Thursday, February 5, 2015

One cat + one cat = powerful lesson learned

So, we have a new cat. Well, she’s not new, really. She’s 10 months old. But, she is new-to-us. That sounds like a sales pitch on a used car, I think. But you know what I mean. We’ve had her since the end of October.

Now, you’re probably cringing. “Oh lord, now he’s going to write about his cat? Poop. I liked it better when he was writing about having two spleens. Or, when he was talking about dragging his daughter over the snow? That was entertainment, baby.”

Yuh, yuh, yuh. I am writing about our cat, but the truth is that I think I’m really talking about loss, and how to deal with it.

For 12 years, Sheri and I had the only pet we’ve had together- Samantha, also a cat, a mix, but predominantly Rag doll. As pets are apt to do, she became a huge part of our lives. We got her the day she was dropped off at the humane association, just a few months after we moved to Maine.

The initial thought was that she’d keep Sheri company when I was working nights. There was also talk of her providing protection. However, when we got her she could fit in the palm of your hand and the only way she could protect anyone was if you threw her in the face of a burglar and hope that she put out her claws to grab on.

If you’ve had a pet, regardless of what type of animal it was, you know how she/he took up more and more space in our hearts as Samantha did as we moved through lives as a trio. She developed diabetes, which gave us the chance to do things for her that would help keep her healthy.

She got sick in July of 2013. Our family vet did what she could, but sent us to a specialist somewhere in southern Maine (and I don’t remember where, exactly). When they had done all they could, they sent us to a specialist in New Hampshire. When they had done all they could…

The loss we felt was horrible. We'd done everything the best veterinarians could do. In the end, they were hard put to say what the specific problem was, but cancer seemed to have been at least partly responsible. I was sure I would never have another pet. I knew if we had one, I would end up loving it with all my heart, and I just didn’t want to be that vulnerable again… ever.

Well, lo and behold, just about a month after Samantha died, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. There must be some cosmic message in there, but all I can tell you is that I shed far more tears over losing Samantha than I did over having cancer. That’s still the case, by the way.

As readers, you know how difficult our journey through cancer has been. But, I didn’t tell you how often during the months of pain, fear and isolation I thought about bringing a new cat into our family.
I couldn’t, though. It probably sounds ridiculous, but it didn’t feel right bringing a new cat into Samantha’s home. I realize how that sounds, believe me. But it’s true, and that’s the agreement I made with you when I first started writing this column- If I was going to tell you something, it would be true, and that’s the truth about bringing home a new cat.

Also, though, I just wasn’t sure I could make that emotional commitment again. As time went by, I became- slowly- open to having a new cat. I thought about it for a while before I finally mentioned the possibility to Sheri.
 
When I did, our new cat was home with us three days later; it would have been sooner, but the local humane association was closed for a day. Sheri was as devastated by Samantha’s loss as I was, but she was able to consider the wonderful time we had with her and the happiness she shared with us quicker than I did. I was still focused on the loss. So, she had a list of websites propviding cats we could adopt.

Mackenzie (named for a wonderful friend of Sheri’s who died of pancreatic cancer shortly after we moved to Maine) has settled in and so have we. Physically, she is the exact opposite of Samantha. She is various shades of brown, where Samantha was predominantly grey. Kensie, as we call her, is so dark, unless her eyes are open, you cannot tell if she is facing you or not. At night, both of us have spent time talking cat baby talk to a pair of shoes, thinking the dark mass before us was our new cat.

In terms of health, this has been a difficult winter for Sheri and me. My stomach pains are worse than ever, and Sheri has had some sort of infection that has laid her flat for weeks. But we have Kensie, who makes us smile… a lot. She is funny, lively, smart and boisterous. She is loving and very rarely sits in a spot where she cannot see we are with her.

Samantha is still in our hearts, for sure. But with Kensie, even as she insists on walking all over the computer keyboard with absolutely no thought as to whether I’m trying to get some work done, I have learned that the only way to deal with loss is to continue love fully. Yes, pain and loss suck; I’ve lost people who were truly important to me in the last few weeks, and it did suck and it was terribly painful.

But, to love completely, and with all your heart no matter the risk? It took two cats for me to realize that it's the only way to live.

 There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”