I am sitting up with Morgana, our nineteen-year-old kitty. She is dying.
Her decline has been rapid. A week ago she was still jumping up onto counters. She has had trouble getting around increasingly this week, her jumps deteriorating into crashes, and as of today she cannot walk at all. If I hold her upright and support her weight she can stagger to where she wants to go, and thus we communicate enough for me to help her get what she needs.
Most of today she has spent in her kitty bed, breathing shallowly, eyes not quite closed, not sleeping, watching me, periodically meowing silently. When she needs my help, she either struggles to move or makes a low, short moan, and we work together to figure out what she needs. She has drunk only a little water today, eaten only a little food, and grown quieter and weaker throughout the day. I doubt she will last another day, perhaps not even the night.
Over the course of my life, I have had many cats in my family, but for almost half my life my immediate family was Beverly, Shakti, and Morgana. Of our two kitties, gray-tabby Shakti was the smarter, weirder, and antisocial of the two, and tortoise-shell Morgana has been the fearless one with the indomitable will and expressive, sometimes operatic voice. Morgana, no slouch in the smarts department herself, learned to open closed doors at our old house and likes being read to (especially children's books about cats), but it is the core of her personality that shines at the end.
When we first brought Shakti and Morgana home all those years ago, they had just been spayed and were still recovering from the anesthesia. They were both dizzy from the drug. Shakti just lay down on the carpet, her head swaying as she focused on looking around without falling over. Morgana, true to form, would not be subdued by the dizziness, and staggered around the room exploring, falling over, and getting back up repeatedly. She even tried to jump up onto furniture in the room, with predictable results, and once fell over onto Shakti. Although Shakti was six months older than Morgana and rapidly grew to be twice her weight, for the first half of their lives with us Morgana was clearly the top cat, dominating by her inexhaustible energy and sheer will to have things exactly the way she wants them (a classic tortie trait).
We lost Shakti to renal failure two years ago.
Now, at Morgana's end, she is still true to form. Although exhausted and unable to bear her own weight most of the time today, five times today when sufficiently motivated she still dragged herself to her feet and staggered to her destination, be it the pee pad we put down for her or back to her little bed. She teetered up onto all fours, tilting crazily, staggered forward a few steps, fell, and got back up again and continued on until she reached her destination, much like she did eighteen and a half years ago. Step by step, she reverts to the helpless kitten and I to her surrogate mama.
I have written at times about the inadequacies of language for genuine communication, as well as about my own linguistic inadequacies, and these both strike me strongly at times like this. I cannot convey what it means for a man without children to lose a cat who has been a beloved member of the family for almost half his life. My life so far, my prospects for the future, my priorities, are all slightly clarified by these passages of mortality, by these periods of caring and waiting and comforting and weeping.
Grief can be more than just a pathos, a suffering; it can also be a lense or a still. Aeschylus, in Agamemnon, wrote "drop by drop, wisdom is distilled from pain." A bitter bargain: an alchemy of loss with a reek of necromancy to transform dumb suffering into a faintly wiser suffering, to extract a hair's breadth more clarity in exchange for a beloved life.