Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Remembering the life of a gentleman cat

Every now and again when the need is felt, I venture outside of my usual musical realm to write about other things on my mind. I usually warn you in advance so that if you were expecting a musical or arts-related article, you won't be (hopefully) too disappointed.

I had planned to write this past weekend as I usually do, but Friday evening, while preparing to walk down to the James Street Night of Art event in downtown St. Catharines, I started to feel more than a little under the weather, eventually ending up with a nasty cold that is only now beginning to let up. So I was not in the mood to write under those conditions in any event.

However, another event took precedence for me over the weekend that actually goes back several months yet only came to a head this past weekend. My beloved constant companion, Pushkin the cat, with whom I have been through many highs and lows for fifteen years, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in the belly the day after my birthday back in June. At the time, his hefty weight of 21.8 pounds had already been reduced to about 17.5 and at the time I didn't really think anything of it. But the test results showed he had a growth the size of a small orange inside him, and as a result his days were surely numbered. Oh sure, I could have ordered an ultrasound, a biopsy, surgery, etc., but at that point what can you do for a cat over 15 years of age? The advice from the vet was to simply let nature take its course. This I did, but there were times I almost regretted that decision.

Along with that big tumour, a smaller cancerous growth was, we soon discovered, also occupying the right side of his nasal cavity, and this I watched slowly grow over the summer months to the point where just recently the growth had overtaken that side of his face and had distorted his once attractive features. It was painful to watch, and I can only imagine how painful it was for him to even breath properly. Eventually, in September, he began to breath through his mouth with such noise as to suggest an old wheezing man was living in the house. A prescription of liquid prenezone seemed to tame the inflammation for a time, and finally he was able to breath easily again.

This past Friday, his growth on the side of his face making his facial features look even more grotesque, I took Pushkin to the vet to see what could be done. The end was clearly near, but the vet, sensing I was not quite ready for that final decision yet, prescribed an injection of antibiotics to try to control the inflammation and bad things growing inside the nasal cavity. In theory, it should have worked, but all it succeeded in doing was erasing Pushkin's once healthy appetite and reduce him to a whithered shadow of his former self, almost half the size he once was, and doing nothing more than sleeping most of the weekend. Finally, Monday of this week, the decision was made - reluctantly to be sure - to put him to sleep and save my dear friend any further pain and suffering. Since then, I have been on an emotional roller-coaster as I struggle to come to grips with the loss of a great friend who in his own way taught me so much over the fifteen years we were together.

Every time now I see the chair he was curled up in, sound asleep, I have this empty feeling inside of me, wishing he were still there. The bed is more empty than it once was, as in the final weeks he took to curling up next to my chest with his head on the pillow next to mine, as I kept him comfortable overnight. Now, the void both day and night is palpable and heart-renching.
There are those who say a cat is simply a cat; those of us who know better scoff at that notion. A cat is as individual as the person he chooses to live with; in this case, Pushkin was far more interesting, I think, than the person he chose to live with.

I can't help but remember the wonderful times we have shared and the great memories I hold of special moments in our lives. I had the foresight in the latter months, as the illness progressed, to begin taking lots of pictures of my little friend to keep me company once he was gone. But all the while, I hoped he would somehow beat this and survive to be with me for a long time to come. Alas, it was not to be; the cancer was advancing too far too fast, and there was little we could do beyond simply make him comfortable in his final days. This I think we did. It's funny in a way; while I was in and out of hospital with surgery and resulting infections through August and September, Pushkin was always here, waiting for me to come home. When I did, he always perked up and seemed to be doing better. But this past weekend, as I neared the end of my recovery journey, he neared the end of his life journey; it was if he were signalling he had hung on long enough, I was now on my own to move on from my illness as his claimed him.

I would lie to you if I said I had not shed more than a few tears over the past few days; many more since his passing, of course, and I know that will continue for sometime to come. Time heals all wounds, they say, but the wound I now bear resulting from losing the best friend you could ever hope to have will take a very long time to heal indeed. Pushkin was truly one of a kind, a gentlemanly cat who loved people and was loved by all who met him. He is now and always will be missed.

As I struggled to come to grips with my loss this week, I turned to three CDs in my collection that helped through the ordeal: one is a short piece by Arvo Part titled Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. It is a hauntingly solemn piece with a solitary bell floating amongst a sea of strings for most of the short work. I also turned to a lighter-sounding but still reflective CD by French-Canadian composer-pianist Andre Gagnon, titled Impressions. It is all original compositions, most evoking a misty movie scene from years gone by, but the music perfectly tailored to the mood I was in. And the third CD I turned to was a collection of music by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, including his lovely Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and The Lark Ascending. The recording I have is by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Pushkin knew of my love of music, and these works are a fitting tribute to a cat I loved dearly, and now miss terribly. I hope he is no longer in pain, and in a better place. As for me, I am going to rest and reflect for a few days; my next entry in this space won't be until the weekend when I get back to work and look at this weekend's Pops concerts with the Niagara Symphony. Until then, I thank you for allowing me to write about a dear friend I now miss so very much.

October 20th, 2009.

1 comment:

Jody Wieler said...

I'm so sorry Mike - cats are very special to their respective owners, and it hurts to lose one that you love. Smile because he was in your life.