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I came too close to losing a cat Thursday. Bean is a walking sofa cushion, a cat whose tombstone, we’ve joked, will read “he lived only to digest.” He is a big cat, near 20 pounds in his prime; a cat who, if he noticed a mouse, wouldn’t so much catch it as break its spine intending only a tentative, exploratory pat.

Last Thursday, having decided I really needed to stay home to work on my Church History course, I noticed he was grunting as he breathed. He’s snored for years, and most cats make occasional noises as they sleep, but he was awake and making continual, low-pitched grunts. His chest was laboring, much more than the rise and fall of normal happy cat breathing. I ended up driving to the 24 hour emergency veterinary service (about 20 miles away, another icy night).

By the time we got there, he was panting and distressed; was whisked off for oxygen and chest xray before I’d even begun filling out paperwork. His heart was enlarged, the lungs filling with fluid, his tongue was pale. I chose to have him stay, get oxygen and IV medication, and hope for response. I also chose that he be DNR, no heroic cardio-pulmonary resuscitation if his heart gave out. The prognosis was grim; he might not survive the night. They’d call if he got worse, would call a progress report in the morning. As I drove home, I decided that if he didn’t rally, I would have him euthanized rather than suffer. I don’t think cats tolerate oxygen tanks and nasal cannula very well.

But I am spared that decision, for now. He;s home, his old lovable, large, dandruffy self again, almost. I see him moving more slowly. I see him more comfortable stretched on the floor than on my lap. I see him unable to sit and scratch his ear with one back paw — he couldn’t keep his balance. Perhaps he’s a bit restless overall. He’ll spend tonight here, then the next couple nights with the local vet while I’m again with my mother. This cat is not a great thing; I’ve had other cats, will again.

And I guess that’s the point. Bean is not the loss I am really grieving now. This week we got my mother moved to a life-care community, into a lovely one-bedroom apartment. The home I grew up in still contains a lot of stuff to deal with — books, possessions, clothing to go to the community theatre or to Goodwill, extra kitchen equipment, my grandparents’ creche, my wedding dress, tools, unwashed dishes, canned goods of varying ages, and 4 inches of water in the basement, gift of a last-night rainstorm. I’m losing my home, even though I haven’t lived in it since 1964, and have lived in this house in Iowa City longer than I lived there. I’m losing my mother’s independence and reliability; not that she won’t listen, empathize, advise — especially advise — but increasingly that support will go the other way. I’m losing the home I’ve come to at Christmas with my daughter, and my brother with his family, for all our children’s lives, where we remember Christmas since — well, the middle of the last century, more or less.

A cat is a small thing. But, through the generous grace of God, I have not had to face that loss this week, too. I have been given that gift, and the gift also of acknowledging my own grief.

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