Rounded by a sleep

IMG_7155I have been practicing the possibility, testing it with the tongue of my mind.  It feels like nettles, stinging and bitter.  He is going to die.

Giles is an orange kitten, perhaps 10 weeks old;  his mom was feral, so his age is an estimate.  He and three siblings have lived with me for more than half their lives, since the rancher who trapped them brought them into the shelter where I volunteer.  I  don’t know what happened to their mother, why they were separated at such a vulnerable age. But as the litter’s foster parent, I became her surrogate.

Like any babies, kittens need their mother, so it’s been a fretful six weeks:  watching appetite and energy, assessing poop,  worrying over one and then another.  First Buffy, the white girl with Siamese markings and sky-blue eyes,  because she was the runt. Then Xander, the shy grey boy, who grew gangly and gregarious.  Then Spike,  a plush, marbled tabby who needed a dose of subcutaneous fluids to tide him over a rough patch.giles

Giles, though,  was fine.  He was, in fact, the valedictorian of his litter:  Sweet and mature — he never faltered with the litter box — and the first to seek my lap, where he sung to me in his kitten voice, a tiny thunder of purring.   I didn’t worry about Giles.

Then something happened:  A weakness in his exquisite architecture;  a flawed realization of God’s perfect imagination.

The other three are now caroming into life as healthy, happy little cats,  each day plumper and more playful.  I see the beginnings of fine feline features emerging from the nebulous softness of their kitten faces:  a hint of refinement, a lengthening of whiskers.

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But Giles is languishing.  A few weeks ago, he began eating voraciously, while at the same time losing energy and vitality.  Our attempts to diagnose and treat his malaise have failed,  but a possibility the vet mentioned sticks in my mind:  a liver shunt, a congenital defect in which the liver is bypassed by the blood vessels. As a result, toxins that would normally be removed — including substances harmful to the brain  — accumulate in the bloodstream.

With intensive effort, a liver shunt can sometimes be managed medically;  the other option is expensive surgery.  The former requires a devoted owner; the latter, money that a strapped cat shelter can scarcely afford, assuming Giles would survive the surgery and it succeeded.

And maybe what is hurting Giles is not a liver shunt at all. We just know it’s something serious, something that ruffles his once-silky fur, that tires his young eyes, that makes him seem to be shrinking next to his robust siblings, growing visibly each day.buffyplay

I’m sorry, I say to him. Every time I see him looking weary, sitting quietly apart while the others chase toy balls,  play with pipe cleaners,  run and wrestle.  I’m sorry.  I want him to have his kittenhood, to know that manic energy and joy,  to grow through lean and lanky adolescence into the organic eloquence of an adult cat.

I haven’t stopped hoping.  And at the same time  I am practicing the possibility that his little life will be rounded with a sleep much sooner than I would wish.  I am considering how hard it is to see young creatures struggle, to watch them tottering on the margins of a life they have barely entered.

This is the way of all flesh: If not age, then genes or injury or illness undo these bodies in which we live.  I know this.  It can happen at any time.

Still:  Not this one.  Please.  The ageless, helpless, involuntary prayer of all who have loved, standing on the edge of loss:  Please.  Not this one.

I have taken Giles into my lap again, and as I curl over him,  stroking the rumpled fur, he rubs his small head against my chin.  Then, that sound:  the immense purr rumbling from his little cat chest.

And I can’t help it:  I anticipate silence, the aural and emotional expanse of a space recently vacated by one small orange kitten.  His absence already shadows his presence. But I keep petting him,  feeling that tiny head beneath my helpless hand.

Because he’s still here.  For now.  He’s still here.








  1. Nothing original to add but just to second what all the eloquent people have said before me. Anxiously await update, Cate


    1. Thank you, Rafiki.


  2. thank you for sharing
    your capacity to be
    with one in need, Cate 🙂


    1. Thanks, David. I have not been able to muster much equanimity, but I have been present. 🙂 I guess we do our bumbling best, as we can.


  3. You give Giles such a wonderful testimony. It’s so touching how you speak of his approaching absence shadowing his very real presence. I pray that when it is his time, the joy of remembering him will help to minimize your anguish.


    1. Thank you for your kindness and prayers. Still trying to do all we can for Giles, without much effect. It’s hard to let things unfold as they will when you so want a particular outcome. Takes lifelong practice, it seems.


  4. Thank you for your caring heart. And for the reminder that “not this one” is so much a part of all loss.


    1. It sure feels that way when it hits home, doesn’t it? Thank you for reading, and for your kind response.


  5. Oh, my heart hurts for little Giles, and for you. He is a sweetie. His purrs are thanks and love to you. Lighting the votive candles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jane. He had a good day, and potentially encouraging news from the vet. On we go!


  6. I’ve nursed kittens most of my adult life. The loss of one never gets any easier. Still, Giles is there now, and I will (for lack of a more direct word) pray that this is only a setback.


    1. Thank you for sharing in the experience — I have a new and much deeper regard for folks who do this work — and for the good wishes. He has had a pretty good day, which means that I have, too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So sad, these impending losses. Hurts every time, and I am glad for both you and Giles that you are loving him all the way through. Not at all easy, and important. Really resonates today, 5 weeks after saying goodbye to my old boy Jules. The pain of the loss easily reactivates. Peace to us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Steph, and peace back to you as you remember and miss Jules.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Cate. And as i read all the responses that have arrived in support of you and little Giles, its clear that there is a lot of good juju swirling in the direction of you and the fuzzy guy.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Isn’t that lovely? The kindness of strangers who aren’t really strangers. Lucky us. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        2. It is indeed so nice to see the communities that can build in times of need.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I sure hope the little guy makes it, Cate. But even if he only has a short time to be here, it’s good that he will have your loving care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your good wishes and kindness. Little Giles may yet be well; we’re just going day to day, which I guess is pretty much all any of us can do anyhow. Right now he’s snoozing cozily with his littermates.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. It’s odd to hit “Like” for something that makes me feel sad. Glad, though, that Giles is in the hands of someone who cares and who will make his quality of life be the best it can be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean about “like” in such instances. Thanks for the good wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Michele Sproull · · Reply

    I’m sorry too. I know how much love and energy you have devoted to these kittens so that they can have the best life possible. It sucks that Giles may get a short spin. He is still being the best kitten he can be even if he’s feeling less than spritely. For that he is grateful for your help and love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Chele. I so wish I understood better what is going on, but the step of drawing blood is a big stressor in itself for such a little one.


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