A Day in the Life of a Senior Kitty and Her Mom

Another article in celebration of Peaches’ 100th Birthday.

cat peaking over blanket

The usual awakening.

Peaches didn’t awaken me this morning. All the black cats were on me or on my bed and Cookie was curled in the position of honor on my left against my ribs where she could feel my heart beat against her back. Kelly was having a bath on the sunny windowsill in hall and Dickie peeked in on his way from his favorite bed in the bathroom to the steps. I watched the doorway for a minute or two thinking she’d come upstairs once she noticed the activity. But no Peaches.

Not all my cats sleep with me every night, and not all participate in my awakening in the morning. But usually any cat who is in some chronic condition will be there in the morning or will show up in the doorway, make eye contact with me, our way of checking in with each other. If they don’t, it may not be a good sign. Peaches is very consistent and usually sleeps on me, and if not she doesn’t let me sleep late so this likely meant she wasn’t feeling well in one way or another.

She was fine last night, I thought, or just a few hours ago when I finally got to bed, and she was great all day yesterday. Things can change unexpectedly when the kitty is in chronic renal failure, though, so I bypassed my usual wakeup routine, put my glasses over my sore eyeballs and headed straight for the stairs.

She looked up at me from the butterfly rug where she was settled with all paws curled underneath, but she didn’t sit up or get up, and I could see her eyes were not as round and open as usual. Begin the diagnosis: she is dehydrated to a certain extent, she may be feeling some general indigestion as a side effect of the renal failure we’ve been fighting, and she might be constipated, an issue for Peaches as long as she’s been with me and common since she’s been in fluid therapy, plus she’d been eating very well but I hadn’t seen a significant “deposit” from her yesterday.

Well, let’s see how she eats at breakfast. Sometimes she’s a little sluggish. I was just buying time, though; I knew this wasn’t the case.

This was a very busy day ahead, I had stayed up late to get work done and especially made sure Peaches was in good shape so I wouldn’t have to worry while I was out. I really didn’t have time to fuss and fret over Peaches, but of course I would.

man and cat

My brother Mark and Cookie take a break from yardwork.

What was on the agenda for today? Complete minor corrections to design jobs customers had sent over yesterday; pick up post cards and greeting cards for the show I’m having Friday through Sunday, deliver them to another printer to score and fold, pick up the ones that are done, pack in boxes; call the nursing home I’d be moving my mother to later this week; call the personal care home she currently lived in and make arrangements to pack her belongings and settle paperwork; pick up a check from a customer at noon, deposit; order greeting card boxes; talk to disabled brother about his budget for May; work on a few of the bigger jobs on my desk right now; photograph some of the new pieces for the show; visit mom in the hospital…I knew I’d be out or otherwise occupied all day, so I got as much in order as I could before I went to bed.

Each of us has days that are full, and herein lies the quandary of caring for a chronically ill pet. When I worked away from home I was always frantic about leaving my cats when I knew they were ill. I also didn’t know symptoms and simple treatments as I do now. Working at home, even when I’m out for a good bit of the day, and with two family members who regularly need care, paperwork or more, I have the flexibility to treat my cats throughout the day. But I give thanks to all the senior cats who’ve come before and taught me what to look for and what to do.

Peaches came in the kitchen, ate a little dry food, ate a little canned food, then left. Eating in general is good, but Peaches usually eats like she didn’t just eat a few hours ago, pacing around on her countertop, waving her paw at me until she gets her food, focusing entirely on it until the first serving is done, having a good long drink of water. This could mean many things, and it was up to me to figure out.

She was on the butterfly rug again when I went to my computer a little later, and didn’t move to jump onto my lap, as usual. I looked at her and felt just a flash of irritation, then concern.

peaches and Kelly on the butterfly rug

Peaches and Kelly

Right now Peaches is a priority, not just because she’s my sweet little senior cat and her birthday is Saturday, but also because at her age and in renal failure, she can crash fast. I’ve seen her feeling fine in the morning, by evening her skin feels like bread dough and I need to get a reasonable dose of sub-Q fluids into her, and it will often take until the middle of the next day before she’s eating well again and feeling comfortable. So, let’s start the triage, then I can observe her while I get some work done before I leave the house, which means working with one eye on Peaches and getting up to follow her if she gets up to leave the room, which I’ve been doing for so many years with a succession of cats that it’s second nature now.

First, Petromalt, which I found long ago softens up nicely in the pocket of my bathrobe so that when you shove it in the cat’s mouth they can’t spit it back out in a lump. Peaches got two half-inch gobs, all of which went in. Ooo, not happy.

Second, just in case she’s developed any type of an infection, I take her temperature, finding it normal but also serving to grease up her other end. Just in case she is constipated, the thermometer and the petroleum jelly will help to dislodge something that may be in the way. Peaches has had bowel problems since before she was with me, and even on a mostly wet food diet with fiber supplement and a little sip of milk every few days—nope, I don’t like to give them milk either, but I discovered years ago that the extra fluid plus the fat in the milk can help an older cat with hairballs and constipation, and a tablespoon won’t hurt—she’ll still have occasional problems.

Third, aforementioned milk. Peaches was mad at me and ran, she’s a little suspicious but forgets she’s mad when she sees her dish and the milk carton. She doesn’t finish it, also not a good sign.

photo of two tortie cats

Cookie and Kelly at the computer

Let her sit, get more work done. Posting on Facebook, calling to confirm my order for greeting card boxes, calling printer to ensure my printing is done. Peaches leaves several times, always just to the water bowl in the kitchen and back; this is good. I make one more call, and off goes Peaches, headed for the basement. I finish my call and follow.

I’m not sure if she’s not entirely comfortable with any of the ten litterboxes in the house, but Peaches no longer uses one, even the empty, fairly flat one I added just for her. She prefers the floor in two areas. Fine, I can clean up after that very easily, and it’s almost convenient because I always know what she’s “done”; this can be hard to tell in a house with nine cats unless I confine her, which upsets her.

photo of calico cat

Do I look hungry enough?

Okay, there’s number 1 in the number 1 area, then number 2 in the number 2 area. Good girl! Yes, it was more than her usual, so that likely was the problem. Clean up, back up to the kitchen. After a little clean-up on the butterfly rug, Peaches is actually hungry.

I call my neighbor who recently graduated from vet tech school and who watched my cats while I was away three weeks ago, leaving a message asking if she has the time for fluids for Peaches. I can dose Peaches myself but it’s a little bit of a struggle. I also like Teri’s help; she will make a wonderful vet tech some day when the job market opens up again. Peaches really likes her and is completely relaxed when the two of us give her fluids; I also like being able to help Teri keep her hands in the business while she’s applying for jobs and working in a pet food store.

So between other phone calls and getting work done for customers, I feed Peaches a little at a time as she asks. By mid-morning she’s resting on my lap, by late morning when I’m ready to start my errands—a little later than anticipated because I wanted to be sure she was comfortable before I left—she is pretty much back to normal.

This was an easy morning, made easier by years of experiences with many other cats growing older. With each one I sharpened my observational ability, learned a new physical skill in caring for them such as dosing subcutaneous fluids, learned a lesson in symptoms and side effects, learned to control my fears and relax because I’d project my feelings on the cat, sensitive to me in return, and only make the situation worse.

Being an artist I’m attuned to minute physical changes in familiar things, especially my cats. After finding a veterinarian who didn’t wave me off when, for instance, I said my cat’s eyes weren’t as big as they normally were, I learned to trust these observations as well learning that a squint can be a sign of pain and sunken eyes appearing smaller than normal can be a sign of dehydration.

photo of my mother

My mother two years ago.

And I’ve been able to use the knowledge I’ve gained in treating my cats to understand the same illnesses in humans, and vice versa. My mother has a history of illnesses and surgeries, including with the lung cancer surgery and subsequent COPD, renal failure and congestive heart failure that necessitated her move to personal care several years ago. I had learned about renal failure prior to that from treating one of my cats, so I understood what was happening with her when I saw the symptoms.

And when my Namir was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure he was prescribed the same medications as my mother, and it was comforting to be familiar with what each would do for him.

In fact, I had the same conversation with my mother’s doctor and with my veterinarian on nearly the same day about the importance of hydration: if we could keep these older bodies hydrated they’d be much healthier generally, my mother’s medications would work better, my cats would have a better appetite, both would have more vitality and their organs would function better and for longer. It’s a struggle to get my mother to drink enough liquids, and I can’t just pop a needle under her skin to hydrate her as I can my cats, and it’s always a comfort to me when I see the sometimes miraculous recovery after a simple dose of fluids.

watercolor painting of rainbow and hearts

Original sketch for Heal Your Heart.

I ran all my errands, made all my calls, checked on Peaches, checked on my mother, at the end of another day all is as well as it can be. I still have hours of packaging and tagging merchandise for the upcoming sale, and I can use those hours to muse about the spectrum of life, the slower span of humans arching over the faster span of our companion animals like the arcs of the rainbow where, perhaps, we all mingle at the end.

Other articles celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday

Bid on this Print and Start Celebration Peaches’ 100th Birthday

How Peaches Stole My Heart

Old is Awesome!

Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 1

Beyond Food and Water, Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, part 2

My Feline Garden Sprites

Eva Offers a Donation in Honor of Peaches’ 100th

A Poem Dedicated to an Old Cat

Help FosterCat Even More Through My Three Cats

Cookie Reminisces

On The Conscious Cat

How to Care for Your Older Cat

Donate to FosterCat Through Other Blogs and Websites

Eva Offers a Donation in Honor of Peaches’ 100th

Help FosterCat Even More Through My Three Cats

Other articles about Peaches

Peaches Applies for a Job

Get Well Wishes for Peaches

Peaches Says, “Thanks for All the Get Well Wishes, They Worked”

This is a short list—Peaches appears in many articles I’ve written on my household, on pet loss, and even some silly things I’ve written on my website before I had a blog! Search “peaches” in the search box for more articles.

Peaches Says, “Thanks for all the good wishes, they worked!”

photo of cat on table

Your 42 minutes is up.

Well, I think I lost a few days in there, but at my age I don’t really care about time, except for when it’s time to eat, which is still every 42 minutes.

But I felt pretty bad for a while there. My mom kept waking me up and looking at me and smelling my breath, and then she’d follow me around and watch me in the litterbox—please! some privacy for a dignified older kitty! Then we would go into the kitchen, and I would get up on my counter to eat but I just felt crappy and even though I was hungry nothing tasted good. Then I’d go back to sleep some more, but I wouldn’t get any peace because mom would wake me up again.

Even before this I’ve had some bad days now and then. My tummy would gurgle and I’d throw up everything I ate, and it would be really hard to do, you know, number 2. I always thought that was the way it was supposed to be because I was 15 when I came here and it had been that way for years, even with my other mom when my sister was still around.

But this mom would have none of it and let me out of the room here but left my sister in so she could watch just me. I thought I had gotten used to my sister pushing me around and stealing food, but no one did that here and finally I could eat a whole meal and use the litterbox without anyone chasing me in the middle of…you know. Wow, I really started to enjoy mealtime and not worry so much.

cat peaking over blanket

If you don't get up I will dig you out.

Then my sister was gone and my mom started feeding me all sorts of different food “to see what works for you,” she said. That was nice. I really liked everything, but anything with salmon was the best. I felt very special, and I could eat whenever I wanted, well, almost.

Still, I would have days when nothing agreed with me and mom would hover. I just wanted to tell her to leave me alone and I would be okay.

And that’s the way this started out. I was comfortable curled on mom’s lap and she seemed relaxed about it. I had contacted Eva about the job opening for an office assistant and it seemed like that was going well, and I was trying to keep it a secret. Mom was at her computer all day, Cookie was mad because I was on mom’s lap all the time so she walked on me, and I figured I would be okay again in a day or two.

cat on blanket

Will you please get up?

But it went on longer than usual. I knew I felt bad when Giuseppe tried to curl up with me on mom’s lap and I just didn’t feel like moving to make room, and he licked my face but I didn’t even have the energy to look up at him. About that time I started losing track of things and I knew I was really sick.

All I wanted to do was sleep, especially after mom and that lady that smells funny and the guy that comes with her were talking about “kidney failure” and all teamed up on me in the kitchen and tried to make me into a kitty sacrifice or something, sticking needles into me and filling me up like a water balloon. When I woke up later, I was really hungry and ate for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long, and I felt a lot better too. Mom was so happy when I woke her up the next morning. I was hungry!

cat at top of stairs

The kitchen is this way.

But it didn’t last all day. Mom tried to do the same voodoo thing to me and I said there was no way I was going to put up with that again so she didn’t get too far with it. Later my mom pulled some stranger in off the street about whom she said something like “vet tech school graduate” and “glad to find her and she lives just around the corner” to help her but I stopped that before they were done too. I may only be 5.4 pounds, but I know how to fling all four paws at once and throw everyone off. Mom said that was probably enough and they talked about how kitties “had to get used to this”—as if we’d ever get used to torture like that! Enough torture, just bring on the salmon pate! I’ll eat already!

I started out okay the next day and got right back to work pushing papers around on the desk and walking on the keyboard, but by later on I felt crappy again. It was really dark and everyone else was sleeping and I heard mom on the phone telling someone that she really didn’t want to wait until the next night when she’d “have someone to help her”, and suddenly I was in a plastic carrier with a warm blanket and we were moving!

cat on landing waiting

I am losing patience.

I never did figure it out, but we ended up in a strange place with lots of lights that smelled like more things than I could figure out and we were doing the needle thing again. Many hands were petting me and telling me how cute I was and what a strong kitty I was to have lived this long and they were sure I’d be fine. I wanted to tell them they had no idea what I did all day, that I am one hard-working kitty! And at my age yet!

I think we had a little snack when we got home, then the next morning I sat on mom until she got up and this time I was good all day. In the evening the same stranger came around who had tried to torture me with the needle a few days before, but she and mom just talked and petted me, and then they petted everyone else and I knew I was off the hook.

cat on crochet project

Peaches keeps my crochet project from getting away.

So I got to eat some pretty good stuff, that pureed chicken in the little jar that mom feeds me off a spoon, and all sorts of salmon pate, even little bits of cooked real salmon and, most exciting, real raw meat, little slivers of salmon and venison that mom warms up in her fingers. Mom gives me this now and then already, and I can’t eat too much of it but I don’t need to. I feel supercharged after I eat it.

And I got back to work and worked all week, helping around the house and I don’t know if mom would ever stop dawdling upstairs in the morning if I didn’t coax her down. Mom kept an eye on me, and that was a problem because I could barely get back to Eva to tell her I was well again and we should get back to our interview thing.

Near the end of the week, though, I started to slow down again and mom kept pulling at the skin around my shoulders and frowning and saying, “Hmmm.”

peaches and Kelly on the butterfly rug

Peaches and Kelly

Then Kelly, who usually eats with me and curls up on the butterfly rug with me, wasn’t feeling well and I discovered she was upstairs in the bathroom. Mom called that stranger, who I guess isn’t a stranger anymore but this time she didn’t just visit, they did the voodoo needle thing again, both me and Kelly.

Maybe I really am getting used to it, and I also remember that after I had a nap and slept it off I felt really good, so I just put up a little fuss so they wouldn’t think I liked it or anything but I didn’t make them stop. Mom had me in a death grip against her chest, anyway, so I couldn’t even wave a paw, and she kept talking and talking which was really nice because she was warm and it felt like she was purring.

cats on desk

Dinner, now.

So now I’m waiting for dinner, and not only do I have to wait longer than usual but one of those annoying young cats is taking up her entire lap. The only good thing about them is that they are warm and soft and don’t mind when I touch them, not like Cookie or Kelly who can sometimes be prickly, but when I try to walk on him he squirms around and I land on the keyboard and mom picks me up and puts me back on her desk.

But it looks like mom is getting up now and dinnertime looks imminent.

And I got get well wishes from Daniela and Eva and Ingrid and Amber and Marg’s Pets who sent us “lots and lots of purrs, 2 woofies, 2 Heehaws and 1 Baa” and Allia and Bogey from My Three Cats who always sends us cool toys and everyone else who wished me well and so many others, and it made me feel so good that everything seemed normal again. Read the comments in “Get Well Wishes for Peaches”. What’s a kitty to do without the internet these days?

I’ll be in touch Eva!

Read about what started it all in “Get Well Wishes for Peaches”.

P.S. Peaches’ mom thanks everyone too! Your support was just as important to me as it was to Peaches!

Get Well Wishes for Peaches

photo of cat on desk

Peaches is ready for dinner.

Peaches is pretty much back to being her sweet, demanding little self, but for a few days recently she was sleeping more and eating less, growing a little unsteady, a few other symptoms. We saw the veterinarian on Thursday and confirmed what I’d been suspecting for a while, that she’s been slipping into renal failure. A dose of fluids that day and each day since, and she’s feeling much better.

This is not a surprise, and not unanticipated. Peaches is “anecdotally” 19 years old, and kidneys get tired as the years go on, even in humans. Even with a good, balanced diet and continued good health, it’s wise to look for the symptoms of chronic kidney failure as a cat grows older. But I’ve nursed other elders through this, and I’m glad for the lessons learned.

So Eva, I think Peaches is out of the running as your assistant kitty for the moment, though having read your other candidates’ interviews she’s seriously considering at least being a virtual assistant!

About Peaches

photo of two cats looking out a window

Their former person's favorite photo.

I do know that Peaches is in her late teens, though not her exact age, because she’s been with me for only five years. A friend told me about a good friend of hers who had died unexpectedly, leaving two cats who belonged with no instructions for what do to with the girls.

After a cursory look for prospective homes, the woman’s out-of-town son had decided to take them to a veterinarian and likely have them euthanized rather than take them to a shelter where it was unlikely they’d be adopted, but apparently the vet convinced him to give them a little more time.

Back home in the empty house, my friend gave them food and water and visited while she helped get the woman’s belongings in order and the house ready for sale. I told her with seven cats and several seniors already, I didn’t want to take them in, but if they were in “dire straits” she should call, and so she did when the house was sold and the girls had to go somewhere.

I knew this meant that I stood a good chance of not only fostering but also owning two senior cats, but I’ve fostered and found good homes for plenty of cats, including older adults. Something told me to take the chance on these two.

Their records were lost in the shuffle so I had no idea of true age, health or inoculations. Peaches’ name was then Rosebud, and her calico sister was Angel, and while I usually keep the names adult fosters come in with if I know them, these names didn’t work for me. I used my everyday skills in marketing and promotion and renamed them Peaches and Cream, hoping the familiar phrase would help encourage someone to adopt the two.

pencil and watercolor sketch of a cat sleeping

Peaches Nap Spot, pencil and watercolor © B.E. Kazmarski

Perhaps because of their age or the fact that they had been primarily alone for three months, they came in with some hydration issues; Cream, in fact, seemed to be suffering from chronic renal failure then, and Peaches had some serious elimination issues. A few weeks of fluids and a regular diet, confined in the spare cat room, and they were good as new. I was already treating Stanley for chronic renal failure and always had a bag of fluids hanging in the kitchen, and with the four senior cats on hand—Stanley had come to me as an adult and been with me 20 years already, Moses was 18, Sophie was 15, Cookie was 13—I had done my best to learn what to anticipate as they grew older.

Of course, though many people met the two friendly and social seniors, complimented their good looks and laughed at their names, no one wanted to risk adopting cats that old, and the most frequent comment was along the lines of “they’ll die soon, and I can’t handle that”. I could understand not wanting to walk into a potentially hurtful situation, but these two ladies had been the darlings of a widowed senior woman and needed a home where they got more attention than mine.

But the two adapted to my house better than I’d seen many other cats adapt to a dramatic change. Creamy thought I belonged to her and chased the other cats away when she was on my lap, not a good idea, so I had to keep her confined for certain periods of time during the day to avoid the other seniors getting upset. Still, she was so sweet and pretty that I regularly took her for visits to the personal care home where my mother lived so she could happily sit on the laps of ladies who had had to give up their kitties.

One day Peaches walked out of the Spare Kitty Room leaving Cream and never went back in. I had the feeling that Cream, much bigger and bolder, had always dominated tiny submissive Peaches, but it seemed Peaches felt she had a new life here.

I did lose Cream 10 months after she came to live with me; she was one of the four seniors I lost in a 12-month period, finally losing the battle with chronic renal failure. I felt she was desperately waiting to see her person again and had a hard time letting go, and I thought of the individuals who wouldn’t adopt her because of the age and loss issue, but I had known what I was headed for, and I also knew that my pain at her loss was far outweighed by the final happy months she had.

Peaches goes on

Photo of cat with plant

Peaches With a Green Hat

Peaches immediately became a part of my household, her health continued to improve and she turned out to be very friendly, even greeting people (after Namir was done with them), and everyone remarked on what a pretty little kitty she was, and apparently very different from what she had been in her former home.

She came in with some variation on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), my veterinarian telling me she had horribly ropy and lumpy intestines, and this was likely the cause of Peaches’ elimination problems. As a senior, she gets high-quality canned food with supplements to help her digest and metabolize her food, plus raw meat or a raw meal now and then as she will eat it, especially once we learned about the condition of her intestines. While she occasionally became constipated, she gained weight—from 5.5 lbs to 6.1 lbs at the most—and vitality.

And she’s more than held her own with the arrival of the Big Four. I was concerned what four lively growing kittens could do to a frail tiny cat like Peaches, but she ignores their silly games and they love her, cuddling with her and treating her gently.

Her new career

animal sympathy card

They find a comfortable place in your heart to live in forever and ever.

animal sympathy card

Remember the beautiful moments from all those years together.

Despite her attempt to become a feline photographer, Peaches was meant to be an artist’s model. I can’t imagine what my portfolio of writing, feline paintings, sketches and photographs would be like without her. Her little self-possessed habits, her delicate, petite appearance and her clear peach and gray and creamy white markings make her a constant inspiration to me as a feline artist, and a favorite subject for those who view my artwork.

Among other things, she appears on two of my animal sympathy cards—two of the most popular so far.

pastel painting of cat on table with peonies

Peaches and Peonies

And she is the subject of one of my favorite works, “Peaches and Peonies”, which shows the moment I understood how important Peaches had become in my life. It was then that I realized how often I looked at her, how much I loved both her sweet self-centeredness and her natural curiosity and affection for me, how I studied her features, and how much this scene was what I felt was the essence of Peaches. I have dedicated a portion of the sales of prints of this piece to support adoption programs for senior pets through my “Senior Pet Adoption Program“.

Getting older, and the risk of renal failure

I’ve given her a few doses of fluids here and there in the years she’s been with me, partly to help with her bowel condition, and kept an eye on her appetite, elimination, physical appearance and her breath. In addition to elimination problems, she was also the one who vomited at least once a day, for no apparent reason. When she vomited more than once, I was concerned and took a closer look, and usually, with a little special food, maybe some fluids, a little something to settle her stomach, she was fine.

Beginning Monday, I saw the same symptoms. She seemed to be clearing up, but by Wednesday night just wasn’t eating right, still vomiting and was very sleepy with that characteristically strong uremic breath. Thursday morning I called our veterinarian, who has a house call business and was coincidentally just a few streets away from me.

This woman has been my primary veterinarian for 15 or more years, and I think at this point she can read something in my voice. She trusts my interpretation and descriptions, and while she’ll often just return my call with advice, when it’s been most important she’s decided to make the time in her schedule and stop by. Thursday was such a day.

While she weighed and examined Peaches and we gave her fluids, I described Peaches’ recent activities, including quite an animated discussion of how “good” the condition of her stool had been for the past few months since I found a new supplement. Cat owners will understand these intense conversations about cat poop, and the various descriptions of size, shape and consistency, and my vet and I had a good laugh at it.

pencil sketch of gray cat on table

Nikka on the Table, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

My veterinarian also remembers my shock when I lost my Nikka to acute renal failure in 2003. Nikka was 15 and had also had some elimination issues, and I had only thought she was constipated and perhaps vomiting at breakfast was caused by that. But with no stool the next morning we did a quick appointment; Nikka’s body temperature was dropping, she was apparently suffering some neurological effects in her hind quarters, and the next morning I had to have her put to sleep at an emergency clinic in the middle of a snowstorm because her kidneys had simply quit. I saw no symptoms of anything, so I don’t know if Nikka dealt with it as cats do, or if it really was classic acute renal failure where even getting her to the clinic earlier would have helped.

My veterinarian gave me the details of how feline kidneys function and how they fail, and what to look for with renal failure. I have never forgotten the lessons, all of them, from the loss to the learning. A year later, Stanley had been showing some early symptoms and suddenly dropped of the scale, completely lethargic and losing body temperature one morning, but fluid therapy brought him around and eventually he recovered to the point where he only needed fluids now and then for his last three years.

Moving forward

The day we’d dosed Peaches with fluids, I had to leave in the late afternoon. She was sleeping on my chair when I left, but when I came back she had her paws curled under like a little dilute calico meatloaf on the papers on my desk, awake and waiting for me to return. Some sights are so welcome they bring tears to your eyes even though they are hardly noteworthy without knowing the details.

photo of peaches on the counter

Peaches on the counter.

Today, two days after her diagnosis, Peaches is almost back to her usual activity level and appetite, still a little sleepy and unsteady, but she’s responded well to the fluids alone and that’s a good sign. She’s gone from baby food to her favorite canned food with some raw interspersed, and a few tablespoons of skim milk for extra fluid and because she likes it. I can usually find someone to help me give Peaches her fluids—for all her seeming frailty, Peaches puts up a heck of a fight, and in part it’s her tiny body that’s the problem because she’s impossible to find when I wrap her in a towel.

I’ve got a bag of fluids hanging in my kitchen, the joke between me and my veterinarian is that I always do because it wards off the evil spirits. In the three-year period when I had senior and critically ill cats and lost a total of six cats, I always had a fluid bag in the kitchen. Whenever it seemed I didn’t need it anymore and took it down, suddenly someone developed a condition and needed the fluids again, so I’ve left a bag hanging there even though it’s usually been outdated and unusable. Doesn’t everyone have a bag of fluids hanging in their kitchen?

Peaches eats on a counter/island I have in the middle of my kitchen, and even at her age she jumps up onto the backless stool I use and from there to the countertop, usually racing me into the kitchen and trying to convince me it’s time to eat—every 42 minutes. Partly because I need to sit in a chair instead of on a backless stool and Peaches didn’t always make it up onto the stool, I added a table with regular chairs.

Peaches was a little confused at the change, but she is very independent and I knew that any attempt by me to show her how to get up on the new table would be summarily rejected. I let her circle the table and her natural curiosity led her to investigate each of the chairs, choose one and jump up and easily walk to the counter as if nothing was different.

I know two things: we are not out of the woods yet, and we probably never will be again. The reality is that Peaches is a very old cat and her days are fewer than I’d like to think about, but I need to think about it. I’ve lost 12 cats from my household, dozens of others I’ve fostered or come to know through friends and customers whose portraits I’ve painted. My days of losing cats are far from over. I’d be a fool to deny that losing Peaches isn’t part of the reality of loving Peaches, in fact, it’s an integral part of loving Peaches, and being honest and aware is especially important right now, both for Peaches’ care and my own emotional health.

We’re not ready to walk down that last stretch together, but we’re considering the journey. Losing a loved one is never easy and nothing can make it hurt less, but I’m guided by what I’ve learned from each of my losses and I have them to thank for the awareness that comforts me.

pastel painting of black cat on floor

Are You Looking at Me?, Kublai in pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Thanks to Bootsie for my awakening, and to Kublai for looking into my eyes and teaching me what to listen for when an animal wants to communicate. To Sally for the knowledge that passing over really is a joyful event, to Stanley and Moses for teaching me to understand and trust their physical and emotional strength. And to Namir for teaching me to trust him to know when this time was the last time, and he was ready for the journey.

So Peaches and I are going to eat now, then she’ll get today’s fluids, then I’m heading outside to restore my soul. Keep Peaches in your thoughts.

This thou perceivs’t, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long.

Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

Pet Loss in the First Person, a series of six articles