I’m so sad. More than I ever expected. I have never professed to be the animal lover of our family. But I have gotten especially close to Scout, our tiger kitty, in the past several years. He’s been my cuddler and nudger out of bed. Today, we had to have him put down. He was 16 years old and was the best companion our family could have asked for. He was dropped off at the end of our driveway shortly after his birth with a very bad eye infection. We got him healthy and he’s been that up until a couple of years ago. You are going to be so missed, Scouty. Thank you for loving us so much.
As it’s been the past two blog posts writing responses to the five prompts from A Chronic Voice’s Linkup Party for People with Chronic Illnesses, July 2020 has found me completely changing what I was going to write about because something else is heavy on my heart.
The past couple of weeks have been ones of loss for my family. First, my Uncle Bill who was a surrogate father and now our Scout, our silly tiger kitty for the last 16 years. Today, I write from grief that comes from deep within.
Every morning as if he could tell time, Scout would hesitantly (at first) nudge his wet nose into my ear, purring like a little motor. The morning routine was started. I then, rolled over, pulling the covers closer to covering my face, but often leaving one arm out above my head, hand dangling. He’d get a bit more persistent, butting my hand over and over with the top of his head.
As of late, that isn’t enough to get me fully awake. I roll over again. So now, he knew he had to get tough. Scout would leave my head and walk over to my nightstand, knocking one item off at a time. First, he would paw my little statue of the Eiffel Tower I had actually bought on Kel and my 25th anniversary trip to Paris. I would hear the metal slide, slide, slide until it plunked to the carpeted floor below. He would then come back to my head, purring into my ear to see if I was going to get up. I had begun to ignore this first attempt, so he would go back to bat the next item to the floor.
Kelley and I feigned being bothered by this morning wake-up, but really it was nice knowing we were needed and not forgotten.
It was my 40th birthday, and the kids were outside playing with the balloons from my party. There was a tiny little orange dot at the end of the driveway. The cars zoomed down our street not even noticing that a kitten lay helpless in the gravel. Andrew and Chelsea, 15 and 13, were outside with the neighbor kids when they heard a tiny mew demanding to be heard. They walked nearer to the end of the drive, with the feeling that there was something that needed their help. When they reached the orange fuzzball, they found Scout, eye glued shut from infection.
He can’t be more than two weeks old, my husband said as Chelsea cuddled the shivering kitten in her arms.
Can we keep him? Andrew asked, the longing in his blue eyes. He knew that we traveled too much to have a dog, but he was hoping that we’d allow them to keep the kitten. Kelley looked over at me with a Well,-what-do-ya-think?-look, and I shrugged. I guess, but you guys are going to have to take care of him.
As Scout grew, he became more and more a person. His wacky personality was a favorite of conversation. He got a bit chubby, loving to eat like he did. However, he was also very energetic and athletic. A few times a day, he’d stampede through the house like an orange streak, zipping up the stairs then back, skidding across the kitchen floor. He’d chase his own wily tail is the snakelike thing eluded his every move.
One of his most incredible feats is when jump to the highest banister in the house, defying death as he hefted his belly up onto the balance beam. Our three-story home had an open banister from the top bedroom level to the living room. Scout made like a drunken, clown on that high wire beam above. It was amazing that he never fell!
In addition, Scout nourished each of my children’s hearts. He gave love to each of them. Scout made sure to sleep with each kid equally during the night. He’d cuddle one and then leave to cuddle the next. Chelsea and Andrew each felt that he loved them best of all.
As Scout grew, he became more and more a person. His wacky personality was a favorite of conversation. He got a bit chubby, loving to eat like he did. However, he was also very energetic and athletic. A few times a day, he’d stampede through the house like an orange streak, zipping up the stairs then back, skidding across the kitchen floor. He’d chase his own wily tale as is the snake-like thing eluded his every move.
One of his most incredible feats is when jump to the highest banister in the house, defying death as he hefted his belly up onto the balance beam. Our three-story home had an open banister from the top bedroom level to the living room. Scout made like a drunken, clown on that highwire beam above. It was amazing that he never fell!
In addition, Scout nourished each of my children’s hearts. He gave love to each of them. Scout made sure to sleep with each kid equally during the night. He’d cuddle one and then leave to cuddle the next. Chelsea and Andrew each felt that he loved them best of all
I’ve never been a pet person. My little sister loved animals much better than humans, she still does. Me, while I may appreciate them now and again, an animal just isn’t going to win my heart. So, for me, having an extra being to care for was just one more responsibility in this full-time working mom’s life. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Scout, it was more that I saw him as a chore on my to-do list. And so, for many years, I was just tolerating the extra work of scooping out his litter box, cleaning up the hairballs, or filling his food and water dish. I didn’t really consider myself one of his companions or he mine.
The years went by; Andrew and Chelsea got busy with their adult lives. Little Scout wasn’t on their minds as they moved out to college and the lives beyond our home. Kelley and I filled the food and water dishes. Kelley changed the kitty litter. Scout began to lay on Kelley’s legs every night as he sat watching the TV.
Little by little that lovey fella became my buddy, too. When I was down and out, laying in bed and feeling lonely due to a Fibro Flare, Scout was always nearby. His warmth often eased the pain in my gut as this was a favorite place for him to lay.
In the past year, as I began to get stronger, pour Scout was getting thinner and thinner. We tried special food and medicine, feeding him both morning and night. But, after we got back from our four-day trip this past week, we knew he couldn’t keep going on as he had been.
My aunt and uncle had just come home to Michigan from quarantining in Arizona, so I made this video for him of me playing Take Me Home, Country Roads.
The last time I saw my Uncle Bill was two days before he passed. He was lying in a hospital bed in a facility that cares for the elderly. His mind and body were giving away to dementia. He had stopped eating. He kept his eyes closed.
I arranged a Skype call with the activities director. She brought in her iPad. Seeing his drawn features and closed eyes, I knew it would be my last time to see him. I had practiced most of the quarantine on the old wooden ukulele my aunt had given me. It had been his. He told us, kids, the story of when he would go and play the old tunes for his mom and the other residents. Even when his mom didn’t know him anymore, he said she recognized the songs. And so, I played Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver. It was hard for me to make it through without crying. Uncle Bill never looked at me, but he did grab at the iPad and pulled it closer to him. All I can imagine is that he wanted to let me know he heard. I told him I loved him. And then I asked the nurse to make sure to play some upbeat music. He loved music.
Grieving and Honoring
And so I grieve. But, I do know that I loved both my uncle and my Scouty well. And, I know that they loved me. This is what it means to live FULLY. So, I will allow myself to feel the pain of losing them both during these last weeks. I honor our connection through my memories. I will continue to practice the ukulele; it sits in the corner of my living room. Uncle Bill, his smile, and music will remain a big piece of my life. I will think of Scout every time I begin to wake, honoring him by living each day with uncompromising love and honesty.
Those of us who live with chronic illness know what it means to mourn loss. Those of us who have dared to love, know what the ache when we lose those we’ve let into our lives.â€œWe bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.Helen Keller
When we face loss, I find it helps to respond by being present in our grief. Stay in what is happening right now. Breathe. Remember. Laugh. Cry. Continue to love fully both those we’ve lost and those who remain. It’s all a part of a FULL life.
The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice linkup. This month the topics were Searching, Hoping, Traumatizing, Honoring, and Responding. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at July 2020 Linkup (scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).