Festive Chrismahanukwanzaakah!

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It's that most wonderful time of the year, the season of Xcess! And it's not quite over, as after a successful morning's buffet breakfast and an afternoon of lying around contentedly with full tummies, we headed to the home of nearby friends for a Solstice party of eating, geeking out, and comparing holiday horror stories. It was a really lovely meal, with an actual Christmas goose, served with "goose juice" (Cumberland sauce) instead of gravy and lots of delicious side dishes.

Also, there was a flirtatious kitty to wheedle, and wacky Xcess holiday tunes. The day ended on a fun, if tired note. And I was really, really happy about the cat wheedling, because I hadn't had the chance to do that in a very long time.

Christmas Eve Day was spent cleaning, baking, and decorating – I didn't bother getting the tree up all this week that I had off, so naturally left it til the end. However, it doesn't take that long to throw a few strings of lights on a "faux" tree, and I had found some old-fashioned crackers to put on it again this year. It's not the bushy, over-decorated fragrant pinon pine of my childhood, but it's a pretty tree.

David's parents came over at about 4pm as I had just reached the point of being finished, dressed, and ready to relax. We had discussed going to a nearby seafood restaurant becase Shel had an Entertainment Book coupon for it, but it turned out not to be valid on Christmas Eve. So we went to Brass instead, because we had received a coupon from them that was valid. Hah! Coupons are one of those inside jokes in the family; for some reason David's dad gets a huge charge out of them, and he'll go miles out of his way to use one up before it expires. So dinner was excellent – the food there is very good, as is the beer and ale.

And then I had to toddle off to Holy Moly for rehearsal before the half-hour carol singing started, and then the main service started at 8pm. Leah came with me – for some reason she likes to come to the occasional special service when they stay overnight with us. And hurray! It was well attended, with lots of visitors – even a few acquaintances from Scott's office (he was not there, but had evidently issued some of the flier invitations we had printed up).

We had a LOT of music to get through, with what amounted to three "party pieces," including a last-minute substitution of "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" for something else during the service that Mark didn't feel comfortable enough to sing without more rehearsal. It all went over very well, and after a lot of visiting and chit-chat afterwards, Leah and I went back home. The evening was not without incident, however; there was a bit of a mishap when I was first backing out of the garage and I got pretty jangled nerve-wise, but no real harm done. Argh.

Christmas morning started with a wonderful dream… it's hard to explain and give it justice, but it was a lucid one and left me in a terrific mood. We all got up a little later than I had planned, but there was plenty of time to get things ready for the buffet brunch. I had picked up a Honey Baked ham, so that took little or no prep – just take it out of the fridge an hour before serving. I finished up goodie bags to give out, made cranberry-orange relish, Leah set out fruit salad, lox, and bagels, and Shel and David did a little food geekery, first doing the classic RTFM that came with the ham, then carving a few slices off while I got ready to make cinnamon-pecan pancakes. Dan, Deb and the kids were the first to arrive, and we had coffee and cider-ginger ale punch set up on the wet bar along with bowls of nuts and candy and other snacks. I started making the pancakes (had all my ingredients all prepped so all I had to do was add the water and stir). We laughed and chatted as I built up a big stack of flapjacks on a plate in the oven, and I had pure maple syrup warming on the stove, too.

Just as I took the plate of hot pancakes to the table and took a break for coffee, Mitch, Gloria and Gwen arrived. I have to say that the table looked great and for once I had all the food out and ready at the same time. Steve arrived very late, on account of staying up until 4 a.m. with Chris and Susan watching the extended DVD of Return of the King. For this reason alone, he was instantly forgiven and the pancakes were still hot enough to eat. So I ended up not having to start a second batch, and could relax at last and have fun.

After everyone had had a chance to fill up the corners of their tummies, I handed round the crackers (there's still cracker-bits scattered in the living room) and gave out the goodie bags. David did a great job finding simple little gifts – on the order of Silly Putty and puzzle books – and there was hard candy and some pistachio nuts in the bags, too. David's brothers and their families left, and then in a suddenly quiet house the rest of us collapsed in the living room in a kind of post-feast afterglow. Steve took off to help start cooking the goose at Chris and Susan's, and they very kindly invited us to come later and join them – THAT was very nice and also really generous of them. But for the moment we chatted a while longer with David's parents and enjoyed the relative calm after all the frenetic activity.

After they left, there was even time for a nap in front of the fire. I had decorated the mantel and had candles going all morning, so it was pretty festive (and also very warm) in the family room. So after blowing out the candles, I conked out on the sofa and snoozed for about 90 minutes. David dozed in the armchair. It was perfect, in fact. After a few hours' rest we pulled ourselves together and eventually found our way to Chris and Susan's for Geekmas, which is absurdly close to our house but still difficult to find via Mapquest. Steve had encouraged everyone to bring laptops, because they were also going to test and troubleshoot Chris' wireless access setup. The goose was amazing and richly flavored, and they had good wine and nice music and a beautiful table was spread with lots of good things people brought. It was a nice way to end the holiday. We decided to come home early-ish (opting out of staying up until all hours watching some more commentary tracks on ROTK). So we came home, and toddled off to bed. It was a good, nay even a perfect day. I wondered if I'd have another lucid dream to "bookmark" the one from the morning, but don't recall anything special. It really was an amazing dream, but to explain why requires a lot more backstory than most might care to know. I'll try to do it justice.

This Isn't A Dream, It's A Visitation

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In order to explain why this dream was so important to the day, I'll have to come clean about something that happened before I started blogging. I've been unable to bring myself to finish my Britain trip travel entries because of this. When we left for Britain, we boarded my cat, Stuey, with the vet and took off for two weeks.

While in Scotland, we got an email from Steve and also from the vet, advising us that they'd found cancer and needed to operate on Stuey, and they amputated a toe. We got through the rest of the trip as best we could, worried but hopeful that all would be well when we finally reached home, or at least that it would be all right for a while. But it wasn't.

We got home and I immediately went looking for Stuey, who was hiding under our bed and refused to come out. Steve had arranged for Chris and Susan to help bring Stuey home from the vet, since Steve's allergic to cats, so Stuey was home alone for a few hours before we got in from O'Hare. He was able to get around very slowly, limping still from the surgery. He was terribly thin and tired, but seemed happy and relieved to see us. I held him on the couch and comforted him as I worried about what would happen next. As I stroked him, I found a large, hard lump on his foreleg, on the opposite side from where the cancerous toe had been amputated. And that, as they say, was that.

I knew that it had to be cancer, and that the vet's fear that the toe was not the primary site was well-founded. I stroked him, curled him into his favorite cuddling position, and cried, knowing that very soon I'd have to say goodbye to a friend I'd cared for and loved, for almost eighteen years. That's a long time to have a friend, let alone a "mere" pet.

The next few days passed both too quickly and too slowly. Trips to the vet for confirming tests. Return trips to see why he wasn't eating and to check Stuey's eye, which was becoming more and more angry and inflamed under the lower lid. Mornings and afternoons spent trying to get him to eat something – anything – so that I could inject his dose of insulin without worrying that he'd crash into diabetic shock while I was at work. Phone calls to the vet for test results. And the expected, inevitable bad news. Crying. My vet tried to convince me over the phone that amputating the leg was a viable option. I was shocked silent for a second – how could I put my pet through that? He'd have a bad left foot, and no right leg. How was that saving his life? I just said "No. We're done. Stuey's done. He's had a really good long life, and a mostly healthy one. I can't put him through surgery again."

Then followed a number of phone calls from a referral list to find a vet who agreed to come to the house to put Stuey to sleep, rather than having to drag him one last time back to our regular vet (he hated being transported, and I hated the idea of putting him through it and of coming home alone). However, the referral vet couldn't come before Friday, so I had to somehow keep Stuey going for a few days longer than strictly necessary. I feel bad about that, but I'd hauled him to the vet 2 days in a row already, and each time had been hard for him. So. Waiting.

Fortunately, we all were able to sleep soundly each night. Stuey was so good, so patient. He couldn't jump up any more and in fact couldn't walk without wobbling along like a (furry) little old man, so I'd pick him up and carry him where we needed to go. I worried that he'd lose control or hurt himself trying to jump off the bed, but nothing like that happened. We'd sleep like logs and forget for a while what was coming. David and I just did the best we could to be there for each other and for Stu.

I tried everything to get Stuey to eat – trying to tempt him with little delicacies that he used to love, like spoonfuls of plain yogurt, or the aspic-like gel from a freshly opened can of cat food. Even tried things that were verboten under his diabetes diet, like tuna. Nothing seemed to really work, and the only way he'd take any food was if I gently slopped it on his chin, forcind a lick reflex. So I fed my cat like a little newborn baby that last week, because every little plastic spoonful of yogurt or liquified cat food counted. By Thursday, I was desperate. I could hardly get him to even lick anything, as it seemed to be painful for him to bite into food, and there seemed to be something wrong with his ability to lap up food with his tongue, too. I think in the end, there must have been some cancer in his head or upper chest, which was missed in the X-rays the vet had taken. So we'd been given false hope when it seemed like maybe the toe was the only place, and we hadn't "gotten" it with the surgery. Though I still wonder how the vet missed the lump on the other leg… but who knows?

It was so hard, because I had to go to work each day, too. But Friday finally came. I had taken the day off, and spent the day cleaning everything I could get my hands on just to try to take my mind off of my worries, and to keep from watching the clock. Stuey spent the day up in the second floor hall bathroom, and I'd go up and pet him and talk to him. However, I couldn't really hold him very much because he'd start wheezing and gasping a bit, and seemed more comfortable just sitting with his paws tucked under his chest, facing the corner of the tub.

So patient. Waiting.

David came home early from work. About the last hour before the vet arrived, I took Stuey downstairs and we just sat on the couch, cuddling very gently. Then she arrived, with an assistant carrying a big bottle full of a deep purple liquid. It all happened very quickly after that. There was a moment when Stuey was free of pain but still conscious and for a second his ears perked up and he looked very surprised and interested. From my point of view, over the top of his head and between his ears to his nose, he looked normal and healthy for one last time… and then as I petted him and praised him and told him to "go play," he relaxed and was gone. We signed some papers and a check, thanked the vet and the assistant, and they took Stu away to be cremated, wrapped up very carefully in a brightly colored beach towel.

David and I, well, fell apart and there was a rather sloppy flash flood of tears in the front hall after we closed the door on their sad little procession.

Now maybe I can finally finish up the travel journal and be done with it. I just didn't have the heart to tackle it, because the end of the trip, and the sadness that came with that, was so caught up in my mind with Stuey's last week. A couple of weeks later, I picked up Stuey's remains at the vet's office and thanked her again. He's now in a metal container that looks exactly like a tea caddy with a little picture of St. Francis – the cheese content of the packaging amuses me, but the sentiment is kind of embarassing. Because, of course, the pet crematory was a Catholic one, and I had failed to note on the form that Stuey was actually Reform Jewish (non-observant) and Episcopalian (two years ago I actually hauled him over to Holy Moly for a Blessing of the Animals service). The tea caddy came with a prayer card to St. Francis and everything.

Eventually, he'll go into the kitty garden but not until everything in it is really established and growing. It's been more than a year now, and I still get pretty mopey and sad when I think of him. We talk about getting another pet, but there are people in the family (besides Steve) who are allergic to either cats or dogs, so we'd risk upsetting their applecarts if we did. I've at least reached a point when I could think about Stuey without crying. Sometimes, I go days or weeks at a time without thinking of him.

Which brings us, finally, to the strangely lucid dream I had the other morning. I had woken with a start at about 3:30 am and thought I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep, but must have slept again from about 4:30 am onwards. It seemed in the dream that I was still lying awake in the pre-dawn darkness, with David asleep next to me. Then, I realized that Stuey was there with us in the dark, and that we had somehow reconstituted him from the ashes (yeah, dream logic – instant cat, just add water).

It started out with all of us in bed, with me in the middle. Stuey was enthusiastically washing the side of my forehead with his rough little tongue and purring, and David was laughing and sort of licking the other side of my face and making comic meowing noises, and we were laughing and happy, and it was the most wonderful feeling, being surrounded by warm love on both sides. It was just so real, and so much like it used to be before Stuey got sick.

And then he disappeared for a bit in the dream, and I thought "Well, that was nice. I wish he was still here. I wish he'd come back again."

And then I heard him meow in his funny old cracked voice from the floor, and I moved my leg and patted the bed to invite him to jump up as I used to do. I felt him hop up next to my leg, and then he playfully jumped over my legs and back and forth the way he did when he was a kitten, scampering over the bedcovers and whirling around chasing his tail in an ecstacy of feline abandon. He was playing the old "cat attack!" game in the dream, and as he "stalked" his prey (David and me) farther up toward the head of the bed, I became fully lucid in the dream and thought in wonder and awe "This isn't a dream, it's a visitation."

In the dream, it was still dark and I couldn't see anything, but I could feel and hear him. It seemed like he started out small, and got bigger and bigger. He came up by the pillow, hopped over my face (I remember the sensation of his tummy fur brushing my skin, again a familiar feeling) and then he proceeded to "walk on my head" about six times in a row, circling around and around over the top of my head on the pillow, then down and hopping over my chest and chin. This was an old game that used to make David laugh hysterically, because of the way my head would bounce on the pillow and the way I'd complain about Stuey stepping on my hair and tickling me with his fur.

This went on for a bit, and it felt as if Stuey was incredibly excited and playful after a long, long wait. Then he walked over to David's side, stretched himself out full length, and started washing David's cheek, ear and forehead, while David giggled and cackled gleefully and petted him. I thought then that David would somehow receive the same visitation in his dreams and we were both sharing in it and dreaming it together.

There was a short pause where I tried to sort out actually seeing Stuey (it was still fairly dark in the dream) and at first he appeared to be a wizened, raisin-like little kitty-gnome – pretty disturbing, in fact. But I thought, as if I could transmit my thoughts to him, "Oh, you can do better at that. I can do better than that." So I concentrated on remembering him as he used to be. And suddenly, there he was – my Stuey, quite his old self, looking pretty pleased with himself. There was just enough light to see him clearly. I curled him up on my left side and cuddled him with my eyes shut tight, closer to David. A bright spark of light tried to get through the corner of my eyelids, and I told myself, "Damn. I'm going to wake up soon. I don't want this to end yet." I held him a little closer and petted him, and somehow stayed in the dream long enough to fall more deeply asleep and wander off into non-lucid, non-linear dreams. Then I woke up, suddenly and completely conscious, remembering everything. It was so strong a dream that I was surprised that David hadn't dreamed it, too. I told him every detail, so that I wouldn't forget more than anything else, and I spent the rest of the day feeling like Stuey finally came home for Christmas.

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2 thoughts on “Festive Chrismahanukwanzaakah!

  1. ginny,
    i had a cat who was the love of my life called muffin. she died at the age of 21 years. she was with me through most of the most important parts of my life. i had exactly the same thing happen. i had grieved so long for that cat and then i had as you called it a visitation. it made me so happy. reading your entry here reminded me of that. what a lovely christmas present for you.

    cat/kathryn/myrtle mertie

  2. Thank you, cat. I guess I made such a fuss over his final arrangements because all my other cats had died when I wasn’t there to take care of the details – my childhood Siamese (also a very old cat) died years after I left home for college, and my mom had to deal with her (and a second cat). Both of the cats were quite senile and doddery and incontinent, and finally Mom just took them both to the vet together. And another couple of cats I had in college died while I was either out of town, or after I had to give them up.

    So after I’d had Stuey for a long time, I realized that I really had to “be there” for him and not sluff off the responsibility for caring for him right to the end.

    It was odd how his illness blew up so quickly while we were on vacation, but he used to pine when we’d go away and generally there was some “cat punishment” lined up after our return (ie., presents left on or in travel bags, a lot of walking on heads at 3 am). I think he’d been fighting it off for a while, and I’d definitely noticed a slight limp – but being at the vet just added to his stress and it got out of control. Poor guy, I did the best I could for him.

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