I wanted to thank everyone for the outpouring of support here and on Facebook last week, and I wish that I had better news to share regarding my little guy’s health. But I don’t. As we neared the date of Zeus’s surgery/ biopsy, he was struggling to eat food: hungry, but unable to get it into his mouth due to the ever-increasing size of his tongue. I had to sit with him for about an hour each feeding, turning his food into a pablum that he could slurp, though which mostly got on his whiskers, nose and coat. Being a gentleman, he allowed me to clean him up, and being the happiest cat I’ve known, he still managed to purr at the merest touch and despite the aberrant growth attacking his mouth. Thursday night, he was unable to eat, yet still hungry, and we had to take him into the vet to get some high-calorie liquid sustenance into him (Ensure for cats). On Friday, since it had been close to 72 hours without proper food and water, we had to leave him at the vet so that he could be intravenously nourished and hydrated.
At this point we were furious about a lot of things: the injustice and ugliness of illness; how long we had to wait and watch this creature suffer just for a result that we reasonably anticipated. Then came a glimmer of hope, where it was suggested that given the inflammation of his tongue it was possible he was suffering from a massive infection. And so we clung to that rickety raft, and hurried back to the clinic on Saturday morning ready to spend some time with the little guy. As soon as he saw us, he stood up in his cage–IV bound arm wobbling–and managed what passed for a purr given his protuberant tongue and his now distressed nasal cavity: all that pressure from the “infection”. We played for a while, and it was as normal as things can be in an intensive care situation. As we were about to leave him to his rest and potentially miraculous cure from high-potency antibiotics, the results of his biopsy appeared in the office inbox. Since this is a farewell to my little gentleman, I needn’t go over what they found on his biopsy slides.
For the second time in my life now, I’ve held on to someone who I loved as they crossed over. Again, from cancer. Again, from a state of palliative support. As it happened, as Zeus’s light left him, Justin had to turn away–he couldn’t watch, and for that he asked me to forgive him (which, of course, I did and do). And not through some morbid zeal for death was I transfixed, either. Although, and if we ever have moments where we know part of our purpose, I would say that whatever steel I’ve been granted that enables me to watch–through tears, but to watch–the transference of souls from one place to the next, is among the greatest of responsibilities that I have been given. My mother brought me into this world, and I was there to help her leave it. Zeus taught me unconditional love, and I shared that with him as he, too, was called to wherever mom went.
I sit here now, writing this in my study, looking to my armrest or to the spot where Zeus would curl up below my chair and I am heartbroken, though I am not despairing that I didn’t know him, love him, or wasn’t brave enough to face the frightening gasp when life was taken from him. There is a breath, a final breath that everything takes. I heard his. I felt his. I kissed his fur and told him he was loved. He was the ideal companion: as loyal as a dog (he even played fetch with his toys); as protective as a lion (he’d give Persey a swat if she went feral, but otherwise never raised a paw); as kind and cuddly as a bunny. Also a rather proud and strutting animal, in case I’ve painted him as overly soft. Indeed, he was a gentleman; a creature of many divisions held in harmony. During our grief counselling, the vet suggested that we consider getting another pet, for Persey’s sake mostly, since she’s been with her brother for the whole of her life. For her sake, we might consider that. But not now, when I am raw with the knowledge that Zeus is irreplaceable, that there will never be a creature as unique as he was.
I want to thank you, little man, wherever you may be, for the nine years of friendship we shared. My last book is certainly dedicated to you: my watchful, purring editor and fellow scribe of Geadhain. You’ve been with me every stage of my journey, and so, too, have I been your friend until the end; too soon for you, though time isn’t as long as we believe and the moments I spend here are a blink in eternity, which means we’ll see each other before long. Till then, keep an eye on mom. Find the brightest constellation from which you two can shine down to me on deepest night. And know that even without your flesh, I still sense your weight beside me, and hear your handsome purr, whenever I feel alone.
P.S. As a public service announcement, if you ever see your cat drooling on a consistent basis have them given a full and thorough mouth exam at once. Oral (squamous cell) carcinomas are common, highly aggressive and nearly always fatal, unless they are detected at the earliest onset. We took Zeus in the night that we noticed what was for him unusual drooling (as in not when happy and being petted), and still the progression of the disease was horrifically fast. I believe it is better to know, and plan, for a graceful passing than it is to exist in the neurotic-limbo between knowing and not knowing a fate. I wish we had known even two days sooner and we could have said goodbye when he was still active and vibrant.