Wednesday, February 22, 2012

saying goodbye.

In January of 1995, Dan and I were 19 and 20 when we took a road trip from our first home together in Minneapolis (a house shared with 5 others...ahem) to Fergus Falls, Minnesota. An ad in the classifieds that morning caught my eye; "Bengal kittens for sale."

We arrived at the disheveled home of a strange woman named Kathy who led us up the stairs of her duplex to a dark bedroom containing the chaos of kittens far too young to be leaving home. And yet, here we were. One kitten wobbled over to us in the way kittens do and before long was asleep in Dan's arms. After instructions from Kathy about stopping at Burger King on the way home and tearing up a beef patty for our newest member, we left Fergus Falls with our tiny bundle, only stopping at Target along the way to pick up the essentials: food (read: not hamburgers), litter box, litter and scoop. And so it began.

Hank, we named him. A gorgeous fellow with huge, soulful eyes lined in black. Everyone commented on his eyes. And he was big, weighing in at 20 pounds at his peak. He didn't like many people it turned out, but he was tremendously loyal to his immediate family. He was an "always present" cat, not wanting people to pay him any attention, but just wanting to observe the action. When people were over, he would often lounge on the back of the couch, taking everything in with an adorable yet annoyed look on his face. Until Nedy entered the scene, he slept on my head every night with his paw over my face. And I loved it. He was my first baby.

When Nedy came along, he struggled at first, refusing to eat and hyper-salivating every time she came within a few feet of him. He tried to like her, I could tell, but he was scared silly of this small being. So while Nedy slept pretty well from the get-go, an unexpected blessing in terms of early-on in adoption, I got up at multiple times a night for a solid month to force-feed Hank while she slept. He came around eventually and he and Nedy became buds; he even seemed to enjoy her attention a little bit. (He'd never let on more than that anyway.) When Kamron entered the scene in April, Hank--at this point almost exclusively known as 'Mao Mao'--was an old pro with kids. Kam loved Mao Mao and was thrilled by his mere presence, even though Mao Mao never played anymore. Kam loved to say "kiss, kiss" and bend over to try reaching Hank's lips with his.

In Fall of 2011, I began to notice Hank's decline. He was losing weight and throwing up multiple times a day. At 16 years of age and given his history as an insulin dependent diabetic for a period in 2008, I suspected kidney failure. Hank absolutely hated going to the vet, despite our lovely vet's best efforts to calm him there. His folder was marked "danger" because of his loud resistance to the touch of strangers. Given his age, Dan and I decided to not put him through any more vet visits and agreed that we'd keep an eye on him, love him lots, and if the time came and he needed it, we would get a vet's help for a peaceful death.

The month of February brought with it a very quick decline in Mao Mao's health. He was moving more slowly, not eating as much, throwing up a lot, and acting oddly--though momentarily enjoyably--as he did as a kitten by reverting to long outgrown behaviors of rolling around in the bathtub meowing and emptying his water bowl all over the floor with his paw. I found that reversion so touching; happy and sad. And isn't that life?

By the second week of February, Mao Mao's diabetes had clearly returned evidenced by his water consumption, the resulting state of his litter box, and very rapid weight loss. His back felt like a mini mountain range. It was time. But the problem was that I couldn't bare the thought of his last moments being terrifying at the vet's office. I told a friend about this and he said, "I have a home-visiting vet, you know." And so I got in touch with Dr. Frank who owns a one-man show home-visiting vet practice called Special Care Veterinary Service. Dr. Frank spent 40 minutes talking to me on the phone about everything from how to decide when, to the process itself, to talking to the kids. It turns out Dr. Frank was the former business partner of our vet and had access to Hank's file and a fellow parent by adoption--what are the odds?! He told me he would review Hank's file and await our call for him to come.

Well, with kids to think about, Valentine's Day didn't seem right and Hank got an unexpected burst of energy that day, which I knew meant the time was close. The day after Valentine's Day is Nedy's Family Day. By the grace of God, Hank's energy spurt carried him through that day, giving us a beautiful time to remember. Late that night, after the kids went to bed, Hank really slowed down and vomited (sorry for the graphic stuff, but this is my therapy right now) a new kind of substance that we knew meant this was really the end. He crawled into my lap that night and I held him for hours. I thanked him for teaching me to be a Mama, for sticking it out as long as he did, and told him we loved him and wanted peace for him. I can't tell you how calm I felt in that moment; I am so thankful for that time.

On Thursday, February 17, Dan took charge. He knew I was ready, but that he needed to handle this part because, frankly, I'm a wimp. He called Dr. Frank and scheduled him to come that day. The long and short of it is that that afternoon Hank/Mao Mao died on Dan's lap in our home perfectly peacefully. Exactly as it should have been for him.

Dr. Frank was amazing. He examined Hank thoroughly in our family room and determined that Hank had an abdominal mass and advanced kidney failure, common in a cat of his age. He was there over an hour and Dan said he was such a great guy; such a kind person. Mao Mao apparently had the energy for one hiss when he first arrived, but seemed to be okay with him after that. I'm glad Mao Mao had a hiss left in him; that made me laugh through my tears as Dan told me the details that night. Dr. Frank took Hank's body for cremation.

Dan and I drove up to my Mom and Dad's that night to pick up the kids. We were running much later than they are usually picked up and when we got there our explanation of that was met with Nedy's tears and her questions about Mao Mao's passing. We had been preparing her for over a month, letting her know that Mao Mao was slowing down, that he would die soon, that he lived a long, good life and that it was his time to die. We talked about Heaven, about Mao Mao's version of Heaven, about God and his promises and, frankly, about death being part of life. And I'm happy to say that I think we prepared her really well. She is clear that he is not coming back, she understands life is a cycle, and she is comfortable talking about Mao Mao, about her memories of him, about missing him and being sad. And that is what I hoped for. (She also occasionally mentions that a good way to remember Mao Mao would be to get a kitten, though she knows we need to let some time pass. Clever girl.) As for my little lovey Kam, my Mom made him laminated pictures of Mao Mao. He walks around with them on occasion or flips to Mao's photo in his little album and says, "Mao Mao...died." Sad. But true. Life.

And so, a chapter ends and a new one begins. To my first baby, my eternal thanks for your love. You will never be forgotten. I hope the catnip fields are as lush as Nedy and I imagine. :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012


For the better part of a year now, Nedy's had an imaginary friend. She named her Oshwabe. (Oh-shwah-bay.) I thought I should document Oshwabe's bio.

Oshwabe is 5 years old. She has lots of dance parties. She has contests at her house frequently and gives away medals for the winners. She has a little brother and he doesn't listen very well, but she's really nice to him anyway. Oshwabe loves talking on the phone and often asks Nedy if she wants to come over and play. Sometimes Oshwabe lives in the city by us and sometimes she lives far out in the country. Oshwabe is Chinese.

I have taken to calling Oshwabe "the Shwabster". Nedy always corrects me. "Ummmm, Mama. Her name is Oshwabe, not the Shwabster." But I can't help myself. It's funny to call your kid's imaginary friend "the Shwabster". Even if she doesn't think so.

Kamron knows Oshwabe's name, too. "Shwabe? Phone? Shwabe?" I looooove it. I had an imaginary friend named Michaela growing up. As I understand it, my sister Jackie asked to take her to school for 'show and tell' and came home after school with the news that Michaela had been hit by the bus. I hope Kamron doesn't borrow this move from the Aunt Jackie playbook... :)