Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Monstrous Mortality

They say that young children are more in tune with matters of the spirit; today I am convinced that it's true.

Cadence, Hazel and I arrived in Kentucky about a week ago. Cadence has taken to recreating the circus she put on with her class at the end of the year, and one evening shortly after our arrival she stopped mid-performance to ask me: "Mama, why did they put Puppalina in fire at the vet, after she was dead?" I was shocked; there was absolutely no context for this sudden inquiry into our beloved pup's cremation more than two years ago. She went through a prolonged phase of timid fascination with death about a year ago, but we haven't really discussed the subject at all in months - and she was literally mid-circus. "ladies and gentlemen! Let's hear it for the...Mama, why did they put Puppalina in fire at the vet, after she was dead?" I answered her, of course, and we had a decently long conversation, and then she went on with the show. Literally.

Cinnamon didn't eat anything that night.

A day or two later, we were all hanging out in the living room when Cadence suddenly got extremely sad, seemingly for no reason at all. When I asked what was wrong, she burst into tears and clung to me tightly and said "I'm really going to miss you when you're dead!"

I was again bowled over by this out-of-the-blue awareness. We talked for a while, about death and love, about life and mortality, and she even volunteered that when she grows up she's going to go off on her own but will come visit, and then, when I pass, it won't be the same and she'll be really sad, but she'll still have Hazel and hopefully her own family. She's not even 4 yet. She breaks my heart.

Our conversation concluded and tears dried, she bounded off once more to play. About 3 hours later, she was off playing with Gjon while I worked in the kitchen with Hazel when suddenly Cadence came running into the room with a devastatingly reserved look of pain on her face and threw herself silently into my arms. At that moment Hazel was very loudly screaming about some perceived injustice or other, so I hugged her and set her down to attend the screaming. My mom picked her up and she clung there, crying silently, until I got Hazel settled and could hear her answers when I asked what was wrong.

As I brushed the tear-soaked hair out of her eyes, she described seeing what it would look like when I am dead, and that it made her really really sad. What had inspired such vivid images? "I was playing with Gjon but now he laid down and isn't doing anything." (To be fair, Gjon told me later that she evidently 'stabbed' him with a light saber just before that happened.)
We talked again, and she admitted that she'd been thinking about death a lot lately, but she didn't know why.

It became clear shortly after this that our kitty Cinnamon was suffering from more than just a passing stomach bug.

Before heading out on Monday morning, we each gave her a kiss and some gentle pets, and told her how much we loved her. I can't express how insanely grateful I am for that seemingly simple interaction now.

Kelly took her to the vet before we got back that day. She was immediately admitted to the hospital.

Playing 'art school' with Cadence that afternoon, (I was dubbed 'teacher' and told "now you teach us to do art," which, if you now me, you know I find hilarious since, if anything, adults need to re-learn how to create from kids, but I digress) I gave her the assignment to draw or paint something that scared her. We talked about it as she worked; her creation was an intricate and very unique 'monster' which was sort of amorphously ball shaped, covered in long fur in several shades of green, and it had several big claws, each of with had a mouth filled with teeth, but otherwise this monster had no face or appendages. I was impressed. And slightly surprised that her awesome little mind came up with that; I'd been expecting either something more obviously related to a specific fear, or something or totally generic.

But then she took the assignment in a direction I did not expect. The news interrupted the art lesson. Cinnamon was in complete renal failure; her kidneys had shut down. If she made it through the night, there was some hope that she could come home later in the week on a very complicated care setup including regular subcutaneous fluids, and even then she would probably only have another 6 months or so.

Cadence, who still had her green marker in her hand, slowly reached up and began streaking her cheeks, deliberately, in a downward motion. "what are you doing?" I asked. "drawing tears" she said, "because Cinnamon isn't coming home."

Cinnamon did make it through the night, and mom and kelly were able to visit her. Some hard decisions were on the table; they decided to do another round of blood work to see how things were going. She was better, but not better enough.

She made it through another night, but she wouldn't take her medicine in the morning. Her condition was so poor I can't bear to think of how much pain she must have been in...This afternoon Cadence told me she wanted the doctor to give her the special medicine to help her die quickly and stop hurting, because she wouldn't ever get better enough to not feel miserable. The sound that came from her after that can really only be described as Keening.

Kelly and Mom came to the same conclusion. They were with her at the end. They brought her body back home to the only house she ever lived in, where the girls and I were waiting with heavy hearts. Cadence reverently rested her head on my shoulder, and Hazel declared jdeh-jdeh! (her word for kitty) and waved goodbye, then looked at me knowingly and bowed her head. We buried our beloved Cinnamon beside Ragamuffin under the rose bushes in the yard. We mixed Puppalina's ashes into the soil, so the earthbound forms of the three of them are now returning, together, to the next phase in the ever-present cycle of life.

We don't know exactly what happened to our poor cinni-kitty, but the most likely scenario is that she ingested some fragments of the tiger lilies that volunteered in the yard. Lilies are extremely toxic to cats, and even if we had taken her to the vet sooner, they mostly likely wouldn't have been able to do anything to prevent the fatal outcome. We are all devastated by her early departure; she wasn't even 10 years old, and was a mostly healthy and contented cat. We have always loved her dearly. And we always will.

Whatever the case, Cadence seemed far more tuned in to the presence of a life or death situation than the rest of us did. Even now, despite all the crying I've done, part of me is solidly in denial, I can't believe that she really isn't waiting for dinner in one of her favorite hiding spots; I'm surprised when I don't see her on mom's bed...

Perhaps Cadence could sense Cinnamon's spirit loosening itself from its fleshy embrace. Perhaps she was being haunted by the knowledge of transition, and as she felt her go she looked to us adults to understand our lack of awareness. Perhaps she found only ignorance, or suppressed understanding. I hope we aren't teacher her to doubt her instincts.