November 21st, 2010
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This was taken last January, a few months before he died. I kind of knew, somewhere, that it was my last winter with him. And I treasured the time, the cuddles and his kingly appearance, the loud meows he greeted me with, and the way he looked at me with all that love present in his golden eyes. I love Eli, our Mr. Meep, the snugglemonster shedder extraordinaire; he’s done wonders to heal that part of my heart that broke when Harmon died. Still, there are times that I see Eli and I think he’s Harmon and my heart jumps in my throat because I feel, for one split second that it’s all been a bad dream and my old pal never left.
And then my heart breaks all over again. And each time it does, I thank God that I had those 17 years, and that the pain of losing a friend can still be so acute even as you smile and remember how wonderful life was when he was around.
If you’re new here and don’t know Harmon’s story, this is what happened to him. And then back in March, life stopped for a while. And on Easter, we struggled back to life. Finally, we found our redemption. The stories are sad, especially if you’ve ever lost a treasured pet, but I’ve gotten to a point in life where I’ve been able to accept and embrace the pain because it means that I have loved deeply. And there’s never a reason to be sad about that.
April 4th, 2010
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Our life can be marked by our losses, which often can be more defining than the days that take our breath away. A loss in life is like running smack into a brick wall, after which you shake off the tweeting birds floating around your head and look around at what’s landed in your path. There is no more going forward as you have been; it’s time to look to either side and determine which is the next best step, choosing your new direction, heading off into the unknown. But sometimes those brick walls of life stop us cold. We had no idea it was coming and it’s frozen us in time, unable to shift our direction and find the new normal. We sit in front of it and stare, uncomprehending this change that we don’t want, and didn’t ask for.
I’ve had times like that. Bad times that have stopped me senseless. I lost my sister in 1991, my Mom in 1994. Both times it was so numbing that I simply sat down, right where I was, and hardly budged. I got stuck a lot in those days, and held big-time pity parties for myself complete with isolation, junk food binges, too much alcohol, or worse, something stronger. I lost a lot of time that I’ll never get back.
This loss was much different, as I had seen it coming for some time. But it didn’t hurt any less. Even with Mike and Griffin right there with me in the Vet’s office, as I held Harmon and felt him slip into an eternal sleep, it was the loneliest feeling I think I have ever known. The past 17 years flashed through my head; every little thing about him that endeared him to me, from the first glimpse of his face to his final day. He was such a part of me that I can’t even imagine how long it will take to stop looking around the house for him. Seventeen years is a very long time. Griffin has never known his life without this big orange cat. I can’t remember much about mine before he came along.
But we move on. We have no choice. And in the days following our loss, I was overcome with urges to eat foods I hadn’t touched in years. The need to cover the pain became very real, and yet none of my old coping mechanisms were still in place and I had to just let the pain seep out of me. It gripped me so hard that it left me physically gasping for air. I had no appetite, but ate mechanically. Nothing had any taste. I wept often, and uncontrollably. I craved fried foods, greasy burgers, heavy pizza, drinks with funny names, being prone under a pile of blankets and more isolation than is humanly wise. I was staring at yet another brick wall and the only thing I knew how to do with pain like this was collapse and disappear from life again.
This is now, however, the kinder and gentler Kate, and after the first acute and tenderly painful days, I realized that I did want food, and was pleased that I wanted good food. And the first dish that I took out and set before my grief was my most favorite Lentils and Farro with Caramelized Leeks. The attention to slowly caramelizing the leeks seemed to almost take my mind off the fact that there was no eager golden-hued face at my feet, weaving in and out of my legs as I stood at the stove. Then copious amounts of this white bean and roasted garlic spread not only had me set for life against vampires, but provided heady aromatic and tasty relief (that photo above should give you some clue as to how critical roasted garlic is in my kitchen). There were more roasted vegetables, despite the warm end to March in Minnesota, a succulent grilled pork tenderloin that I buried under a thick mustard glaze, salads crunchy enough to fill the echo within my heart.
And I baked, because what could soothe one more than homemade scones? Lacking fresh fruit for a Sunday morning treat before a necessary and pleasantly grueling 3.5 mile hike, I gently blended thick fruit preserves with the liquid in my favorite scone recipe, and came up with a delightfully light and flavorful round, studded with chopped pecans and warmly comforting to my tummy. Another batch of Orange-Cardamom Scones sent me skyrocketing into sheer happiness, lush with the crisp citrus scent. The secret to these, I am 100% certain, is the citrus-infused turbinado sugar that filled the interior and decked out the tops. With the crunchy sugar and fresh zest, really, can it go wrong?
And Brownies. Let’s just say that in everyone’s coping arsenal should be a good solid recipe for a Brownie that will calm even the worst of one’s inner storms. Fudgey or cakey, I’m OK with either because where good chocolate therapy is concerned, I’m always a willing participant.
There was also Spring Break with my Teen that included him getting contacts, and or course, the golden sunshine that tickled and warmed our faces as March bid us farewell. I busied myself cleaning up last year’s detritus in the garden, and marveled that I was sweating on the last day of a typically snowy and cold month. I took a very long bike ride. And I cooked more soothing foods. I’m exploring some terrific options for the weeks ahead, in April, the month where Spring explodes over our part of the Earth. I don’t want to miss out on that, or anything else coming my way these days. There’s no more hiding. Not for this girl.
And Easter Sunday I feel, is an appropriate time for a new beginning, wouldn’t you agree??
Orange Cardamom Scones
adapted heavily from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen
2-1/2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/2 t. ground cardamon
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking tray with parchment.
Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom and salt. Blend together juice, zest and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork until all flour is incorporated. Careful not to overmix.
Gently scoop individual portions onto cookie sheet. You should get about 8 scones. Bake until slightly browned on top, about 15-18 minutes.
For the Citrus Sugar that I sprinkled on top- Zest one orange and mix the zest with half a cup of turbinado sugar. Place in blender and mix until fully combined. Scrape into container and keep refrigerated. Use regular sugar if you have no turbinado. Sprinkle over tops of scones before baking.
March 26th, 2010
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I never expected to have the last six months. And I thank God for them, because it’s been a long preparation for this day.
Harmon has slipped away, very quickly and over just the past few days. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong because we don’t need to know. We just know he’s very ill, he’s very old and he’s leaving us. We need to make his final journey a peaceful one. For the unconditional love he’s given to me over the last 17 years, I owe him as little suffering as I am able to give. It doesn’t make the ache in our hearts any easier but he deserves nothing less from us. For every snuggle, for every jet engine purr and painfully hard head-butt he’s sent me over his lifetime, and for the six months that I’ve had to try and somehow accustom myself to living without him, I can make one of the hardest choices of my adult life.
Inevitable, and bittersweet. There are no more Spring days for him lolling on the patio or chasing grasshoppers, no more expectant faces at the snack cupboard, no more heavy bodies cuddling up to me while I work, or watch TV or sleep at night.
I don’t really know what Bustopher will do. Or for that matter, what we will do.
So please excuse my absence from here for a while.
November 18th, 2009
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Thanks to those of you who still ask about Harmon. It’s been two months since he was diagnosed with cancer and really, he’s doing pretty good. It’s surprising to me, joyful and really a bit scary too.
I’m afraid that I could get complacent about him. That I’ll forget that anyone even uttered the word ‘Cancer’ to me, or that he could well have a ticking bomb inside him that could burst forth one of these days and swiftly remove him from my life. I did prepare for it, and process it and felt like I at least got to a place of good reckoning. I am at peace. But for each day that he lifts his head in his customary chirp of greeting, that he settles in to snuggle against me in the morning as I sip coffee and surf or climbs on my lap when I sit down in front of the television for a movie or show, I have to remind myself that it’s one more day that is gifted to me that I never expected to receive. I have to remember that I am not promised any tomorrows with him, or even a ‘next month’ kind of scenario. I listen to his breathing. I feel and stroke his chin for any suspicious lumps that might indicate a resurgence. I note his stiff, old-age gait and the amount of time he sleeps and wonder about him. I wonder constantly. I hold him as much as he’ll allow, and to his credit, he seems so much more tolerable of being drawn close to me than at any other time in his life.
And I am more tolerable of indulging him in the foods that are usually forbidden in a feline diet, mainly anything off our table. Harmon has always had a taste for people food, with thanks to me, but lately, as I have watched his former bulk shrink to being almost non-existent, I’ve felt that to slip him a few nibbles from my plate isn’t such a bad thing. He has, of course, taken this to his full advantage. Harmon is a true gourmand. He enjoys all manner of people food, not just the normal aspects of our diet that one would expect a cat to enjoy, like meat or cheese. He eats legumes, and seems to have a particular love for them, well, unless they’re highly spiced lentils. He does spit those out. But great northerns? Black beans? Pintos? Chickpeas? He eats them all. He loves cauliflower too. Go figure. And peas, corn and green beans as well. He’s more adventurous than my teenager when it comes to food he hasn’t tried yet either, willingly accepting it and showing us his most baffled expression if he’s not so certain whether it’s to his liking. Is this guilt driven, my slipping him the good stuff? No. It’s more like my wish for him to be happy, to put something in his tummy. Although his ample belly and squishy pouch is still evident, there is no more intense reminder to me of the state of his health than the fact that his spine and rib bones, once sheltered in his former bulk along his back, are now clearly visible and sharply defined. Petting him is emotionally painful, to feel those old bones. If his time with me were to end tomorrow, the last thing I would be concerned about was sharing the grand tastes and flavors of life with him. What a way to go.
So there it is, for now. He’s well, apparently, and is quite content and happy. He is in no pain that we can tell, unless you count his old-age stiffness. He eats like a champ. He still purrs his trademark rumble, and snuggles in at every chance he gets. I’ll take it. And for as long as I can. Every day with him is a gift.
September 28th, 2009
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Harmon is doing better, thanks to a steroid prescribed on Saturday. The stitches from the surgery are starting to fall out, and he allows me to gently rub the incision with my fingertip. The surgery was two weeks ago today. I’m hoping to be able to clip out the remaining stitches, as I think they are itching him quite a bit.
The swelling that came as a result of the other mass became very bad, and was alarming to us. The steroid has helped reduce this, plus he managed to scratch it open and the amount that drained out was beneficial as well. Had this not occurred, we likely would have needed to lance it, as it looked terrible and was clearly uncomfortable. Thankfully he didn’t need that procedure. The other mass in his chin has gone down in size, but I can still feel it. His mood is better, he eats better- thanks to the steroid- and on Saturday night, for the first time in months, he climbed the stairs to our bedroom and got on the bed, snuggling up against my legs all night long. He even got up in the night, went downstairs for a drink and then came back up again for more snuggling. That to me was a clear sign that he has improved.
The hardest part now is not to become complacent about him, which I am trying hard not to think about. I can’t think that he’s fine, I can’t let go of the sorrow. He still has cancer. He is still sick, but I guess this could be called a reprieve, or maybe even a remission. He is very thin, comparatively, and it is still obvious to me that it’s difficult for him to eat as well as he should. But anything, for now, is a reason to rejoice. And for taking more time to draw him as close as he will allow, and bury myself in his fur as much as I can.
September 23rd, 2009
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We won’t be treating Harmon’s cancer.
It’s not even a consideration. He is 16, and has blessed me with the most unconditional and amazing love of any animal I’ve known. Through times of my life when I felt like I was the most vile and worthless human, he never failed to climb in my lap and press his girth against me, purring his trademark rumble and squeezing my leg with his claws. Every night he curled against my legs in bed, or often on top of them and I would struggle against his weight and warmth to prevent my legs from falling asleep. Yet he never relented. It was like he knew what his role was, knew exactly what I needed even if I couldn’t feel it myself. He knew his place, and it was on my lap, or curled tight next to me.
It’s one thing to discuss cancer treatments with a human, one who can understand and comprehend why they may need poison in their body to ward off such a terrible disease. You can explain about hospitals and doctors and needles and IV tubes and side effects to a human. You can’t tell a cat any of this. You can’t explain that it will help relieve the pain. You can take a human to the hospital and tell them you’ll return to visit, or be there when the treatment is over but you can’t make the animal understand that. They won’t know it’s in their best interest. They only will know pain, fright and confusion. I could never do that to Harmon, and I could never do that to me.
And he’s 16. He’s been in beginning stages of renal failure for about two years, but without major problems. And for the love and strength that he’s given me, it’s grossly unfair to think that I can prolong his life for my own benefit. He’s been in a safe and loving environment since he was a baby; I am the one face he’s known his whole life and he’s given me back oceans of love for the simple act of accepting him into my life. What he needs now is relief from the pain and the knowledge that for the end of his life, I was here with him, making him comfortable and showing him how much I love him.
As for what’s next, we just need to watch him. I’m more than aware of the fact that we’ll know, without a doubt, when it’s time to say goodbye.
This ‘bed head’ shot has always been one of my favorites. Harmon does ‘bed head’ really well.
I’m a little worried about how Bustopher will handle the loss of his cat-bro….
More importantly, how will we??
That’s why they call dying a ‘process’, I guess.
September 21st, 2009
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September 15th, 2009
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Harmon is home and seems to be resting comfortably. He isn’t too interested in eating or drinking much and I’m sure I wouldn’t be if I had that stitched up chin either. He loves it when I lay next to him and scratch his head, under his floppy protective collar and around the underside of his chin. And he’s been OK about taking his medications although they probably don’t taste so good.
We have been so appreciative of the prayers and thoughtful purrs from the Cat community. I am overwhelmed and so thankful for your kind thoughts and words. They have really helped me in the past day. The pathology report could take a week to come back and I’m still fairly anxious about that but am trying to stay focused and make our kitty guy comfortable. I really had to force myself to go to bed last night instead of laying on the floor next to him staring at his face and trying to will healing into him. He seems a lot more comfortable and at ease today.
You can see the other mass in his chin, about 1:00 in the photo above, dark red and slightly lumpy. I am praying the antibiotics will clear that up and that he won’t require another surgery. Please keep the purrs and warm thoughts coming, and again, thank you so much for your kindness and good wishes.
September 14th, 2009
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He’s 16 years old, and has been around since before my own child. I have a hard time remembering life before Harmon.
If you’ve never had a beloved pet, if you’ve never known the beauty of their unconditional love, you can stop reading and I won’t fault you. I’d rather you click away than try and understand.
Harmon will be having surgery today, Monday the 14th to remove a lesion from his lip. It started out looking like nothing more than a blemish on his chin, but it never healed and lately it’s gotten worse. The vet said that it just needs to come off, that certain cancers manifest themselves in this manner and a pathology test will determine once and for all what it really is.
Sixteen years ago I was walking through the rescue shelter, gazing in the cages at all manners of cats. The cages stood three high, and they were all filled. Suddenly I felt something grab my leg from the middle cage near where I was standing, and I bent over to look in. This adorable orange furry face gazed back at me, and reached a huge fluffy paw towards me again. Here was a 4-month old kitten that was enormous, with an equally huge fluffy tail. I got him out of his cage and took him into a small room where you could ‘get acquainted’. This fuzzball of a cat started purring like he’d eaten a jet engine. He literally vibrated from head to tail as he purred and rubbed his chin endlessly on me. With one desperate gaze from his golden eyes, I fell in love and took him home. I was besotted, a complete goner. I was chosen, picked by the cat instead of the other way around. Someone must have known just exactly what I needed.
And then a vet says ‘Cancer’ and suddenly I can’t even sleep. And it could be nothing worse than a clogged pore, but all I can think about is what life might be like without that purr, those golden eyes and the gentle love he’s always given me. This has been the finest cat I’ve known. He’s always willing to offer a snuggle, he breaks into his trademark purr if I even look at him and say his name, and no matter what I’ve done, where I’ve lived, what I’ve gone through- which have been some extremely dark times- he’s been right there, settling in against my leg, curling his claws in contentment when I scratch his ears and being steadfast and constant throughout it all.
He’s my sunshine fiend. One ray of sunshine in the house, and he’ll find it.
But he’s 16. Climbing the stairs is hard, and getting on the bed is harder. He sleeps way more than our other cat. He seems shaky and stiff on occasion, but once in a while he kicks up his heels and runs around like a kitten, batting at a toy or chasing an invisible target. But he is old, and there is fear in me. I know that keeping pets in your life opens up the possibility of enormous heartbreak; I’ve been down that road already, owning pets since I was 10 years old. I’m aware of how much it can hurt.
Cancer. Pathology. Fear.
I’m trying to think of positive outcomes, but quite frankly it’s difficult, if not impossible. Inevitably, if it isn’t this it will be something else and I’ll have to face it then so I run the movie in my head of what it will be like to say goodbye to him, to wake up and come down my stairs and not hear his loud chirp of greeting, and see the way he runs straight to the cabinet that holds the cat treats even though he knows that he has to wait. To watch TV without him contentedly purring in my lap. To see how he drags himself from a deep sleep when someone is in the kitchen because he just has to come in and check to make sure we haven’t dropped a lovely tidbit he could eat.
What will it be like to eat dinner and not have him pawing us?
Will Spring be the same without an adorable shaved cat in the house?
My heart can barely handle these questions now.