Thursday, February 16, 2017

IT'S BEAUTIFUL, AND I THINK IT'S WHAT I WANT TO BE

As she started explaining the details of the chemo, my mind wandered, because that was my defense mechanism.  Anytime she talked as if she had limited time left, I pretended she and the doctors and everybody else was wrong, because it was the only way the world made sense.  I didn't want to live in a world without my mom, and I tried to will it so.

But I wasn't listening in another sense.  As she explained the possible side effects, what chemo could and couldn't do, she was also expressing her own ambivalence about the whole thing.  The cancer was fatal.  There was no doubt about that--it had spread too far, and her body was too old and weak to fight it.  All the chemo could do was slow it down, give her another few months or weeks or days.

Well, you have to do it, I said.  You have to live as long as you can.

So she did.  The first round went okay, but the second round was much worse.  She was violently ill and physically weak, and since she lived alone, she took a nasty fall.  Her medical team had somehow neglected to take her off her blood pressure meds, and they combined with the chemo to limit the flow of blood to her brain.  She started hallucinating giant scarecrows and fissures in the earth.  Her body weakened.  Her heart stopped.  She died, and the chemo hadn't extended her time on earth, and in fact only made her final days miserable.

And I realize now that she never wanted any of it in the first place.  Living with cancer was uncomfortable, but she was still herself, still eating and going out to movies (and complaining about them), and she probably saw the end coming and just wanted to be done with it.  To make a comparison I'm sure Mom would have appreciated, she wanted to end like Season Five of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, at the top of her game and like she'd always been, but the chemo made her more like Season Seven, muddled and weird and somewhat out of character.  

How dangerous it is to play the "what if?" game.  What if she hadn't had chemo?  Would her final days have been less painful?  Would her mind have been clearer, her body more steady?  Would she have not fallen, and fallen again, with welts and lumps on her face?  Would she have seemed less small and sad when the time came?  Could she have spent her final hours at home, surrounded by her beloved cats and dog, instead of an anonymous hospital room?

No.  Or, put another way, maybe, but so what?  She died, and she would have died either way, and it wouldn't have been pretty because death never is.  And none of that means anything, because the important thing is that she laughed and cried and sang to her cats and marveled at rainbows and loved her children with the intensity of a thousand suns.

She lived.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

IT MAKES IT BETTER, I KNOW

The flimsy cardboard kitty carrier may not be strong enough to hold him if he starts to struggle.  Delmar is a very strong cat, and can be very determined.  But he simply eases in and rests there.  He knows.

He and I have such history.  I've had him since he was born, the first cat I owned after my protracted, painful divorce.  I had to move back in with my mom for awhile, and Delmar was there.  I got a job, moved into a tiny apartment, got a better job, kept the same apartment, and he remained my constant companion.  Mom died, I was in despair, he comforted me as best he could, mostly just by being there, which was always enough.

It's a gray day.  Not cold, but a dampness in the air.  Not that I notice it as I take him out to the car.  I reach through the airholes of the carrier and touch his coarse, spiky fur. "It's okay, Buddy.  We're going for a ride."

A few blocks later, we're at the vet's office.  They wave me right in to the exam room.  The table is covered with a little blue blanket, and it looks so much like the penguin blanket my mom had, the one I inherited, the one Delmar so frequently used for naps.  I start to lose it.

Del was born pretty much fully-formed.  He never had a cute kitten phase.  He was awkward and gangly from the very beginning, and always would be.  He could be cranky, he could be sweet, he was never quiet and restful.  I could usually anticipate his moods.  But he couldn't tell me when his kidneys started failing, not until he started drinking massive amounts of water and eating less, and by then it was too late.

I set him on the table and he immediately curls up, as if he's bypassed all the other stages and gone straight to acceptance.  The doctor comes in and explains the procedure, asks if I'm okay with it, has me sign some forms.  I hold Del as they give him a sedative, then they leave the room while it takes effect.

I talk to Del, I sing the lyrics I invented for the first season instrumental theme from Walker, Texas Ranger ("Hey!  It's Delmar and he's great!  It's Delmar and he's grea-ea-eat!").  The doc comes back in, shaves some fur from his hind leg and administers the IV.  Del puts his paw in my hand.  I grip it as tight as I can.

And he's gone.

"Do you need some time?" the vet asks, and I nod.  "We don't need this room for the rest of the day.  Take as long as you need."

I still have his paw in my hand.  He looks like he's asleep.  I don't know what I expected.  I talk to him some more, running through the many, many nicknames I had for him.  (Del Star, Delmar Von Delmington, Li'l Feller, My Special Little Guy...)  My tears are falling uncontrolled, hitting the table, dotting the blanket all around him.

There is a thoughtfully provided box of tissues on a stool beside the table.  I blow my nose, then again, and i turn back to Del.  "Not so bad, was it?" I say.  "See you, Buddy.  See you whenever I can."  A final tissue to wipe my eyes, and I leave.

Driving home, I'm listening to Ben Folds' Songs For Silverman because it's the album that happens to be playing, and I know I will always unfortunately associate it with this.  Janie will be there when I get home, and two other wonderful cats, and my beloved beagle.

But Delmar won't be, and he never will be there again.