you for the inevitable. Although it’s hard to accept that these reactions are normal, I feel that the feelings are less troublesome if I don’t fight them and just let them happen. I have to remember to be content in being able to control what I can and let go of the rest. I can’t change what my cat is experiencing. It’s nature. What I can do is provide support and compassion to make his aging as fulfilling for him as it is for me.
For now, besides skinny body and the grumpy demeanor, he’s still the same kitty I’ve always known. When and if the day comes that he is no longer the same, I’ll be there for him, too. Despite the heartbreaking and maddening stories I hear about people dumping their sick and elderly pets off at shelters, there are still a lot more owners like myself who plan on accompanying our pets to the very end.
If his little legs grow sore from arthritis or back pain & make it hard for him to walk, I will be that woman pushing her kitty along the sidewalk in a stroller so that he can get some fresh air. If he goes blind or his mind gets fuzzy from dementia, I’ll be there to guide him through any obstacles, comforting him through it all.
As much as I hate to think that he’s getting older and will not be by my side forever, I’m trying to tell myself that when the day comes that he’ll have lived his life to the fullest, and that I will have given him the best possible life I could. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to push aside the sad, scary thoughts of a life without my old man, and focus on the life that I have with him now. A life where he brings me joy, companionship, and a whole lot of love every single day.