Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Merry Heart

     A few years ago I was very sick and it was touch and go for over a year. My husband was falling apart with worry and was going through the motions just to survive the day-to-day and even in my drugged stupor I knew he had a breaking point.  Leaning on him any further would have broken him.  He's only human and I have to give him credit, during that time of sheer hell he endured it all and stood by me the entire time.

For a while I was on oxygen 24-hours a day, and because I wasn't strong enough to carry the portable machine up and down the stairs with me, I would wake up before dawn with him and without complaint he'd clean my wounds, get me dressed and ready to spend the day downstairs and even make me breakfast and gather a lunchbox, books, magazines, medicine, the phone and the remote, before he left for a two hour commute to work in Westchester.  I was an invalid. And even now see the bleak duality of the word like a double entendre gone horribly wrong.  Invalid. Invalid. InVALid. 

I was drugged, anxious, felt like a burden and so so so guilty and deeply depressed. My injuries and illness seemed to have no end and I was afraid to add one more straw to the proverbial camel's fractured back. Then, my only sister, my baby sister Lisa, died suddenly and in my grief alone in that cold quiet living room, I began, in earnest, to talk to my cat.

If you don't have a cat, you will probably not get it. If you never had a 'special' cat, you definitely won't get it.  They choose you. You can't force them to see things your way or impress them or convince them of anything. They don't pity you or offer useless platitudes or criticize.  They judge you but if you're lucky you're deemed worthy. I was lucky. I was loved and tolerated by a snotty kid in a cat suit.

Peachy slept beside me or on my lap. Occasionally he would look up and gaze at me, examining if all was well and put his head down and return to dreams of laser pointers and feeble mice. At night he slept on my left hip and even hung on when I tossed and turned in pain from my infirmities, like a rolling ship on stormy waves. Like my long-suffering husband, he hung on. Always.

After the death of my sister, I decided to detox myself of the opiates I was dependent on simply to grieve naturally. I had been hallucinating and at one point drooling and barely could remember her laugh and it shattered my heart so I went cold turkey from Fentanyl in six weeks. My visiting nurses said they knew something had changed when my TV viewing habits shifted from Spongebob to Nat Geo and TCM but that I was very stupid because I could have had a fatal seizure from doing it my way. I didn't care. I already felt like I had died.

As my head cleared, I noticed something change in Peachy and mentioned it to my husband. He was overwhelmed with the usual events and just wanted some peace and suggested I could be imagining things but after he saw me fretting for weeks agreed to take him for blood work. They came back with nothing to say really...Peachy was clearly annoyed but the lab showed there was nothing wrong. It was chalked up to us living with a moody cat and possibly me being a bit paranoid due to my meds. But he continued to decline and my heart was filling with dread. They went back for blood work. Nothing. One more time, I begged, I insisted.

It was liver cancer.

One night, after countless struggles to convince him to take his chemo peacefully, and we were at a unsteady truce, he struggled to climb onto the protective pillows around my pain-filled body. He wouldn't let me help him. He did get to the top of the mountain after a few minutes and sat and looked at me, searching my face, my eyes.  I burst into agonized sobs, then wails. He was asking me to let him go.

For the last time I sang to him-- a little church chorus I'd been singing to him for years, and lately, with prayers to God to bless his little body with health and long life and if not that at least less pain. When he'd been healthy he would roll around in the bathroom sink in delight as I began to sing and he even waited expectantly for me to repeat the simple little verse over and over again which I did, often laughing at the joy he shared with me alone. Private little moments, precious pearls.

"A merry heart
doeth good like a medicine,
like a medicine
is a merry heart.
A broken spirit,
dryeth the bones,
but a merry heart
is the joy of the Lord."

The following morning I was strong enough to take him to the waiting doctor. Moments before she walked into the room, he had a seizure and slipped away. It still hurts my heart.

R.I.P. Mr. Peaches


  1. Very touching story! I, too, know the healing power of our kitties. Mr. Peaches sounds like a precious gift to you. I have a kitty that's getting on in years and I know it's going to break my heart when it's her time to leave.

  2. I know the pain. Both with some very special cats & with Brian. And it tears my heart out to think about it