There’s a new cat in town

I admit, it’s been really hard to start writing here again.  As I went through the hospice process and loss with my MIL, that topic overwhelmed everything else here.  It was hard to write about anything else when that was the biggest thing looming in our lives.  Now that the immediate, tearing grief following our loss is passing, we find ourselves embroiled in yet another very difficult family issue, which, in respect for that person’s privacy, I won’t be chronicling here.  Just know that stuff is still hard and warm feelings and thoughts are much appreciated.

That said, it seemed like a good idea to ease in gently by talking about an easy topic: cats.

We have a new kitty in residence.  When my MIL passed, her faithful feline, AbbyCat, became our responsibility.  Abby is a rather portly grande dame of a cat – somewhere north of 15 pounds and 16 years, with a kidney issue to boot. She’s a mishmash of breeds but I’m guessing a bit of Maine coon in her history, based on her size and very thick coat, with a bit of ragdoll or siamese mixed in somewhere, to explain some of her marking patterns.  She’s lovely and when in a 1-on-1 situation, very sweet and affectionate.

new kitty sitting on chair

There’s a new cat in town and her name is Abby

The problem with Abby is she’s always lived a life that’s all about Abby.  She lived the only cat lifestyle, with a devoted old lady catering to her every whim. I can’t tell you the number of times Dianne would excuse herself from a family gathering to head home because “Abby gets cranky if she doesn’t get her canned food by 6pm.”  This was not a bad thing, frankly. Dianne was devoted to her cat and her cat was devoted to her – the importance of relationships like these can’t be underestimated.

But it’s now a whole new world for AbbyCat.  Abby is no longer the center of the universe; she now finds herself in a home with 2 adults, 2 teenagers, 2 other cats and 2 rather large and pesky dogs.  It’s big, somewhat chaotic, and filled with unfamiliar noises such as dogs barking (at everything!), cats romping, TVs blaring something besides Fox News – all of the hustle and bustle of a typical houseful. Gone are the predictable days where things stayed quiet, food came spot on time, no dogs were allowed and Obama was evil incarnate.  What’s a cat to do?

Surprisingly enough, she’s doing fairly well.  My husband and I had expected her to sort of hunker down in the bedroom Dianne had occupied and slowly wither away.  We’d been through this with another cat – a skittery little thing named Farris. When her best friend, our other cat Carson died, Farris simply stopped eating, hid in a corner and waited to die. Her kidney’s quickly complied by failing.  She was gone two weeks after her friend. But not so thus far with Abby. Abby is clearly cut from more resilient cloth. We moved her out of Dianne’s room and into our own, bringing a few familiar things that would smell like home for her.  She settled in fairly rapidly and now wanders the house.  She’ll eat from the other cat’s bowls and sleep in the sun when she finds it.  She’s still learning how to not be an only animal, however.  She’s made peace with our little brown burmese and Cooper-the-big-dumb-dog but Sadie, our overactive border collie and Mac, the crazy orange tabby are a different story.  Much hissing and growling whenever either of the latter happen to enter Abby’s space (like, the same room – Abby has a very considerable personal space.)  Our hope is to simply hit some sort of stasis where all creatures can be in the same home with a bit less drama.

We don’t know how long we’ll have Abby. She is older with dodgy kidneys buy we’ll do our best to make her time with us pleasant – part of a family. I’m hoping somewhere Dianne is smiling.

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven (home hospice journey #7)

It is done.  We lost our lovely Dianne 1 week ago on Thursday, 5/16, at 10:15am.  Her passing was peaceful – far more so than we dared to hope for with a COPD patient.  She’d had a rough Tuesday night and difficult Wednesday morning but as her day progressed, she gradually slipped into a semi-comatose state by evening, with that rattling sort of breathing that means we’re nearing the end. We settled her in bed and made her as comfortable as possible and settled in to keep watch.  Around midnight, I headed off to bed with the intention of taking over in the morning and letting my husband get some rest.  Once my daughter was off to school (my son saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and refused to leave), I got settled into place and sent Mike off to get some rest.  

Mostly I hung out bedside and got a bit of work done on my laptop.  Every so often, I’d get up to ensure she was comfortable. I noticed at one point that she was warm and a bit sweaty so took off her socks and bathed her face a bit.  I kept watch on the color of her lips and fingertips and listened to the rhythm of her breathing – mostly so that if anything noticeably changed, I could go get Mike.  None of that happened.  She was breathing one moment and the next, she wasn’t.  There was no gasping, nothing erratic, no sound.  She simply was and then she wasn’t.  I ran to wake up my husband to let him know his mother was gone.

All of the official hustle and bustle of a passing began: hospice was called, the police came, the cremation service notified.  Forms were signed, i’s dotted, t’s crossed.  Once the legalities were complete, Mike laid back down for a bit and I did some straightening up – stripping the bed, packing away clothing and supplies, that sort of thing.  

Things feel a bit unsettled.  Dianne’s wishes were to forego the whole funeral home and service thing and instead transport her ashes as a family to a park in the Bitterroot mountains of Idaho, to be scattered in a place that she loved dearly.  We’ll make that trip later this summer.  In the meantime, the healing needs to begin.  It’s a long road we’ve been on and we all need a bit of rest.  I’m so glad her passing was peaceful and serene. Hopefully she left a bit of that peace and serenity in her wake. 

Thank you all for the support and just for reading. Your presence is felt and appreciated.

And if you listen very hard (home hospice journey #6)

Short entry tonight. It’s been a long day.

Our journey is soon to come to an end, it seems. D. Is mostly quiet; what energy she has is dedicated to continuing to draw breath. She’s at pretty close to the safe dose of morphine, which seems to keep her fairly peaceful. My husband witnessed his great aunt’s death to the same cause – cigarettes – that was not morphine-assisted and said it was pretty brutal. I’m glad that she’s getting whatever peace she’s getting.

So, it may be tonight ( but I don’t think so, for whatever reason), it may be tomorrow but it will be soon – that I know.

When my dad died, he spent the last few days calling my mothers name. He’d had a stroke – a severe one – and this was the only word we heard from him after that. Just “Mary”, every so often, while gazing into the distance. I hope D feels the presence of those she loved waiting to welcome her too.

And now I sleep for a bit.

Who shines white light and wants to show (home hospice experience #4)

For those just tuning in – this is another entry in my ongoing series about our journey through home hospice (our hone) with my mother-in-law, who is dying of emphysema.

Yes, there's an "elephant in the room" implication with this photo choice too

Yes, I’m well aware of the “elephant in the room” meaning of this photo choice…

Things are coasting right now. D seems to be feeling better by the day. Why? Well, lots of reasons, I think. She’s eating good food and eating well at every meal. This is a big change because she’d been feeling so poorly for so long that her eating habits had really deteriorated. When we weren’t coming over with meals, she existed largely on frozen dinners, cookies, tea and the ever-present cigarettes. Nothing fresh, nothing that’s actually “real” food. She’s getting that now and it’s likely making her feel better. She’s hydrated. Yes, she still drinks a lot of tea but she also drinks a lot of water too so not all of her fluid intake is of a natural diuretic! She’s sleeping. 8-9 hours every night, plus naps here and there. And yes, there’s the drugs. The combo of morphine/xanax/fentanyl keeps her relaxed (!) and the frequent and consistent high dose steroid breathing treatments keep her remaining lung capacity, such as it is, operating as best it can. She’s also regaining her strength – she’s up and around quite a bit, wandering the family room, her bedroom and outside to the back porch. This is all wonderful. It is delightful to see her enjoying her days.

What isn’t so wonderful is her strength, her mobility and her delight in feeling so much better means she’s also smoking again with a vengeance. When she first came home to us and asked to have a cigarette, it wasn’t a big deal. She was weak as a newborn kitten and just as dependant. If she wanted a cigarette, she needed my husband to help her into the wheelchair, wrap her in a blanket, wheel her outside, hand her the smoke and light it. She’d draw in a few puffs before she tired of it and asked to go back inside. She only requested it every few days or so. It was largely ceremonial; a “see, I still can”. Now that she can do this under her own power, that’s changed. She’s grabbing her jacket and heading out on her own several times a day – maybe even 8 or more. Is it hard to watch? Heartbreaking? Is it her choice? Yes, yes and yes. Why? I think it’s a lot of things. She’s feeling better right now than I think she has in a year or more. I think that, along with drugs that will naturally imbue a sense of euphoria have maybe given her bit of a “second wind”, if you’ll excuse the expression. A feeling that perhaps it’s all going to be fine and these damned cigarettes aren’t going to kill her after all.

Yep, still flammable.

Yep, still flammable.

On a side note, we did have to have the hospice nurse, during one of her twice weekly visits, give D a stern lecture on the dangers of open flame and oxygen. When we weren’t watching, D would toddle out to the porch, take off her oxygen canula, hang it over the back of her chair – still running full blast – and light one up. How we haven’t all blown up by now, I’ll never know. Even though she’s been on nearly full-time O2 for over a year, D insists no one ever told her this wasn’t the safest of set ups. (Even worse, in her own home, she was indoors and doing this!) Now she has to remove the canula, turn the machine off, go outside, have her cigarette, come back in, turn it back on and start breathing air again. This is tough stuff, especially right after a smoke, so the 15 or so feet from the porch to her bed without her air on takes 6-7 minutes or more. She can’t breathe and has to stop and rest every step or two. Will it slow her down? Probably not. She has the energy and the drive to get out there just fine. She’s not considering the tough trip back in afterwards, just the gratification right now.

We don’t know, of course, what this means for her lifespan. I think it will likely cut this period of relative well-being shorter than it might be. It certainly isn’t doing her lungs any bit of good at all – either the smoking or the time off oxygen smoking requires. Nor is it doing her brain any good either – every moment with diminished O2 to the grey matter makes for another blow to her mental acuity. It’s so painful to watch but it’s her lungs, her choice and her life to spend as she wishes and this is what she wishes. She’ll spend her last days servicing the gods of addiction that are killing her.

I have no idea if these posts mean anything to anyone but myself and a few scattered friends and family. But they do help me to record what’s happening and it’s affects on all of us. (affect or effect? damn, that one gets me every time!) If you have your own stories of this journey, please share. In the meantime, thanks for coming by – even a click of the “like” button tells me someone’s paying attention and cares a bit. Thank you. And I do promise to get back to posting on some less weighty topics soon – this blog, and my own psyche, could use the break!

Our shadows taller than our souls (home hospice experience #2)

Abbie Cat (under the blanket) watching D watch Buster Keaton.

Abbie Cat (peeking out from under the blanket) watching D watch Buster Keaton.

And our hospice experience continues. D has been home since Tuesday afternoon and we’re all trying to get our feet under us and settle into some sort of rhythm. We’ve got the bed and furniture set up and added a few items from her home, including some paintings and personal objects. That’s all well and good but most importantly, D’s kitty Abby has moved into her new home here. How very happy they were to see each other! Abby has settled right in and spends most of her day on the bed with D.

Naturally, there are challenges; each day brings its own set of “OMG, what do I do now?” moments. D is on some serious medications, including morphine and fentanyl, which do a lot to help her breathe easier and ease anxiety but don’t do very much for mental acuity. Combine these meds with the challenges that come from low blood oxygen levels and we’ve got some serious confusion on our hands. Some of it is to be expected – losing the thread of a conversation or being unsure of day, time or location but it also manifests itself in odd ways – sudden anger about things like the order she takes her pills (round ones go first, we’ve learned), for instance. We just roll with it and it all seems to sort itself out. My husband has depths of patience and caring that are amazing to behold.

We did have a fairly big deal to handle early on, though. D is a smoker. It’s her smoking that got her to this condition and it’s her smoking that will eventually bring her to her end. Knowing and understanding this, however, doesn’t mean her desire to smoke has gone away. As any smoker knows (and both my husband and I are ex-smokers) this is one terrible bitch of an addiction – one that defies any rules of logic or common sense. So, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that D wanted a cigarette not long after moving in here. Handling a request like this is certainly not in the hospice handbook! Husband consulted with her doctor and the visiting hospice nurses and their advice was unanimous and unambiguous: give her a cigarette. Their contention was the cigarette itself was not going to do her any true harm at this point but the anxiety and other symptoms of withdrawal certainly would. This was, needless to say, not a popular opinion among all of D’s family but my husband agreed with the experts and bought his mom a pack. Each day, they go outside and she has a few puffs on a cigarette. That’s all, just the one, and she’s so much happier. Hard to argue with this one.

As I see it, our job here is to help her feel as comfortable and anxiety-free as possible. Quality of life and comfort, to the best of our ability. If that means she wants her cat, she gets her cat. If she wants nothing but donuts for a day, she’ll get donuts. (Although we might slip some fiber or vitamins in somehow). It’s about D and her wants – not what we think she should want or what we’d feel better about her wanting. It’s her life and her death – we’re just the back-up singers.

Siobhan in cosplay costume

Siobhan in cosplay costume

Incidentally, while she may be a bit addled about where she is or what she’s doing at any given time, she’s completely on the ball in areas you might never expect. My daughter is an active cosplay fan so hits the “Cons” whenever they’re in town. This weekend brought a ComiCon type event so she dressed up as a character from the online comic Homestuck. My husband asked her to stop in and see her Gran before she left – I wasn’t so sure how that was going to play out – how would the lady who isn’t quite sure who’s currently living in the White House handle her granddaughter popping in wearing a black wig and horns? As it turns out, she LOVED it. No uncertainty or confusion about the horned girl – just delight. And delight is exactly what the doctor ordered.