Friday, September 19, 2008

My Life with Kelsey

On the Friday before my college graduation, I moved into my first apartment. On the Monday after, I started my first job at the Daily Times and after that first day of work, I made a trip to one of our local animal shelters "just to see" if they had any kittens.

They did, and after playing with several of them, I picked a beautiful little black one and decided to adopt her. I took her straight to my dad's house, where my little sister helped me settle on the name "Kelsey." That same night she decided to try jumping off of my dad's top deck and I got my first glimpse of what motherhood would be about as I flew downstairs to get her, heart racing and not knowing what I would find. She was only about 8 weeks old but she made that leap unscathed, and we embarked on our long journey together.

When I met the man I would eventually marry, he was allergic to cats. Just coming into my apartment was enough to get his eyes and nose running like faucets. But I knew he really liked me because he kept coming over and occasionally I would even catch him petting Kelsey. When we made the decision for me to move to California to live with him, I was torn about what to do with Kelsey. He said to me, "You are moving across the country and leaving all of your friends and family behind. Please, bring your cat." Not that I had ever doubted it, but I knew for sure then that he really loved me.

We drove across the country together with Kelsey in the backseat (she even got to see the Grand Canyon!) and settled into life in Monterey. Kelsey liked to sneak out the kitchen window and made fast friends with the next-door neighbor, Mr. Q. When we moved to our second apartment she and the landlord had a hate-hate relationship because she liked to leave little footprints on his precious car. He was a hateful man, I'm glad she did it.

While in Monterey we added Taylor to our kitty family, and Kelsey suddenly became the older, calmer cat. Kelsey learned to share my attention, although I don't think she's ever liked it.

Eventually of course, we would move back to Pekin and see other cats come and go into our family. And our people family expanded as well - Kelsey curiously checked out all three of the babies we brought home to her. Once those babies got a little older and gentler in their touch, she even warmed up to them.

So many memories, so many years - and yet in the end, so little time.

A few weeks ago I noticed Kelsey had lost a significant amount of weight and suddenly seemed to withdraw from the family. I took her to the vet, who decided to keep her for some emergency treatment. Five days later we brought her home and while her personality had rebounded, her body just hasn't followed suit. She still rubs against my hand and purrs when I pet her, but she can no longer jump up on the couch to get to me and has trouble walking without wobbly legs. While she continues to eat and drink, she has lost half of her body weight since May. 

All of this happened the same week our third cat and most recent family addition disappeared from our home. He came to us as a stray kitten in May and added so much life and vitality to the house - every bit the playful, ornery kitten who was always getting into something and making a mess somewhere.

That's why all of this feels like a double loss - we lost the youth and vitality Oreo had brought into the house and have now a cat we are trying to provide love and comfort to in her last days.

I don't know how much longer Kelsey will be with me. I can't imagine my life without her. She has been a part of my entire adult life and suddenly it doesn't seem I've done enough for her.

I always knew, of course, that this day would come. And I always expected that taking her to the vet to have her put to sleep (I hate that term btw, but can't think of a better one right now anyway...) would be difficult. But it's not the "how" that is so hard, it's the "when." I don't want to miss out on any time with her, but I don't want to wait so long that she is in pain. And by now, I realize that we are not prolonging life so much as we are prolonging death.

In the midst of my own grief, I'm also trying to help my children through this. While we do have one other cat, she is not friendly to *anyone* so my kids have essentially lost both of their cats - both of their pets - this month. We're getting a good lesson in growing old and in dying, but I'm struggling a bit to explain it all and to know how to help them best. Better to let them say good-bye or not? I'm leaning toward yes of course, but it depends on the timing. Better to get a new kitten sooner or later? I've already explained euthanasia to my oldest, but what do I say to the two youngest? Mostly I'm just sticking with the honesty policy, and we've talked very openly about how our time with Kelsey is so limited and what is going to happen soon. The only thing that hurts worse than my own heartbreak is watching my daughter's. 

So, my heart is so heavy today and my burden feels so consuming. I'm watching her closely and praying for guidance so that I can do what's best for her.

It is, in every sense of the phrase, the very least I can do.

I'm really going to miss her.