Tag Archives: memory

Remembering my friend Connecticut, The Back Story

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Connecticut: My, what big ears you have!

Connecticut: My, what big ears you have!

Remembering Connecticut, Part II: The Back Story

One day, oh so many years ago in Portland, I woke up from a nap to find a little grey and white kitty with huge ears on my bed. She came from a typical domestic kitty mold—thin, long-legged, steel grey fur on top, snow-white fur on the belly and chest, alternating toes, a faint white spot on her upper lip. My then-husband had been out with his sister and found her in a pet store. She was a beautiful surprise gift. We were planning to move to Connecticut (the state) for my then-husband to go to graduate school. So she became Connecticat, or later, just Connecticut. She bravely survived the drive across the country from Oregon with all of our worldly possessions in tow; tent camping in magnificent lightning storms, getting fleas in the occasional seedy pink hotel. Seeing the Grand Canyon with us for the first time, patiently waiting as we visited random tourist sites across the country—Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, The Museum of Appalachia, The Memphis Zoo (don’t ask me why I remember all of these Tennessee sites), even waiting in the tent for us as we visited D.C. for the day (I can’t believe we left her like that). She was a sensitive soul and the trip was not without ramifications. In addition to acquiring the fleas, she got her head partway out of her collar one time and panicked as it got stuck on her teeth (we were there to extricate her, thank goodness). She also developed some urinary issues which surfaced now and then the rest of her life, as well as becoming skittish, for instance, developing a doorbell phobia which would send her straight under the bed with every visitor. We thought we were having a grand adventure with our cat. I’m not sure she agreed. But clearly we loved each other and life was good.

Connecticut later survived acquiring a sister, Queequeg, and another cross-country move, this time to California. She survived the adoption of not one, but two stray cats, but made it clear that she wasn’t interested in my pet philanthropy. Queequeg met her untimely death there at the paws of one of the semi-strays in 2001, and my then-husband decided to leave a month later. It was just Connecticut and I for a little while, and she loved it. I was in turmoil over the loss of Queg and my marriage, and decided to adopt a kitten from the local shelter. Tundra had to be one of the sweetest cats I have ever known and she was a beautiful Siamese Lynx Point mix. Connecticut hated her. It was at that point that I realized and accepted that Connecticut just didn’t like other animals very much. She’d never been super snuggly with Queg, and I had always thought that it was Queg, who was always a little conflicted over displays of affection. Of course, then I adopted Pip in order to give Tundra somebody to love and play with (this was only semi-successful, but they did become great pals eventually, until Tundra met her untimely death at just over a year old from a strange illness).

Connecticut. The Stare.

Connecticut. The Stare.

One more long car trip was in Connecticut’s future—this time from California to Oregon. Connecticut, Tundra, Pip, and I crammed into the front of my jam-packed Subaru and moved to Bend. Unfortunately, Connecticut and Tundra had both developed car sickness by this point. After we arrived, though, Connecticut seemed to mellow out. We added another companion cat, Nevermore. We moved to a new house. We lost Tundra. We lost Tamias (a little kitten, to F.I.P.). We added a human (my now hubby). We had lots of friends with their crazy dogs over. We added rescued shelter cats (Gordy & Tommy) and went through two batches of foster kittens, one of which we kept (Isis). We took in a cat on death row from the vet clinic (Big Kitty). We got a few crazy dogs of our own. Suddenly, small step-kids were everywhere, frequently. Miraculously, Connecticut quit hiding under the bed and became a sage Queen Bee. In the midst of our new chaos, she was calm. She never especially made friends with any of the other animals; she warmed up to my older step-daughter, but mostly kept her distance from the twins. Nothing fazed her anymore, and she seemed happy.

A few years after we arrived in Bend, I noticed that Connecticut started looking a little rumply. She had always been a beautiful plush and shiny grey-blue. Her fur wasn’t as glossy as before, it started to look a little clumpy. She got a little skinny. We couldn’t find anything wrong at the vet, but I began to worry about her. This went on for years, but she was herself, just a little straggly. In late fall 2009, though, she began throwing up hairballs more often than usual, and became noticeably too thin. Blood work found some pancreatic issues, but nothing definitive. All we could do was try to get her to eat. And then she decided not to, most days. I watched her waste away to a skeleton after coaxing her to eat, sometimes force feeding her by syringe, for months. I was terrified to lose her—I thought she would be one of those cats who lived well past her 20th birthday. I was in denial. And I failed her. I failed her by not recognizing when she was ready to go, by hoping that a good day, a day in which she ate a little, might be a sign of improvement. I had never had to make a decision to euthanize one of my animal friends. I had lost many through tragedy, and the decisions had all been made for me. I regret that I may have let her suffer longer than she needed to. I also regret that I buried her rather than having her cremated like most of my other animal friends that have died. I’m not sure why this bothers me so much,  but I was sure to cremate Deimos when he died last November and there is something comforting in having his ashes.

Since losing Connecticut, I’ve had to choose (with my husband) for two companions to be euthanized (our foster cat, Big Kitty, and our greyhound, Deimos). I now know that I can make a different choice than I did with Connecticut, and that choice can also be the right choice. I’m going to feel guilty either way (did I do everything I can, did I wait long enough, did I wait too long, if I had more money would I have made different choices?) and that is my issue, not the animal’s.

It took me a long time to get past Connecticut’s death last year; Her death bowled me over. I still miss her, I still think of her every time I go to bed, every time I look at a heat vent (she loved being warm and could often be found hanging out on or near heat vents), every time I take a bath (she would always come up and hang out with me at the side of the tub), every time I interact with or feed the other animals, every time I cry. But I also have come to terms with her death and the decisions I made for her (and for myself). There is no doubt that she knew I loved her fiercely and that I made the best decision for her that I could at the time. She was not stuck in a cold metal cage with a feeding tube in a strange place among sick and dying strangers. She was home, with those she loved and who loved her. That is all I had to give.

Remembering my friend, Connecticut: MELL-ow! (Part 1)

Remembering my friend, Connecticut, Part 1: MELL-ow!

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Today I am remembering my friend, Connecticut. She left this world one year ago, February 13, 2010, at nearly 16 years of age.

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Most of this memorial I wrote a few weeks after she died—writing about her was a cathartic moment that helped me to push through a very dark time. Many of these photos have been on my bedside table for the last year: they are from when she was young and vibrant, because I was not very good about keeping track of or even taking photos in the intervening years. Every day I wake to Connecticut’s penetrating gaze and smile. She loved me like no other.

February 26, 2010

It seems that I’m going to have to write about this, or lose my mind. And body. The body is the mind is the body is the mind—that much is becoming clear, even as everything else is becoming less. My grief for Connecticut is a palpable thing. A very real thing, a physical thing, a physical presence, a weight, a darkness. I can feel it in my forehead, the back of my neck, and of course, my lungs. There are people who care, who understand, and through my fog I have received their small offerings of comfort and wisdom with real appreciation, but little understanding of how to really make sense of it all.

I got to talk with Steve [my vet] today for a little bit, for the first time since she died. It was evident that I was really down, and sick, and he said, “Is it, you know, a lung thing?” circling his fingers around his lung area, “Your sickness?” I indicated yes. “Well,” he said, “In Eastern medicine grief is indicated in the lungs.” And I was glad to hear it, because I didn’t know that, but I do know grief has made me sick in both mind and body, and it is good to feel validated, again, even though it does not make me feel better. We also talked a little about how the seasons affect us and the animals, about this time of year. I mentioned how I felt guilty—that maybe there had been more we could have done for Connecticut. I think he was sincere when he said that no, there really wasn’t anything else that would have helped. He said there was another cat with similar symptoms around the same time, and he ended up “sending her to kitty heaven” a few days ago. At least we can speak candidly with each other of these things.

So likewise, a few days ago I saw the nurse practitioner because I felt like I have strep among some other nasty things. I told her right away what had happened, and she also agreed that my grief had made me ill. She reminded me that in this society we are not given a chance to grieve our animals, let alone much time to grieve our humans. That first day when I stayed home to be with Connecticut when she was dying, I said I was sick. Soon, I really was. Thinking makes it so, and sick is an acceptable excuse to stay home—grief is not. She mentioned that animals have a way of teaching us—and maybe there was a reason she died so close to mom’s death anniversary.

That has not made it easier. Connecticut, Connector, Connection, Nectar, Nectarine, Rumply, Cow Kitty, Bat Ears, Long One (this from a comment made by a vet when she a kitten, “My, that’s a long one,” he said, measuring her torso).

She died in my arms on February 13 at around 5p—just under two weeks ago. Mom died February 16, 19 years ago. Grief never really leaves, it gets weaker over time, maybe, like a virus, but is there lurking, waiting to pop out again angry and raw at the first opportunity.

(As I try to write with the laptop balanced on my leg, Pip has decided to come flump me, perching on my left knee, hanging on with her claws, making it very difficult. But also making me smile. These kitties are persistent in their love, and maybe in their grief, I don’t know. Nectar didn’t really like the other animals very much, and they’re probably mostly relieved that the Wicked Witch is Dead! The Queen Bee is gone. I think Pip was the first in my lap that evening on the bed after Connector left us, her body still on the bed, but her spirit wherever spirits go. What a bittersweet lap snuggle Pip and I had.)

I’m so afraid that I’m going to forget what Connecticut was like. Everything always fades. I can’t really remember anything specific about 20 years with mom; what her voice sounded like, what we talked about, even what she looked like—other than in photos and videos. Sure, I remember impressions, snippets of conversations, a laugh, a glint in the eye, bits of conversations and stories told. But much of it disappeared a long time ago. I just don’t have a great memory for detail.

I walk around this house and there is a palpable absence of Connecticut everywhere. Nearly 16 years of her are walking around with me. I wish I understood where she is now—my oldest friend. I thought going through the process with her—not hospitalizing her, letting her go when she needed to go—I thought that would help us through it too, my husband and I. But holding her, feeling her take those last long breaths, so far apart, feeling all of the heat drain from her body, her feet so cold to the touch in those last few minutes—it didn’t help. She was there, and then she was not there. Where did she go? If she were here now, she would be stoically helping me through this by curling up in my lap or on my chest at every opportunity. That had to have been one of her most favorite things in the world—doing “the boat” or becoming “a loaf” on my chest, purring away with that deep, sputtering, popcorn of a purr. Another nickname: Popcorn Head. If she was in the mood, and she often was, she’d undo the boat and strike a sphinx pose, with her arms very close to my face, so she could poke me now and then with her paw. And then, waiting for me to become sleepy, or sometimes after I was asleep, she’d lick my face, which I would try somewhat unsuccessfully to dodge under the covers. She obviously thought this was funny. And it was a game we had played hundreds of times.

Nectar had other games as well. She would almost always get up with me in the morning. My first pee was often accompanied by Connecticut, trying to bite my big toes. She’d go for a toe, I’d try to hide the attacked foot behind the other, and then she’d go for the other toe. After a while (how many years?) I wised up and would immediately plunge my feet under the bath rug to try to avoid those sharp little teeth. Her green eyes would be bright and her white whiskers so alert and far forward, enjoying herself immensely. (She also liked sleeping on my lap if I spent too much time in the toilet.) She was not immune to occasionally biting a nose or chin, either, as my pet-sitting friend once found out. Then there was the banister or counter game that she liked to play with my husband or I, where we’d tap the end of the banister or the counter lightly and say Meh! and she’d race towards us, sometimes talking back with a Meh! Then we’d run to the other end, tap it, and she’d race back towards us, this repeating for some time. She had a deep voice, and did her fair share of talking. She would say what sounded like, “MELL-ow!” and which we’d often repeat back to her, “MELL-ow!” Connecticut had her own vocabulary, and inspired ours. “Flump” was the only adequate way to explain the way she would fall over dramatically to one side, when deciding to lay down. The word has gotten incorporated into our family lexicon. Note: Cats flump, dogs don’t. Cats also do the “boat” or “loaf,” which is when they tuck all their legs underneath and sleep upright. And a pointy cat face is a “beak.”

Connection was my cat, who became our cat. She seemed to have loved my husband and I both equally, and without judgment, which is something we are unable to do even for each other. She was a constant, for so many years. When she was younger, she used to be very sensitive to my tears, and would stick her beak in my face, trying to comfort me. After a while, she stopped doing that, probably jaded by too many tears. But I knew she still cared, because she was always there to jump in my lap, no matter what kind of mood I was in. And for more years than I can remember, after a preliminary boat session on my chest, she slept most of the night to the right of my head and pillow, between me and the night stand. That was her spot. Occasionally, for variety, she’d sleep in the middle between us.

Sixteen years is a long time. That’s four and a half years short of the time I had with my mom. That’s longer than any other friendship I’ve had. I will miss Nectar always.

Like an eye roaming with the dead beneath an unlocked lid

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by Kevin Young


Bereavement

Behind his house, my father’s dogs
sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.

They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails

& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal

& forgetful.
Each day they wake
seeking his voice,

their names.
By dusk they seem
to unremember everything—

to them even hunger
is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them

pacing their cage. I try to remember
they love best confined space
to feel safe. Each day

a saint comes by to feed the pair
& I draw closer
the shades.

I’ve begun to think of them
as my father’s other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.

My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.

They are outside dogs
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful

& one giant muscle
like the heart. Dad taught
them not to bark, to point

out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me

like witnesses & will not say.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness

wish of them forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find for them homes,

sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace
as I do, each dog like an eye

roaming with the dead
beneath an unlocked lid.


From The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, edited by Kevin Young.

Like carrying water in my hands

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by Stephen Dobyns


Grief

Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere
people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.

Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.

I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.


From The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, edited by Kevin Young.

How do you decide if the deciding is already decided for you?

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First, Goal Progress: In bed by around 11:45 p.m. Jan 13, Up at 9 a.m. Jan 14. Sigh. We can see what my natural pattern is.
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More from Keeper: one house, three generations, and a journey into Alzheimer’s by Andrea Gillies:

I also come across some rather startling research to do with the electrical impulses that carry information between neurons. Apparently, studies of the action potentials have found that they fire up before we decide they should be doing whatever it is that we’ve asked of them: for instance, to turn a page or flip a fried egg or pick up a stone on the beach. Experiments showing this to be true were begun by the research scientist Benjamin Libet in the 1970s, and continued in 1985 in a scientific trial done with people who flexed their wrists at will and signaled the moment of deciding by marking the position of a rotating disk. Extraordinarily, it was discovered that the appropriate neurons fired up a full half second before the moment the subjects “decided.” The interval is known as Libet’s delay. In terms of the speed of the electrical impulse, a half second is a very long time. What seems to be happening is that something below or aside from consciousness is making decisions before we think we are making decisions. Something else in us, backstage of our deciding, appears to be deciding before we decide. It reminds me of a British TV series called Yes Minister, in which civil servants manipulate a member of the government, convincing him that he’s in charge when the truth is that the real decision making is going on elsewhere. In April 2008, an experiment using fMRI scanning not only confirmed that Libet’s delay exists, but went further, showing decisions can be predicted up to ten seconds before deciders “decide.” (Or course, it’s possible to argue that these are ten seconds in which the subject is observed in readiness, preparing to do something as instructed by the experimenter.)

This raises all kinds of questions for me about the nature of self and instinct and mind. If we’re not consciously making decisions, then what part of us is? (Note I said what part of us, not who.)

Another stone added to the cairn

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First, Goal Progress: In bed by around midnight Jan 12, Up at 8:15 a.m. Jan 13.
~

I like to think about memory, maybe because I’ve never had a great one. I remember feelings, emotions, colors, and esoteric tidbits, not names, labels, and facts. I remember the jist of the conversation, but not the exact words. I might recall the conversation we had, but not remember what you thought was most important. However, it would be a mistake to think I haven’t been paying attention; I might see a pattern in your thoughts or behavior that you have never noticed.

It’s interesting to think about what goes into a memory, why we remember, what we remember. How memory is more subjective than we like to think: 10 eyewitnesses, 10 different stories. This past year I’ve enjoyed reading about Alzheimer’s and dementia. My maternal grandmother suffered from what was called Alzheimer’s: I’m not sure if that was the diagnosis or just a convenient term. We lived out west and she in Michigan, so I wasn’t around to notice the deterioration. There was a time, though, when we were back for a visit; she had accused one of her young nephews of stealing from her, which seemed unlikely. Then she began driving erratically, eventually causing accidents and driving through the garage door. That’s about all of the story I can summon. I imagine grandma’s very rural small-town community put up with erratic behavior by the Sheriff’s widow longer than had she lived elsewhere. She lived to at least seventy, and by that time had been in a home residential facility for some time. I believe my paternal grandma, who lived to be 90, helped care for her there. I tell you this because I’m not sure this is where the interest comes from, or if it’s just one of those things I like to explore, like twins, and mental illness. Probably part of me hopes that dementia is not in my future. My mom didn’t live long enough to find out if it would happen to her.

Two books that I’ve enjoyed this year:

Dancing with Rose: finding life in the land of Alzheimer’s by Lauren Kessler. Driven by guilt and a quest for understanding of her mother’s illness and death, the author finds work as a caregiver at a residential facility for Alzheimer’s patients.

Keeper: one house, three generations, and a journey into Alzheimer’s by Andrea Gillies. The story of the author as primary caregiver to her in-laws as her mother-in-law deteriorates into the black hole of the Alzheimer’s patient, and her father-in-law develops poor health, which prevent him from taking care of himself or his wife.

Both are highly personal and engaging accounts of living with and caring for people with dementia.

From Keeper:

Everything we are is the sum of our history, augmented by every new experience, each stone added to the cairn and modified by our thoughts about that stone, and about the shape the cairn is taking. Our selves are fed by our narrative, the story of our past and our imagined futures. Ask me who I am and I turn immediately to memory. It isn’t possible to answer the question “Could you tell me something about yourself? without recourse to biography. Even aside from replies that start, “Well, I was born in …” (which are the most obviously memory driven), other kinds of responses, ones that try to avoid the straight biographical—”I am intelligent, curious, anxious, and usually hungry”—also rely entirely on memory. You only know yourself because of your memory.

You forget—it doesn’t

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Once again, I’ve put off my blog post until the last minute. My work-day bedtime goal this week is in bed by 10:30 p.m., and I want to start the week off right, so that means short and sweet.

Besides, I have Kindle reading to do. Right now I’m reading Keeper: one house, three generations, and a journey into Alzheimer’s by Andrea Gillies.

I leave you tonight with the phrase for which this blog is named, from one of my favorite books:

Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!

— John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany)