Squee lived with me his entire life. Well, he spent the first six weeks at a cat shelter, but after that he came into my family for sixteen and a half years. In 2002, while Mary was doing her high school community service at Cats Exclusive she fell in love with a little black kitty named “Zoro.” Mary managed to convince me that we needed to add this little guy to our home, which already contained two cats and one dog.
Mary promised she would care for the new kitty, but that was never really the case. When all was said and done, Mary went off to college and Zoro, now renamed Squee, stayed behind with me. I was always his Mommy. Even when he grew to be a very old man and developed hyperthyroidism which shrunk him from a robust 16 pounds to his final weight of 5.4 pounds, I was still, always, his Mommy.
When I moved in with Russ in 2007, Max the cat and Cookie the dog had already left this world, crossing over the Rainbow Bridge to wait with Fritz and Wendy and Zoot and Tapper and Lucy and all the others who, without their unconditional love, Heaven could not be truly Heaven.
Only Squee and Boogins came with me to Alabama and we formed a new family with Russ. After Boogins also departed this world in 2012, our family dynamics changed again. Before that, Squee had always been a bit aloof. Boogins, as the older brother, was so confident and personable and adorable, he tended to suck up all the oxygen in the room. Though the two were buddies, there was also an undeniable sense of sibling rivalry on Squee’s part. When Boogins was around, Squee was always only “the other cat.”
But when Boogins left us, Squee finally had the opportunity to blossom in the role he had apparently always desired — The Only Child, the apple of his Mommy’s eye. Whereas before he would never even consider jumping up into my lap (mostly, perhaps, because Boogs was already there), now at last, finally…there he was! I’ll always remember how surprised I was the first time it happened. I sat still and quiet until he settled himself down. Russ walked into the room, and I just pointed at Squee, and Russ too was amazed! Eventually it became an almost daily routine, the pounce into the lap, the kneading, the settling, and the contented catnap.
Previously, with two cats in the house, Russ and I would always close the bedroom door at night, because there is nothing more annoying than waking up in the middle of the night with two cats hissing and sparring at the foot of your bed. But now that it was only Squee, we opened the door, and many times he would jump up on the bed and cozy up by my feet, or in the crook behind my bent knees.
This is what Squee had always longed for, to have his Mommy’s complete attention, and I’m very glad that in the last years of his life I had the opportunity to give him that. And even though he never really “bonded” with Russ the way he did with me, I feel confident in saying that Russ did not mind it when I talked to Squee about all the things “Mommy and Daddy” were planning to do for him.
Those last couple of years with Squee were difficult, watching him age, watching him shrink as a result of his hyperthyroidism, no matter how much medicine we gave him, and watching his health deteriorate. We did everything we could to make him as comfortable as possible. We adjusted his medicine as needed, and we eventually found the perfect cat food, one that completely agreed with his sensitive stomach. We fed him in the most fabulous invention ever, the Feed and Go wheel, that allowed him to eat several small meals throughout the day while we were at work, sometimes eating every two or three hours, just like (I’m told) cats in the wild, who munch on mice or small birds as often as they can be caught. I’m completely convinced this marvelous invention kept Squee alive and happy for very much longer than he would have been otherwise.
We found a good vet who, unlike some other vets I’ve known, really actually cared about cats, rather than just viewing felines as a necessary annoyance in an otherwise canine practice. Of course Squee never much enjoyed going to the vet but merely endured the poking and prodding every six to eight weeks, when I took him for a nail clipping and B-12 shot.
Towards the end he also got a few does of fluids, because he was dehydrated, even though he was drinking so much more than ever before, and even though I was “spiking” two or three of his daily meals with chicken broth (roasted chicken bones cooked with apple cider vinegar overnight in the crockpot, then strained and frozen as individual servings that were microwaved in a bowl to provide a soupy base for his canned food.)
I feel confident I did everything I could to make Squee’s life as comfortable as possible, and Russ was so agreeable, not squawking at all about the cost of the food or vet bills. Russ was super through all this. He recognized way before me that the end was coming and gently talked to me about it, but it took a little longer for me to accept the truth.
That finally happened last Wednesday. I had been noticing for a while that Squee was having some difficulty moving around. He would take a few steps then stop and stand there for a good long while. Was this mental decline? Did he forget where he was trying to go? Or was it physical, his old muscles just aching too much? Or maybe a little bit of both?
Then last week I began to notice him stumbling around a bit, his back legs going out from under him. I didn’t say anything about it, but on Wednesday Russ mentioned that he had seen the same thing. And then it hit me. It was time.
That last night, after we made the decision, Squee did not even jump up to sleep in his favorite chair, covered by his favorite blankets. Instead, it appears he spent his last night crouched on the floor. He looked so uncomfortable. I felt it was the sign I had been asking God to give me. At last I knew there was only one more thing I could really do to keep him from being uncomfortable.
In the morning, we took Squee to the vet, the one that likes cats, and he was still 5.4 pounds as he had been on his previous visit a couple of weeks before, and it helped me when the vet explained that his stumbling could be due to the deterioration of his muscle mass. I knew from picking him up that he was basically nothing but skin and bones at this point.
I gently hugged my tiny cat of skin of bones, but not too hard, and talked to him softly as the vet got ready to give him the shot. Squee struggled in my arms, but then the vet gave him the shot, and in only a moment my little cat went limp in my arms, he stopped struggling. And my main impression at that moment was that for a quite a while life had been a struggle for us. Russ and I were struggling to keep him comfortable, and Squee was struggling to stay alive, to stay healthy and hydrated, and then finally he was struggling simply to move, to jump up into his favorite chair. But now the struggle was over.
I must tell you I’ve cried quite a few times in the last week, and will probably cry again. But not only for Squee. Yes, I miss my kitty cat baby, but to be honest, I don’t miss scooping his litter box, buying expensive food, cooking roasted chicken bones, setting up the Feed and Go, worrying about him and how much less he might weigh on his next visit to the vet. Life is now going to be a lot easier, and a lot less worrisome, to be sure. And so much different.
Because I did the math and realized that for the last 34 years I have had at least one cat (or more, and once as many as four cats at one time, which I wouldn’t recommend!) I also had cats before that, off and on, but I have been a Cat Guardian, without pause, for 34 years.
So now I have to get used to a “new normal.” Russ and I have agreed to be “childless,” (no cats or dogs!) for the foreseeable future. We’re hoping to enjoy some of the advantages of a life without pets —a cleaner house, more freedom to travel, less worry and commotion. I’m looking forward to all that.
But at the same time, I feel guilty about seeing the plus side of no longer being a Cat Guardian. Am I dishonoring Squee’s memory by looking forward to a life without him?
I will say this: I’m glad he’s no longer uncomfortable. Or struggling. Or, maybe, even in pain. I’m glad he’s joined Boogins and Cookie and all the rest on the other side, waiting for his Mommy to join him, to join them all, so Heaven will truly be Heaven for all of us.
I just hope he will be a little more sociable and not fuss about having to share the spotlight! Because when I get there, there will be a LOT of furry friends getting my attention!
But in the meantime, I’m still here. Cat-less, childless. If you think about it, this is really the first time in my life I’m experiencing the “Empty Nest.” Joey moved out two months before I joined Russ in Alabama. Two months of organizing, planning and packing is not enough time or the right set of circumstances to fully embrace the Empty Nest.
And then when I got to Alabama, I had Russ. And I also still had Boogins and Squee. And when Boogins died, I still had Squee to take care of. But now I have no one to take care of. Russ is telling me I can take care of him, but I think he’s being “tongue in cheek,” just trying to make me feel better, because he doesn’t need taking care of, at least not the same way a pet does. So at last I have no one to take care of. At last I truly have an Empty Nest.
In a while I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now it’s only been a few days, and it feels weird. I’m still sad about Squee being gone, and as excited as I am about beginning a new phase in my life, I’m also sad for that time of my life that is now behind me. I know I’ll never forget Squee, the same way I’ll never forget Boogins or Cookie or any of the others. I know each day will get easier, will feel more normal. But I’m not there yet. Not quite. But I wanted to come here and write about this now, while I’m still in the middle of it, so later, when the “new normal” has kicked in, I can come back and read these words and remember what this feels like, and be grateful that the sadness doesn’t last forever.