Fiona is Gone….

We put Fiona down at 5:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time.

She appeared to have pancreatitis and something that was damaging her liver in a big way. It was going to cost us $2000 to have a 50-50 chance of keeping her alive. We had already put down $2500.

I think the vet encouraged me because he did not want me to lose her in the middle of my wife’s cancer crisis.

I chose to stop trying. I feel bad.

Depression Finds References Everywhere

square776Sorry for my absence. I got word a few weeks ago that my mother had a [[glioblastoma]] growing in her head and had only a few weeks to live. Since then, I have been swinging from depression to mania and back again, with a day or two here and there where I feel neither condition. When I feel [[hypomanic]], I feel curiously happy though without reference to anything in the world. Depression, of course, finds references everywhere.

So I am waiting, scanning negatives, cleaning out boxes. I don’t know how much longer this will go on.

Wrestling with Angels

From my diary:

square047The main thing that I am dealing with is Kathy’s death. That sudden suck that pulled her out of the tableau and left a cleft that someone will fill. You never know the nature of a person’s glue until they vanish and you know they are not returning.

I’m wrestling with angels. Do I pray for her soul, agnostic that I am? It seems wrong even though I am not an atheist. I spend my life praising the oaks, the greasewood, the buckwheat and the rabbits, the squirrels, the badgers, the bobcats who live within it. I don’t care much for the asphalt, the concrete or the cinder block — they are a necessary evil, but I celebrate the people wearing their outlandish shorts, coats, ties, skirts, shirts, blouses, undershorts, and bras. These I will dance for but what does one do when one of these goes missing, disintegrate, becomes one with the dust blowing by?…

It makes me realize that I will be missed. There’s a temptation to run away, incinerate my bridges so that others won’t miss me but that is plain foolish. We live to love one another or, at worst, we come to love one another by proximity. I cannot yet reinforce my bones and organs so that I can be sitting on this bed in 2099, confident that as long as I avoid murder, accident and catastrophe that I can breathe, eat, and whistle at pretty girls for a century or more to come. My death is certain and why not endure the while in the company of others?…The aim is consciousness. Not on a hard disk but inside this brain, chemicals throwing transmissions of electricity across the rifts.

Presence of an Absence

Just write about how you feel. About Kathy, I tell myself.

square045I don’t feel shock or pain or remorse. I want to pick up the phone, dial her number, and say to her “What’s this death thing? What do you think you’re pulling here? Don’t you realize that it really puts the rest of us out? How are we to get your advice when we need it now?

“Come on back now. There are people who need you here, love you. They’re going on and on about these problems that you could deal with in a moment. So feel for the rest of us.”

Insert here a nearly pointless line about how this isn’t possible. Add a reference to Sartre’s “presence of an absence”. That sums it up better than prattle does.

Code Blue

square207If you’ve been isolating for a long time, you pay a price when you go to a support group: you give up your ability to not feel for others. In some ways, this is pain that you don’t want in your life: it brings tears, anger, and frustration. Yet, like the side effects of any treatment, those issues are trivial when you count what you gain. You get out in the sunshine. You make new friends. A constant stream of new and interesting people enter your life. And you grow beyond the fuzzy-wuzzies and touchy-feelies that many outpatient programs push just to get you out of there to a place of genuine affection and compassion for others. You are not the only resident of the asylum anymore.

I’ve been worried about a fellow support group member who had a fall a few weeks ago and hasn’t returned. This bipolar broke down after her boyfriend dumped her. She did a few lines of meth. The last time I saw her, her head sagged forwards and she gripped the sides of her chair as if the floor would heave up and throw her against the ceiling..

I hope she hasn’t given up.

It’s insipid to invoke John Donne, to say that “no man is an island”; I’ve been hearing the Code Blue warning over my head’s hospital intercom, however. I’m worried. I don’t call her a particular friend, but she’s bipolar. And I feel obligated to look out for her, to encourage her.

But she’s disappeared and no one has her phone number.

Many years ago, I had a problem with a person who wouldn’t disappear. This woman was overwhelming me with her busy-body-ness. In my frustration, I asked my wife to approach an older member of the Quaker Meeting we both attended at that time. I was in a crisis because this first woman was driving me mad and I felt guilty that I didn’t like her at all. What the older woman said to my wife remains with me now. It didn’t make sense at the time, but now I share it when someone in a group complains to me about somebody else.

She told my wife to tell me this: “You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to love them.”

In the wet holes of my disease, I found it impossible to separate the two feelings. What she said made no sense. But I could see that she knew her soul and she knew mine.

In my rise to stability (which is always uncertain), I believe I know what it means. My feelings about this young woman are neutral. We’re different people. Yet even the most annoying and stubborn people in support groups deserve dignity simply because they are human. When someone falls, we all fall.

It’s Code Blue for her, for me, and for you.

Denos Gazis 1930 to 2004

square297.gifLynn’s father passed away at about 3 am Eastern time last night after a seven year struggle with bone cancer. He was the eternal optimist unto the end. In recent weeks, I told friends “Denos is dying and he’s having a great time doing it.” Last night was not so great: after all these years of cheerful perseverance, he capitulated to the pain and accepted morphine. Within a few hours, his spirit ceased to animate his body. He will be missed.

UPDATE: Lynn observes a week of silence.

Tracy Comes Home

Tracy came home yesterday, via UPS. I unpacked the cedar chest in which she has her final repose and set it out on the table for Lynn to see when she woke up.

When I told Lynn what I’d ordered, I mentioned its utility as a moth repellant.

I don’t think Tracy would like that, to tell the truth. She loved to catch and eat moths.

Tracy’s Bum

I got predictably mixed reviews about the tail end of my blog about taking Tracy to the crematory the other day. The other Tracy that I know — who walks on two feet and has far less fur — urged me not to try to “make it funny”.

I have to say that I wasn’t trying to be funny: just about everything that has ever happened that involves Tracy the Now Dead Cat turns out funny. I understand where Crazy Tracy is coming from: we just have different perspectives in how to grieve over the death of a lovable cat.

In the back of my head I have a book half written — the autobiography of Tracy the Cat. If I get it done, it’s going to be like no cat book ever penned. For one thing, I intend that she tells all exactly as a cat would see it:

I’ve always said that “a clean bum is a happy bum”. Joel and Lynn could never understand the importance of this basic principle of hygiene and cogeniality. Among cats, you see, the presentation of your bum is an act of trust: you show your loved ones your vulnerability and when you lick their bums, you are telling them that you are a true friend. I know Joel and Lynn loved me, but when I presented my bum to them, they balked and threw me off their chests. “Tracy!“, I’d hear them cry as if I’d committed a heinious offense such as blowing in their face, “I’m not going to clean your bum!” Such outbursts are inexcusible in another cat, but I had to keep reminding myself that they were only human.

My own observations confirm that the licking of one another’s ass is a most sacred procedure for cats. I often watched Tracy as she did Ambrose or Virginia. Her eyes developed a fixity; she entered a state akin to that which the Balinese call nadi — a holy trance like the ones which possess artists and writers as they work. Sphincters — bursting as they did like black stars in purple gray heavens — were her subject, her canvas, her page, and her palette; her rough tongue her brush and her pen.

Some may be laughing as they read this and others may be grossed out. My defense and my explanation are the same: that was Tracy, as she happened — a chemical reaction that when taken in by the human heart produced laughter.


I took Tracy down to the crematory this afternoon. I looked around the house for a suitable box. Down in the garage, I located the one that my Compaq lap top had come in. It had a plastic handle, depth, and was long enough to fit her body without distorting it too much.

I lifted her into the box. Her head crooked and twisted beneath the chest. “Oh, my poor baby!” I cried, as if she could still feel it. “I’m so sorry!” I straightened out her head and closed her eyes. I’d often looked deep into those eyes on dark nights, smiling because in them I appeared to be worth gazing upon. I often talked to those eyes, told them my worries and my problems. Those eyes made me feel that I was being listened to and respected for what I was, regardless of what I believed.

The drive took half an hour. The place turned out to be an animal hospital near the airport in Newport Beach. I walked in, carrying this box full of dead cat into a lobby filled with people who were anxious about the health of their living pets. The receptionist looked oddly at my box without air holes. “Is this ‘Only Cremations’?” I whispered to her, so as not to alarm the others. “This is my cat,” I explained. She understood immediately and fetched the Russian woman who took the money for dead cats.

We made the arrangements. I paid for a cedar “remembrance box” in addition to the cremation. I thanked everyone, remarked that the cat had died at age seventeen — a good age for a cat — to comfort the others whose pets still lived, and left before I worried them more about their pets.

Outside I met a kennel worker walking a bull mastiff puppy who was large enough to eat Cleveland — including the suburbs — and slurp up most of Lake Erie. Did I want him? she asked. I explained that I lived in a condominium and that I kept cats. She understood. The dog liked me: he licked my hand, and wagged his tail when I hugged him. His neck was as big around as a four year old’s waist. I promised that I would keep my ears open because he did seem like a good dog. (Orange County readers: call Back Bay Animal Hospital in Newport Beach if he sounds right for you.) I got in the truck and went back home to Virginia Mew, who I found sleeping on a chair.

Continue reading →


Thank you to everyone who responded so quickly to my news of Tracy’s death last night. And thank you to those who will offer their comfort. I’m not so down on the world as I was after Ambrose’s death. This was almost a beautiful experience. I carefully lifted her from the floor of the hall and took her into the office. We spent the last two hours of her life together as I chatted with people online.

She just stopped breathing. Her breath had been so faint that I watched her for several minutes to be sure. The pumping of the chest ended. I kissed her on the head and told the people I was chatting with that she had passed.

Tracy has died, but I still live. Virginia Mew will need to be fed in the morning. I will share the bed with Lynn. Again, thank you.

Tracy Tu Tu Wa Wa (1986 to 2003)

Tracy passed on a few minutes ago, in my lap, while I was chatting with friends on the computer. I placed her on an adjacent chair, wrapped in the towel. We had her for fourteen years. And I can give her the highest praise: she was a good cat.

Many people coveted Tracy. When we lived in an apartment complex in Palo Alto, everyone knew her and she treated every household as her own. One neighbor reported that she felt pressure on her chest as she was lying in her bed. “I woke up and there was this great big black cat!” It was Tracy, curling up with one of the many people she loved.

Tracy, like Ambrose, knew my moods and would be there to comfort me. We had a neighbor up in Palo Alto who, because Tracy liked to mew a lot, spread the rumor that we didn’t take proper care of her. (She weighed over twenty pounds at the time.) She made moves to take her over, saying that we were neglecting her for Ambrose and Virginia. Another neighbor, who was a veterinary nurse, spoke to me about this. Tracy walked up to me in the middle of conversation. I picked her up and she licked my beard. I began to cry. The rumors were quashed thereafter.

She came with us down to Southern California in 1999 — nearly four years ago. She cried all the way. After five hours, she went silent. We feared the worst, but kept driving. When we arrived at the Residence Inn (that’s another story), we brought out all the cages and opened them. Tracy bolted out of hers and jumped up on the bed, making herself comfortable immediately. “Nice place,” she seemed to say. “I like it here.”

Over the last year, I’ve noticed signs of her decline. It was getting harder for her to climb the stairs to the loft. Her belly bulged with a tumor and her legs bowed under the weight. This morning, she just stopped eating and drinking her cat milk. I told Lynn to spend some time with her this morning, to say her goodbyes. She left her in a comfortable spot in the hallway. When I got up, I checked her, ate my dinner, and then brought her in here.

She died as I said, in my lap, crying only once, near the end. The ride down to the vet — she was always terrified of cars — would have killed her. So we kept her in comfort. I shall miss my Lamikin, my Tubby Kitty: she was a good cat.

A Worry

Four months after his dog died, my father suffered his fatal heart attack. With Ambrose’s death, combined with the stress of the matter hinted at down below, my mother’s recent visit, and Lynn’s being out of work, I feel a dull pain biting at my sternum. My little boy could have helped pull me through this. Of the remaining cats, Tracy is getting too old to expend comforting energies and Virginia has never been a cuddler.

The loss of a child, studies show, can be a real stressor that leads to illness. Would the same hold true, I wonder, for the death of a much beloved cat?

If it must be, I pray for mental collapse rather than a stroke or heart attack.

Continue reading →