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is how little I ever expect it.

Three years ago, I sat at my brother's bedside at Highland Hospital when he began to die. I did not know that he was dying - I thought it was pain that caused his breathing to become first shallow and ragged, and then slow again. I did not connect the fact that his fingertips were cold and blue-grey with the fact that his heart was no longer able to pump oxygenated blood all of the way down his arm.

Perhaps it was because, earlier that day, his hospital advocate had brought a saleswoman to his room to encourage me to visit hospice care facilities in the area. She was sure she could find one now that Steve qualified for Medicaid. But when his palliative care doctor finally came into the room with a doctor she was training and showed her the signs of circulatory collapse it finally hit me that he was going to die. Right now. Not at some indefinite point in the future, but now.

The staff, the nurses, they all knew. They knew that death was very close for my brother, but they had seen it before. This was my first time.

The MRSA that finally took my husband two years ago had invaded his spine and spread to his major organs. I remember standing outside of his room talking to his cardiologist on the day before he died. She told me that his heart, home of a St. Jude's metal aortic valve and four stints, was heavily infected. She told me basically that there was nothing more they could do. The antibiotics weren't working - he was too sick for surgery to clear out the abscess.

But he had just eaten the lunch I had made at home and brought in for him. (The fact that I was allowed to bring food from home should have made clear to me how close to death he was.) He communicated with me just moments before this conversation. But I stood there and listened to what she had to say. After she left I called his cardiologist in Aliso Viejo and asked him to talk to Ed's doctors and see if anything could be done.

I should have been ready. I wasn't. I honestly did not expect him to die. The next night while we sat together, his hand in both of mine, his breathing changed. I knew what would come next. But it wasn't until that moment that I really believed he would die.

My mind skitters away from the very thought of death, as if to acknowledge it is to call if forth, as if it were some evil spirit waiting around for a moment of weakness. As if I could control death by my very thoughts. As if.

A year later our oldest cat, CC, who had suffered from kidney failure for five years, started scratching her forehead, compulsively, drawing blood. I knew the night before that I was going to lose her. But still, when the vet looked at me with eyes full of compassion as he confirmed my fears, I was shocked.

Within six months my youngest cat, Tinker Toy, had suddenly become very ill. It was unexpected, as he had been in the best of health, a strong funny, loving companion. I was sure that if I could just get him to eat a little, to drink water, or homemade chicken broth, that he would pull through. So we spent a week, he tried, there were times when it looked like he was going to make it, but another blood test, just before we were going to arrange subcutaneous hydration, revealed the likely presence of lymphoma. And I had to let him go, as his weakened condition precluded treatment.

Last week I had family visiting. Jasper, almost 17, would wander around, chatting with us, trying to sneak up onto the kitchen counter, hoping for leftovers. He was oblivious to the water bottle that would terrify the other cats. It would take so many sprays to chase him down that I would have to towel him off afterwards. Whenever the doorbell would ring he would come trotting out to see who had come to visit him.

The night before last, he started having difficulty breathing. By yesterday, he had started to stagger and breathe through his mouth. Loudly. The vet saw him yesterday afternoon and heard the wrong type of sound in his lungs. He suspects lung cancer since Jasper's temperature of 93º ruled out pneumonia. I couldn't wrap my head around the speed with which this was happening. We gave him a steroid injection to reduce the nasal inflammation and an antibiotic so I could take him home. I sat with him all night as he slept, woke up, staggered around, and went back to sleep. I nodded off around seven this morning. When I woke three hours later, I was pleased to see him at the water fountain, carefully drinking.

But then he staggered away, started gagging, threw up the water and had a seizure. His body is shutting down. I have an appointment with the vet at two o'clock this afternoon to give him respite.

CC hated that collar.
For the entire five minutes I made her wear it.
Tinker Toy
slowly sneaking onto my laptop
Jasper
Three Tonkinese cats
Ethel Mertz, Tonka Toy, Lucille Ball

 


Of the original four, I have one left. Tonka Toy was the first Tonkinese we ever had. He came to us with an upper respiratory virus that became chronic. It never occurred to me that he would outlast all of the others. He has a new family, shown above. Two Tonkinese kittens have helped fill the hole in his heart that Tinker Toy left.

Maybe someday they will help fill the holes in mine.

For now, I have an appointment to keep.

4:03 PM PT: Well, it is over for Jasper now. I have a vision of him sitting on Ed's lap in that big recliner in the sky, both of them happier for his passing.

Thank you all for your comments and condolences.

Originally posted to Susan Grigsby on Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 12:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by PWB Peeps, Community Spotlight, and The Grieving Room.

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