Anticipatory grief reprieve

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Mollycat
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Anticipatory grief reprieve

Post by Mollycat » Fri Jun 14, 2019 10:45 am

Some might think this is an odd topic but I hope it will reassure anyone in this bizarre situation.

My own boy Boo has been having some health issues and for most of this year so far we have been on and off wondering how much longer we have. I feel able to write this now because for now he is ok thanks to some magic pills. He is a retired stud, 15 years old, retired with me since early 2013. Before that he had 4 different owners and at least with the last one lived in a comfortable spacious outdoor run with a lovely cosy warm indoor shelter. He transitioned to house cat very well but always had runny eyes and a snotty nose and was prone to coughing fits. Vets couldn't find any issue and it didn't get any worse, so we put it down to indoor life, house dust and heating. He was however so stressed being an only cat that we had to bring him a friend, a 6 year old moggy girl, and although she has never allowed physical contact that satisfies his need for company.

2 years ago a routine blood test showed up early stage renal issues, which we managed with prescription food. A dental and antibiotics eased his respiratory issues temporarily. And then a year ago his digestive system kicked off, we first had to take him off renal wet food which made him sick and squitty, then later the dry which had also started to cause trouble. But episodes of squits came more and more often and harder to control. Vitamin B injections stopped working. He went off his food and lost 10% of his body weight in just 8 days. We managed to bring him back with steroid shots, tuna water (spring water of course not brine) and then he went downhill again, barely eating a few mouthfuls. At 15 we didn't feel it was appropriate to embark on invasive treatments and expensive tests and resigned ourselves to his time coming to an end soon.

Last week I didn't think he woud see his 15th birthday on Monday. Saturday we decided to give him one last chance. The vet found sores and one ulcer in his mouth and said she could feel his inflamed bowel. She gave a shot of long lasting antibiotic, a shot of steroid, an appetite stimulant and sent us home with steroid tablets. Sunday he was no better. Would we have to make the call and let him go on his birthday?

My partner got up for work at 4am (an hour early) and I got up with him. I was getting the cats' breakfast ready when Boo followed me into the kitchen wowling, something he has never done since his food was moved out of there years ago. He led me to his feeding spot and immediately tucked in. I went back to bed. He woke me a few hours later shouting in my ear for more food. In the evening he was waiting for his food. The next day, same thing. He ate more in 24 hours than he had done in the whole previous week. It's been 5 days now and he waits for most meals and eats normally. It's a miracle.

So why, then, do I feel such mixed emotions? Why do I feel anxious and what is this heavy weight dragging down my heart? The answer is simple but unspeakable, and yet so common we should be open about it and challenge the guilt we feel when we're not overjoyed enough at the news that our beloved furries have a reprieve. When the end is in sight with some measure of certainty, we go into a form of grief in anticipation of the final moment, anticipatory grief. This is a surreal world where we are grieving while our loved one is still here, where we notice every detail of them and their life with us, when we wonder at every turn if this will be the last time we get a cuddle, the last time we put down the food bowl and get the wavy tail and little chirrup, What will greet us when we walk through the door and when we wake up, will there be a miracle or tears, is today the day we have to make that call. Should we buy the big bag of dry food, or the small bag? We look at our sleeping companion and watch for their breathing. We give that extra treat and stop turfing them off the bed even if it means sleeping fitfully half out of the covers. Fridays are the worst, will the vet come out at the weekend if needed?

Then suddenly they turn it around and perk up, we get our miracle. They demand food, they get up, they might go and sit in the garden or jump up on their favourite chair. And we are so deep in our grieving that we daren't hope this is real. We know it's a temporary reprieve and yet suddenly there is hope for more time, the time we so desperately wanted, and we don't know what to do with these emotions. We were on a downward spiral and can't get our emotions into reverse and part of us actually resists, because it's so mentally exhausting and emotionally draining, and we know deep down this is temporary and we will have to get back on that downward drag again some time. The cat feels fine, and we are an emotional wreck! How long will it last? We know rallying before the end is very common - is that what this is, or a real solid improvement?

We have had a wake-up call to the reality that some day inevitably we will have to say goodbye, as we have done before and will do again. We feel guilty for writing them off, sometimes this even happens after the appointment has been made. We have had the preciousness of those final few weeks, days and hours brought sharply to the front of our mind. We have been reminded of all our past losses and their pain, and the torture of making the big decisions at the right time. Anticipatory grief is the equivalent of getting up to see your friend to the door when they have said they must be getting home and before waving goodbye as they walk down the path and closing the door behind them. The rallying is the friend saying oh I forgot to tell you .... It's nice to get that unexpected extra hug, but your mind was so focused walking down the hall that it throws you into a moment of confusion and you don't really understand why there's a fleeting moment of irritation.

It's ok to have these feelings and thoughts, we shouldn't feel too guilty about them, they are all a normal part of the processes of grieving and dying. It should be ok to share them, at least here where we're all potty about our pets. I am now wondering how long Boo will have to be on these tablets, whether I can cut down the dose, what do we do when they stop working. I am also very aware that we're going to have to discuss what to do with a little body, how best to let the other animals say goodbye and understand. Should we bring the body home? Have a home call? Will the smell on my hands be enough for them? Will my partner and I agree on donating his eyes to help another cat? All these questions and more that were beginning to creep into my thoughts are still there, thankfully we don't have to answer them just yet but I will let them sit there because we will have to answer them one day. I just won't feel bad about them being there and enjoy the time we have left.

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Lilith
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Re: Anticipatory grief reprieve

Post by Lilith » Mon Jun 17, 2019 9:21 pm

Yes, oh yes.

I couldn't reply to this at first because you describe so perfectly what it's like. It's a rollercoaster. First the news that the illness is terminal, then the decisions about meds/palliative care and the like, while in total shock and preliminary grief ... meanwhile the cat goes on serenely, if a little wonkily. And the human has to get used to it.

The good days and bad days ... the guilt at thinking, it's going to be over with today, on a bad day, as if you're wishing them dead, when you think, at least I've seen them safely through it. Then they surprise you, yet again, that smelly little bag of bones decides to live a bit longer, enjoys life, food, sun, and you feel so guilty at having thought it's the end for them, even though they would have been safe. Free of that sick and ailing body.

When the end comes, it's hell. You feel like a murderer. Euthanasia is what I'd want for myself if I was in that state, but making that decision for another is awful, no getting away from it. But it's the last act of love.

Mollycat
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Re: Anticipatory grief reprieve

Post by Mollycat » Tue Jun 18, 2019 5:13 am

When we have nothing left to give, the ultimate gift of selfless love.

Oh yes I forgot that one, did I rob them of their natural death? Also, the way it brings back every other loss as if it was yesterday.

Sometimes we just need permission to feel things we can't even name.

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