I was planning to use this weekend's entry to celebrate the impending one year anniversary of Cover Lay Down. But last night the cat turned up yowling pitifully under the shrubbery along the front porch, and he wouldn't come out. We couldn't find a flashlight; in the end, my wife lit a tiny candle in the rain, I heaved aside the overgrowth, and she reached into the darkness to reel him in, his body limp.
That he didn't tear us to shreds as we extricated him from the shrubbery was tellingly out of character. When we finally pulled him into the house, he was too unsteady to walk. When he tried to take a drink, he slumped against the edge of the bowl, tipping it into himself.
We tried to make him comfortable in a crate, and headed upstairs to bed, but at four, my sleepless spouse couldn't take it any more. She bundled him up into the car, and drove almost an hour to the all-night vet clinic, where a battery of tests pointed to congestive heart failure, or worse.
Since then, we've spent an exhaustive day at the vets, a family waiting, gathering hope and losing it again, finally coming to accept the sad truth that after sixteen years of perfect health, Jacob is just too sick to go on for much longer. But I think we knew it in our hearts already, the moment we lost him to his nausea and pain. And though he is still technically with us now, the best we can do is make him comfortable, and hold him into the night.
I'm not a cat person, but Jacob's place in our lives has always been much bigger than furballs on the laundry, the occasional half-eaten mouse at the door. Once, the cat was our only child, adopted off the streets, loved against our better judgement. Back when we were working food service, living in sin out of a series of truly awful apartments, Jacob was the first thing that made us bigger than just ourselves, and we doted on him as he grew, carrying him over our shoulder even as we moved and stretched, until we finally began knocking him down the hierarchy to make room for a dog, and, later, our two beautiful girls.
In the last few years I've taken him for granted, focusing my energies on our own kids. I've pushed him away, claiming allergies and limited attention, even as his origin story became a favorite bedtime story for each of my children in turn. I regret that loss keenly tonight.
Now the kitty sleeps the drugged, logy sleep of the dying, his core temperature dropping, his kidneys burned out beyond repair. He hasn't eaten, and he won't walk. The girls went to bed all cried out, their faces puffy from a long day of disappointment; my wife's heart is broken, and we struggle to put words and brave faces to our grief as we ask the children to understand what it means to plan for painless death as a final gift of love.
But in the meantime, my small independent partner, brave mousehunter and constant companion, the only other man of the house, suffers in his newly-made bed. And since I cannot do anything else for him, I am left to grieve in the only way I know: by writing, and sharing, and praying out loud.
Grant me this forum, folks. It's all I have. We'll celebrate another day. For now, here's a short, slow playlist of loss, for a beloved family member's bedside vigil.
- Doug Marsch: Some Things Last A Long Time (orig. Daniel Johnston)
- Greg Brown w/ Bill Morrissey: He Was a Friend of Mine (trad./pop. Bob Dylan)
- Cat Power: He Was A Friend of Mine (ibid.)
- Susan Werner: Vincent (orig. Don McLean)
- Laura Cantrell: I'll Remember You (orig. Kui Lee)
- Jill Sobule: Don't Let Us Get Sick (orig. Warren Zevon)
- Eric Anderson: When I'm Gone (orig. Phil Ochs)
- Emmylou Harris: All My Tears (orig. Julie Miller)
- Emmylou Harris: Goodbye (orig. Steve Earle)
- De Dannan: Let It Be (orig. The Beatles)