Yesterday was one of those oddly rare days when everything comes to a standstill. You drop what you're doing and just wait. We waited while our cat waited to die.
As each team of parent and child was about to leave for various destinations, one observant daughter remarked that the cat was still on the porch and looking a bit lethargic. I had heard him trying to hurl a hairball – that unearthly yowl – earlier. Now, he was hunkered down in a corner. I sat beside him and started to pick him up when I noticed the urine. So I let him be and we started to watch, putting aside whatever it was we had intended to do.
His condition worsened and the wrangling began. He's almost 17 and, while struggling, did not seem to be suffering. We all still tasted the bitterness of our last elderly cat dying alone in a cage at the vet, the place she reviled. I knew picking him up, placing him in a box or carrier and transporting him to a clinic was not in his best interest. I didn't think he'd survive the journey, but was uncomfortable making the decision alone. We called everyone together and all agreed he was likely dying, but not in pain. He seemed in transition. And we wanted him home and surrounded by our loving, vigilant care. The same he had given as the newborns whimpered, when he'd circle my legs and cry to get my attention to attend to the baby. Or when I was sick and he'd plop on my bed. Or just a few weeks ago when he seemed to suck the pain from my old hip injury.
Prayerful discernment was NOT at all clear to take him anywhere. We quietly said our goodbyes; some more publicly than others.
All afternoon and evening, we muted our noisiness and centered our lives near him, continually checking, speaking softly and, occasionally, stroking his head. He seemed somewhere else.
It was sad, confusing for the girls, trying and exhausting, but there was also something else happening. There was a certain closeness in our togetherness, bound by our ailing feline friend. As if nothing of the outside world existed beyond our back porch. We puttered, read, ate, and even drug the computer out to watch a movie. I sensed he was comforted by our presence from his remote corner.
We barricaded the porch doors, confined his entrance to the kitchen, supplied food, water and bedding and left the back door open. My husband even slept on the living room couch to keep guard – whether of the cat or raccoons, I am not certain.
Then we all attempted to settle into sleep. The girls huddled in one room together and I dozed, waking once-in-a-while wondering if the cat's illness had been a dream, then drowsily remembering it was real.
I met the girls in the bathroom about 7:30 and we ventured down the stairs together, not wanting to be alone in any discovery. We were greeted by my smiling husband, who announced the cat had just eaten and purred as he does every morning.
We were joyously astounded. Secretly, I suspect none of us imagined he'd survive the night.
He's been incredibly hungry and wanting to be touched. We have lovingly complied, yet are still watching, giving him space and time to recuperate, heal or go wherever he is called.
It was an unusual second day of summer, but a wonderful gift in being called together to patiently wait. I can't help but see the spiritual overtones. I know summer always revs up, catching me off guard and unhappy as the speedometer ratchets up each week. Perhaps, in addition to spending time with our furry one, we were led to slow down and just be. Not rush.
Once again, this wonderful, elderly cat we affectionately call Him Kitty has facilitated a loving offering.
• What's it like to accompany sickness, grief or even death?
• How is that if experienced in community or with others?
• In dropping all else, have I been aware of some joy, comfort, gift or insight?
• How has that changed me?
• What has that kind of experience taught me about awareness?