Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

4 June, 2006

Essay: One of my best friends is dying
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:00 AM

I haven’t posted any of my writing in a while. I decided I’d post a bit of non-fiction for a change, so this is an essay instead of a short story. Something that’s been affecting me lately, consuming many of my thoughts. Death is waiting in the wings, as they say, and it’s rarely a happy occasion.

No title for this work, I took the post title from the first line of the essay:

One of my best friends is dying, and there is nothing I can do to save him.

I can write that line, but I don’t quite believe it yet. Maybe I’ve read too many fantasy stories where death never really affects the heroes or the truly pure of heart. Or, maybe I’m in denial, not ready to accept the fact that he is suffering from cancer. Sometimes, though, the truth sneaks in and my eyes water a bit before I quickly banish those thoughts.

Many people reading this will think I’m perhaps a little silly when I say that this best friend is a cat named Loki. “I could never see spending thousands of dollars on vet bills,” said a friend of mine in a conversation once. “Adopt a new cat from animal rescue for $200 and then donate the rest to an animal charity.”

“Of course, I’m not the one sleeping next to them every night,” he added. Emotion often does trump logic in cases like this.

In college a friend of mine was left with a litter of kittens by accident; she didn’t know the stray kitten her roommate brought into the house was female. Unfortunately, her male cat didn’t feel bad about breeding with someone so young. I helped my friend by picking out the only male of the litter, a black kitten I named Morpheus because he kept falling asleep when I held him. My housemate (who later became the love of my life) picked out a black female and called her Macha. The plan was to get Morpheus neutered because it was cheaper than spaying for young college students.

Unfortunately, cats also don’t mind breeding with their siblings.

Yeah, turns out we didn’t quite act fast enough. We watched Macha get fatter until one day she was running around meowing at us anxiously about something new in the house. It turned out that she only had one kitten in the litter and we decided to keep him.

Very young kittens are adorably cute. We gave the new little kitten the baby name “Ferret” at birth, because we thought he looked like one with his thin body and tiny ears. It was adorable watching him grow, opening his little blue eyes to the world for the first time, mewing frantically when Macha left him for some brief trip for food or other necessities. We’d pick him up to hold him and Macha would leap up to keep an eye on him. She had birthed in the space between the wall and a mattress leaned up against the wall. She would jump up on the mattress and hold on with her claws to keep an eye on her little one as we held him.

He grew fast, as kittens do. As he got older, we kept an eye on him just in case cats don’t mind breeding with their mothers. About the time we visited the vet, we gave him his adult name: Loki.

Loki was the type of kitten you could fall in love with just by looking at him. As he grew older he kept the frowsy, fluffy look of a young kitten, something we jokingly attribute to the inbreeding. He also went against the main cat stereotype in that he could never keep himself very clean. Most of the time his fur was a bit matted and oily looking but when he cleaned himself (or was cleaned by another cat), his fur was soft and beautiful.

He was also very needy at a young age. He loved to be loved and wanted to be near people as much as possible. He loved to sit in laps, being softly stroked while the world went by. If you liked cats at all, you had to love him. Even as he grew older he still loved to sit in people’s laps and was always friendly to new people in the house.

Not to say he was the perfect little kitty. For one thing, he refused to use the litter box when he was young. We tried the trick of putting him in a room with a litter box, but his little kitty cries were just too heart wrenching to put up with. Turns out he was very particular about his litter and didn’t like the clay stuff we were using. Once we switched to scoopable litter he was better at using the litter box. He was also a picky eater, turning his nose up at certain types of food. No more buying whatever was on sale at the grocery store!

We learned later that he had a heart murmur. One part of his heart was enlarged and it caused him some problems. Nothing dire, but the vets we visited always mentioned it to us. We always feared that would be what put him at risk, or took him from us at too young an age. One vet recommended we give him a bit of aspirin on a regular basis to thin his blood and keep his heart healthy, but we never did get in the habit of doing that.

He had been having some problems for a few months by that time. Blood in the stool and he was straining to defecate. We went to the vet and tried various common suggested remedies, but nothing seemed to help the problem. It seemed that we would have a future of cleaning up little “accidents” around the house. As I said above, he never exactly had a consistent relationship with the litter box.

Then he lost his appetite and he started losing weight. This scared us a bit, because his mother Macha had lost her appetite and a lot of weight before she passed away without any apparent cause. We were more worried because although Macha had always been a fairly stocky kitty, Loki had always been on the thin side. Losing 10% of his body weight in a few weeks frightened us. Him walking around without much bulk really frightened us.

This was right before E3 this year. We had a friend coming over to make sure the cats were fed while we were away, but this seemed like something we should have watched. Should we cancel our E3 plans? A quick call to the vet arranged boarding and observation for Loki. Away I went to E3, a bit worried about Loki but confident that the vet could find and fix anything, of course. We agreed that some exploratory surgery and biopsies were the best plan while he was there. It would cost nearly $2000, but it was better to know how to fix the problem, right?

Initial calls came back positive. Nothing seemed out of place during the surgery, just a small mass near the colon. Test results for the tissue samples taken would be back by the end of the week and they would know more then. I went to my meetings and saw all the stuff at E3 I wanted to see, hoping for the best.

The phone call came when we were making the several hour drive back home on Friday. “It’s bad news,” the vet started. I glanced over at my better half driving and tried not to let the panic show on my face as I listen to the vet. I figured it was best I don’t repeat phrases like “metastatic cancer cells” or “chemotherapy” or “low chance of success” while she was driving.

I did have to laugh inwardly at the irony of us always worrying about his heart.

It’s amazing how optimistic one can be if he or she wants. Picking Loki up from the vet, it was hard to ignore the shaved belly with large scar. We took the assistant’s news that Loki was eating as a good sign, hoping that he would get his appetite back. We had some medicine to help him with appetite as well.

But, it’s getting harder to ignore the reality of the situation. He’s so light and feels so fragile when you pick him up, a mere slip of what he used to be. He is very lethargic, only getting up to move a bit, then lay down for a bit more. We feed him baby food from syringe since he still doesn’t eat his food regularly. We’ve been giving him different medicines, hoping that he’ll start eating a bit, eventually. Brief bits of hope when he eats wedged between times of disappointment when he won’t even lick some soft food.

And, it gets harder when the vet says things like, “We have a terminal situation here, and we should do what we can help his quality of life.” The logical part of my mind catches the words and understands the harsh reality of what needs to be faced. But, these same words slip over the emotional part of my brain, the part screaming, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU! IT’S NOT HAPPENING!” Even my logical part isn’t eager to face the fact we spent a few thousand dollars out of our tight budget just to find out some terrible news. Was it worth it?

Then I start to wonder about other things. Is he in pain? It’s not like he can just say, “I’m fine, don’t worry!” to reassure us. Are we prolonging pain by trying to keep him alive? Does he appreciate the effort we are going through? Or, is he ready to face what is coming? At what point should we accept the inevitable? Is it better to let him stay with us and pass away at home? Perhaps under the bed so that someone has to crawl under it and pull out another cat to put in a box to take to the vet? Or, is it better to take him to the vet and make the decision for him? Is it more humane than essentially starving to death?

About that time in the thought process I find something to distract my mind. Anything to take my thoughts off of this depressing subject.

So, I hold in my arms one of my best friends that has been around for about a third of my life. The friend that has been with Kat and I for about as long as we have been together. The kitten that has been through five moves and quite a few jobs by this point. The companion that has been with me through some of the worst and some of the best times. I start to face the fact that he probably won’t be with me much longer. The cancer eating at him doesn’t care about my feelings, or his comfort, or anything else. It continues to devour him, and I know that there’s nothing I can do besides wait.

Wait for the end. Wait until he leaves us. Wait until the physical reminder of his suffering is gone, and all that is left are the memories of the frowsy kitten I have loved so much. Wait until the realization hits me. Wait until the tears come in the middle of the night when the truth finally does sneak in for the last time.

—–

In a way, it feels strange to post about my cat on a blog that I try to otherwise keep in the realm of the professional. But, I’ve said before that art is about emotion and writing this essay has been a great amount of catharsis for me.

Loki is still clinging to life, but he still requires us to feed him. I think I’ve made my peace with the fact that he won’t be around forever. This essay is a tribute to him, to make sure he’s remembered when he does pass into the beyond.







12 Comments »

  1. http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/06/dealing-with-tragedy-and-loss/

    Comment by Bryce — 4 June, 2006 @ 12:20 PM

  2. Interesting link, Bryce. (For future reference, I’d recommend putting in some additional text so that it’s easier to separate out that type of comment from spam.)

    The problem is that the article talks about things on a mostly logical (or, perhaps better, pragmatic) level. As I said in my essay, the emotional level usually wins out. It’s easy to comment on things from a distance. But when I have Loki sitting on my desk at this moment, right next to my mouse, it’s hard to think in purely logical terms.

    In purely logical terms, his death will not affect my day-to-day life in the long run. I won’t stop making games, having friends, or other things that keep me going from day to day. But if I only thought about him in cold, logical terms I would not have him in my house. It’s the emotional connection that makes him dear to me, and the emotional connection that causes me the pain I’ve written about above. It’s the part that will hurt the most when he finally does pass away.

    The post in that link also ignores the fact that major Western religions tend to teach that animals do not have souls. So, the concept that a pet will “live on” is an alien concept to most Americans. But, a discussion of religious ideals is beyond the scope of this post, I think. From some of the rest of the articles and wording, it seems the author is a believer of an Eastern religion.

    Further, most people in the American (and western European) cultures have these deep emotional connections, so anyone that wishes to make art must understand these connections. Perhaps even experience them. If we really want games to be considered a storytelling medium in the west, then we need to embrace emotion.

    In the end, I disagree with the linked entry. I’m not saying that it is an invalid way to deal with loss, but it’s not right for me. If it works for other people, then I’m happy they’ve found a way to make their peace. This essay was the first step in making mine.

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 4 June, 2006 @ 10:30 PM

  3. I hope that all of the time you spend with Loki serves to remind you of the happy memories. Dealing with it on an emotional level is extremely difficult, but if you focus on the happiness and love you will be able to get through it. It was certainly a joy to read!

    Comment by Bartoneus — 5 June, 2006 @ 6:51 AM

  4. Sorry to hear about your friend. Cats are like people – one of the family. I’ve lost a few cat friends in my life and its not easy.. give him a stroke from me.

    Comment by Simon — 5 June, 2006 @ 8:50 AM

  5. I was a bit taken aback when I first read this post. Not because of the subject, per se. With a subject heading like that, I wasn’t expecting an intellectual discussion of game design in here. Rather, it’s one of those odd connections of random circumstance that make one stop a moment. In this case, stop and leave a brief message of support.

    My wife and I also have a wonderful and fluffy feline member of our family named “Loki,” as well. Named such because he showed up on our doorstep one day, wandered inside uninvited and immediately set about causing much mischief. He’s middle aged now and slowing down quite a bit. Losing him will be very, very hard, I know.

    It’s obvious from your essay that your Loki is a wonderful part of your life. How concerned you are for your pet’s well being and quality of life speaks volumes.

    Best wishes from our family to yours.

    Comment by ReptileHouse — 5 June, 2006 @ 2:13 PM

  6. All of us have different perspectives (emotional and detached) on the pets and people for that matter (hello, slavery and cannon fodder).

    My perspective is that if you view someone as a member of your family, then the only proper actions are to treat him or her as family.

    We all deal with tough situations in our own way and the only measure is to be true to ourselves.

    Best wishes to you, Loki, and family.

    Frank

    Comment by magicback (frank) — 5 June, 2006 @ 8:39 PM

  7. I understand your emotional denial, despite the logic. It’s much of what I felt as I watched my father slowly wither and then die under the mark of cancer. It’s been just over a year now and my logical brain has no problems dealing with the reality of my loss — but that emotional side is still somewhere in a field skipping and singing while it pretends it all didn’t really happen.

    Good luck with Loki, not much else I can say will really have an impact.

    Comment by Grimwell — 6 June, 2006 @ 5:11 PM

  8. Thanks again to all the well-wishers. I do appreciate it.

    Some sad news: we put Loki to sleep today. We didn’t want to fight to feed him anymore, and he just wouldn’t eat on his own. We didn’t want him to suffer starving to death.

    Unfortunately, I’m at a conference. However, I felt making him suffer for another two days until I get back was too selfish on my part. Kat said that Loki went peacefully and didn’t struggle; back when he was more full of life he would struggle every time a vet tried to put a needle near him. I think this is the most sure sign that it was his time to go.

    I’ll miss my friend, but I’m also glad his suffering is over.

    Comment by Psychochild — 15 June, 2006 @ 2:11 PM

  9. The loss of another good friend

    [...] Morpheus was the first cat I got living on my own. He was the only male of a litter of cats a friend had by accident. He also happened to be one of the all-black ones. I called him “Morpheus”, after the god of sleep, because he always fell asleep in my arms when I held him as a little kitten. Kat picked out his sister, who she named Macha, who was also black; she passed away a while ago. Together, they had Loki, who passed away three years ago. [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 3 August, 2009 @ 6:17 PM

  10. Game variants

    [...] So, in times like this we add another player: Yes, those are the ashes of my cat who passed away. We sometimes use one of the other cat’s ashes, though. Okay, yeah, it’s a bit macabre [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 15 June, 2010 @ 1:02 PM

  11. Thanks for the link to this essay on my blog. I know it has been years, but I also understand exactly the anguish you’ve gone through.

    Comment by rowan — 29 December, 2013 @ 10:13 AM

  12. I need some help

    [...] you've read my blog for some time, you know my cats are precious to me. I have a soft spot for the little guys, and I'm very much one that treats [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 1 May, 2014 @ 10:33 AM

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