Monday, January 04, 2016

all that Jazz

Jazz, October 2015
"Me and you, Jazz," I often said to my furry, feline companion as I approached another day of working on my doctoral dissertation, "We're going to get this thing done." She was polite enough not to correct my horrendous grammar (it should be "you and I") and most of the time, listened patiently whenever I fretted about a troublesome paragraph or an uncooperative source. To the uninitiated, her frequent yawning during my theological diatribes and her habit of avoiding eye contact by engaging in incessant grooming might have been interpreted as boredom or a lack of interest, but I knew better. She was personally invested in my academic progress. Late on December 17, I handed off a good draft of my thesis. Job well done, kitty.

Serving in a support capacity for a doctoral degree was not the only accomplishment of this extraordinary feline. In her 17.5 years on this earth, she lived in two provinces, moved four times, took two road trips to Manitoba (each clocking in at 30+ hours), waited out a snowstorm in a hotel in Chicago, graced multiple homes with her bigger-than-life presence while we vacationed, welcomed (and intimidated) untold visitors and house-guests, and frightened numerous veterinarians. Aside from vacuum cleaners and small, noisy children, she feared nothing and no none. When we first got her as a kitten, she escaped out the front door, ran into the street, then arched her back and hissed at an oncoming car. Because of this episode, and the fact that she seldom backed down from a confrontation, I took to walking her on a leash outside, mostly for her own protection. She became a novelty (dare I say celebrity?) in any neighbourhood we strolled through.

Jazz was diagnosed with cancer (of the anal gland, if you must know) in mid-August. In general, she showed little sign of distress for four months. On Monday, December 21, things changed. She had no appetite and barely moved all day. She was hot to the touch. It seemed like her time had come. I took her to the vet the next day for her goodbye journey. She hated going to the vet. True to form, she protested and clawed and even bit me when I removed her from the carrier at the hospital of horror. The sudden surge of energy was soon spent and she lay on the table, breathing heavily. The vet examined her and told me that at most, Jazz had a few days left, so I signed the form and the doctor gave us 15 minutes to say goodbye. I had been preparing myself for this moment for four months, so it had not come as a surprise, but it was still hard. Hard to see her suffer. Hard to see her wide eyes filled with I don't know what: anger? pain? dullness? I felt a twinge of guilt, like I was rushing her, but I knew there would be no reversal of her condition; she was only going to deteriorate and there was no point in prolonging her pain. I stroked her, kissed the spot of orange fur on her forehead, laughed at her characteristic antics, told her I loved her, and said over and over again, "Courage, my love." As much to myself as to her.

The next day I got on a plane to spend the holidays with family. It was good to be in a festive environment celebrating life and love with those I hold dear, but I knew returning home to an empty house would require some adjustment. As I sit here and write, I still expect Jazz to come padding into my office and peek around the corner of my desk, eager for some attention or perhaps inquiring about the possibility of tuna for lunch. It is strange not to fill the water dish first thing in the morning, not to have to scoop out the litter every day, not to have a furry face to greet us when we come home. It is also a relief not to wipe up the mess from her frequent vomiting, not to clean up after her occasional bleeding, not to disinfect the swollen mass on her hind quarters, and not to wonder if she has died while we were sleeping or away at work.

For the most part, I am not sad, but there is a void, an unsettling of household life as I have known it for the past 17 years. I am in a transitional time in my professional life as well: my thesis is now in the hands of my advisers and I am set to graduate this spring. After 8 years of studying (as an independent, master's, and doctoral student), I have nothing on the horizon. In fact, the winter semester is a blank slate in many ways, though I have a few things I am working on. There's that void again, that unsettling.

When I pray, I get the sense that the void is a holy place; the chaos and unsettling is where the spirit of God broods. In the uncertainty I hear the refrain, "He's got the whole world in his hands." And in the silence, in the uncomfortable stillness, I hear the words, "Silent night, holy night." The awful unknown is swallowed up in the unknowable One, and in that place of unknowing, I hear God whisper in my ear, "Courage, my love."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. May the God of all comfort be near and also show you the way forward in the silent night. Feeling with you a bit in the transition. Yreit