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Living in the present is real work

January 31, 2012

If you are not a cat person, you might want to skip this one.

This is Oscar. We got him and his sister 16 years ago; she died last year from diabetes and thyroid problems.

Oscar is my friend. I don’t mean that as some kind of metaphor; I mean he seeks my company and I seek his, and we hang out together. He greets me when I get home from work and as I type this he’s lying on a cushion on my desk that is there for him. And being a cat he ensconces himself in my arms at night and stretches out and puts his paws on my shoulders and purrs himself to sleep. He’s my little buddy.

The health of an old cat

He isn’t doing very well. His health is deteriorating and his mind isn’t doing very well either. He often goes downstairs and calls out, looking for his sister. Yes, after 16 years I know his vocabulary at least that well.

He has cataracts, and moves with caution.. It takes him a long time to negotiate with his joints to lay down and get comfortable. He’s lost a lot of his formerly splendid muscle mass. We’ve had a couple near scrapes in the last few months, with vet visits, pushing fluids, medicine for his kidneys, treatment for impacted bowell. Last week I went looking for him in at three in the morning and found him under the steps, unresponsive.

Fluids, antibiotics, some kind of medicine for his kidneys. And more fluids. And he has rallied, again, and is getting around and enjoying life. Only I’m not sure he can do it another time; his liver is tender. It just may not be able to metabolize any more medicine. So while I don’t know how much time is left, there clearly isn’t a lot.

We’re just trying to make his time as nice as it can be and enjoy his company while he’s here.

But here’s the funny part, and by ‘funny’ I mean ‘funny-to-think-about’ not ‘funny ha-ha’.

I don’t know how various animals conceive of time, but it’s a fair bet that cats really don’t think about the future much. I think Oscar lives in a sort of eternal ‘now’ with little bits of ‘back then’ in his furry little memory. His confusion arises when he thinks his sister Holly is ‘now’ and he goes looking for her.

Not me though. Like most humans there’s a part of me that pretty much lives in the past – which is not as fixed as we would prefer to think. And quite a bit of me lives in the now, handling what I’m doing at the moment. And there’s also a large chunk of me that lives in the future.

This is the planning part of me, the worrying part of me*. And as I’ve found every time a friend, human or animal, approaches death, the part that gets an early start on grieving. That part of me lives in a time where Oscar is already gone, and already misses him.

Nobody said it was rational; it’s just human.

I don’t want him to go, but before long he will. It takes extra effort to tell that part of me to shut up so I can enjoy the present. The all-too-predictable future will get here when it gets here… I keep telling myself.

NOTES and updates:

  • The virtue of living in the “now” instead of in the future is subject of songs, poems, sappy novels and movies – even scripture. And sure enough that’s true when spending time with an ailing friend for example. But I’ve suffered through some things that were made easier by the fact that I knew they were time-limited; either I would get better or, well, stop hurting anyway. Considering what lay ahead gave me perspective to endure that present.
  • The worrying part of me is something my employers pay for. I can often anticipate what could go wrong so when it does, we’re ready.
  • We got Oscar and Holly from a box of kittens in a trailer court with a sign on it: “Free Kittens”. I was taking a nap and woke up with two little kittens dumped on me.
  • People with different cultural and family upbringings – not to say individual neurochemistry – probably have different proportions of past, present and future in their makeup.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 31, 2012 at 23:01 | #1

    Cats make for great friends just as much as dogs IMO. I prefer not to think about that day with my cat, I love her to death.

    Sorry to hear you are going through this George! Just make sure you give Oscar some good time while you can.

  2. wsobchak
    February 1, 2012 at 07:59 | #2

    My relatives still live in eastern Europe; they’re not much of living in the future people – some of it is cultural.

    If they have $100 in the bank (which is substantial to their income BTW), and you show up at the door they will grab it, go to the store and buy up hospitality stuff spending most, if not all of it. They may even go next door and borrow some.

    Their outlook is that the future will get taken care of – and it does generally – they never really move from their place in society (socially), but there is a social cushion where medical and basic social welfare is taken care of. There is a reliance on family as well (tribalism) that you will not run out of food, rent, heating while your relatives live close by because they can depend on both the familial and the social safety cushions.

    The more highly educated the people are in their culture, the higher their ability to project forward mobility, the more they tend to withhold money for future eventualities so they can control future outcomes. This is just my observation.

    I think this also explains some of the issues with Greek, Italian and Spanish government budget and welfare crisis currently of interest in EU.

    BTW: I know what you mean about the relationship with the cat and the ability to know what they want through their conversational sounds. One of my cats died last year – it was pretty traumatic.

  3. Les
    February 1, 2012 at 09:08 | #3

    Melvin the Official SEB cat is getting up there in age as well. We’ve not had any emergency issues with him so far, but he’s definitely moving a lot more slowly up and down the stairs these days and he takes his time getting comfortable. So I can definitely relate to what you’re going through.

    It’s hard not to think of that pending day when you watch your friend slowly ease himself down into a laying position because his joints are bothering him. It’s also something I try not to dwell on too much if I can.

  4. February 1, 2012 at 10:08 | #4

    Having dealt with a declining cat in the past, I have some small appreciation for how difficult a time it is.

    It occurs to me that we have lost more cats through simple vanishing in the out-of-doors (a couple of confirmed cases of predation). That was tragic, too, but it was sudden and contained and didn’t have the long anticipatory period.

    Speaking solely selfishly, I don’t know which is better (or less worse).

  5. February 1, 2012 at 13:26 | #5

    Spirit (bird)is 15 years old.
    Molly (cat) is 10.
    Brandy (dog) is 6.
    Tiki (bird) unknown.

    All members of our family. We have lost some others along the way and tears have been shed. But we try to keep the ones we have as best we can.

  6. WeeDram
    February 2, 2012 at 18:19 | #6

    Having met Oscar (and Leica), I really love this … in a sad yet warm way. (And as you know, my own Oscar was pretty special, a best friend who taught me a lot about love and humour. He also taught ISU students walking north on School Street about cat jokes.)

    You are right that it is very human to live in times other than the present (some people live more in the future than the past), but with practice we can learn to be present in this moment. Then we can be even more human.

  7. Karen
    February 4, 2012 at 01:54 | #7

    There was Odetta, who succumbed to old age (19+) in ’89. There was Boris, who escaped the supposedly cat-proof back yard through a hole under the fence, and got turned into jerky by the neighbor’s dog. His sister Natasha succumbed to old age a year ago at age 19+. Rocky and Paddy, ages 8 and 6 respectively, are true scaredy-cats whose paranoia will undoubtedly earn them long lives, but we will lose them someday too.

    It hurts.

    No, they don’t worry much about the future (unless it’s the immediate future and it involves cat carriers). But we do, and every unsteady movement, every difficulty climbing stairs, every visit to the vet to get yet another plugged bowel unstopped, tells us that our loss is coming.

    Yet, I watch my furry friends dozing on the bed, waiting for me to join them, and my faith is renewed: there’s hurt, but it’s worth it.

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