A few weeks ago I hit an all time low in my ‘vertical alignment’ with Spirit. My brother Jeff’s cat Billie, who I adopted after Jeff died 3 years ago, has shared her end of life struggles AND cuddles with me ever since.
She was the sweetest girl, never extended a claw or a tooth. She and her sister Kobe gave my brother their loyal companionship up till the end of his life.
When Jeff died, Billie flew down from Washington state all by herself to live with me. I had never seen her until I picked her up at the airport, as she and Kobe would disappear as soon as anyone but Jeff entered their house.
For the past year or so, Billie had an inflammatory condition that had her vomiting and pooping massive pools of excrement all over. My house had become a draped habitat: painter’s plastic and fencing over furniture, old towels and tarps on the floors. Our sweet vet put her on massive amounts of prednisone last fall, nearly to no avail. Every morning my ‘alarm clock’ was the sound of her vomiting repeatedly. Giving her the medication was so problematic that I finally just stopped. I even had a date last December to have her put down, but upon the vet’s exam, her vitals were still what they were a few years back so Miss Billie received a “stay.”
Then, without any real explanation, she got better. I still needed the painter’s plastic etc. for the accidents, but they became fewer and farther between. My affection for her grew again, as the stresses of constant cleanup diminished.
Continuing in this improvement though, was what I have since come to see as common picky kitty food habits. It got to where I was spending nearly as much on my food as on hers-difference being, I ate mine. She would eat a little, then refuse. Wah, wah wah… New can, new this, new that.
I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing food away that had been some animal, and that animal had lived, died, been minced up into a can, and NOT eaten by the very species it was raised to feed. I began tossing the uneaten food out into the back 40. Many happy skunks, raccoons and who knows what else have benefited by Billie’s picky eating habits.
I continued to cope with patience. AND she was quarantined from the back of the house, and my bedroom, as I had to have a few rooms that were safe from these ‘mistakes.’
The ante got upped this last month. Miss Billie became even more picky with food. I spent even more money on raw food or freeze dried food, which helped her for a bit, then she would decide she didn’t like what she had loved yesterday. She began sneaking under the painter’s plastic at night and leaving messes in the same spots. At least that was predictable!
One night, as I lay there reviewing my day, I realized I had hit a new low in my spiritual integrity. I had been impatient with her; I had raised my voice at her; I had quit listening.
I had quit listening.
I thought, “what can I do better tomorrow?”
Suddenly my mind’s eye conjured up the image of her wearing a little T-shirt that said
“I am Your Spiritual Practice.”
A few hot humble tears streamed down my cheeks. How could I be going around talking in the groups I lead and talks I give about the need for connection, and be so caught up in my own frustration with Miss Billie that my ability to listen deeper for her needs simply disappeared?
I bowed to Miss Billie as my teacher, thanked her for grounding me in the weakest link of my being, and vowed to enter the kitchen the next morning with the t-shirt in mind.
When Billie heard me wake up and began meowing, I touched my heart and remembered, “connection, she wants connection.”
I put some food down for her but she refused. I got down on my knees and asked her, “Billie, what is it I am not hearing?” She continued to meow miserably. Suddenly I heard, in those words without words that animals use with us,
“Texture, it is about texture-I want to eat it but I can’t. Something is wrong and I don’t know what.”
Ahhhhhhhhh. Why did it take me so long to figure this out?
I gave her some half and half, which she lapped up, then a few refills. I got her some baby food that day, which she lapped up again, like someone who hadn’t eaten in a long time.
Thinking I had found at least a short-term answer, I bought more baby food. For a few days she went through several jars with excitement, then refused that, too. I noticed she was pawing her mouth, and had too much saliva. Time for our vet to check her out.
I found myself wondering what else might be going on. I’ll confess to even secretly hoping the vet would find something significant, as this limbo state of decline was becoming untenable for me. After nearly a year and a half of cleaning up after her day in and day out, and needing to spend an hour or more removing all my kitty proofing in the event of any visitors-well-I did have compassion, and BOTH of our quality of life’s quotients had tanked.
The night before our vet visit, the thought crossed my mind that the vet might well find something. Then what? Would tomorrow be her last day? Would tonite be our last night together?
As Billie sat on my chest later that night, the topic came up. “Billie, you’ve had a good run. You were my brother’s beloved, then mine. You flew down here from Seattle all by yourself and had this huge house to yourself! And you have taken such good care of me, sitting on my chest in the morning and evening, absorbing and matching my heartbeat with your own. Please forgive me for being impatient. I feel badly. You know you are the best girl and that none of this is your fault. Regardless of what the vet finds tomorrow, it will be time soon for you to leave this body behind. I’ll be ok. You’ll be ok too! Can we agree to be ready for whatever?”
The next morning, to my surprise, and for the first time in our over 3 years together, Bilie had peed on one of the tarps I had over a carpet. The pee was the color of root-beer, tinged with blood, and stunk the whole room up. “Maybe this is her gift to me, showing me she is ready.” I cleaned it up, found more kitty mess, cleaned that up, and went to feed her. She was pawing at her face with both paws, and turned down the food that she had so vehemently devoured the night before. I put more food in the blender-she turned that down too. “Well, ok, I have nothing more to offer you but my kindness, Billie Girl. And I am doing my best.”
A few hours later, our vet came in. He immediately noticed how thin she had become since his last visit 4 months ago. Within minutes he discovered a large hard tumor in her jaw, a very slight heartbeat, and the presumed kidney/bladder infection.
I sat back and heard myself say, with a sigh, “OK.”
We talked options, of which there were, really, none. We wouldn’t be able to get the antibiotics for her bladder infection into her with this pain in her mouth. She was failing quickly. The vet said he could come back in a week, but he predicted that she was in a great deal of discomfort, and even if we treated her, she would likely be gone in a few weeks, either on her own, or with help.
There really was no decision. It was her time.
He got his meds together, and I sat with Billie in the other room. I anointed her precious and shriveled body with some holy water, and told her how lucky she was to be loved so much and to be able to let her body go so easily and painlessly, with caring people around her. I told her it might be a little confusing at first but not to worry.
I brought her into the front room.
The vet injected her with the tranquilizer, then, the other. He could barely find a vein; her heart was pumping so very weakly.
Miss Billie left us with the peace and gentleness she lived her life by.
You are, and will be, always, a reminder of the weakest link in my spiritual practice,
and of the depth of commitment that we can have with our family members and their pets.