Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The Haunting of Should

 It took a while before I felt like I could write again.

I'm still wearing all black.

Tatsu, our other kitty, had kidney failure the week after Stardust's own kidney failure claimed her life. I guess he couldn't be without her.

    I think the hardest thing about their passing was Jesse and I worrying about what we should have done. Did we love them enough? Did we not take good enough care of them? Although we heard from several vets if your cats die from kidney failure, that means that they have lived very long, well-cared-for lives. Eventually, I came to terms with it and accepted that the timing, hard as it was, is very beautiful. I still feel connected to Stardust, and I sense that she's happier and more playful than ever. Her body was struggling for 12 years, so it's an incredible release.

    Sometimes, when I feel her with me, I cry because I can't hold her anymore. Other times, I feel joy because nothing can really part us now.

    Now, I feel like I am on a different learning journey and wanted to share my thoughts with you about "should."

What I’ve come to realize is that “should” doesn’t make any sense. “Should” is entirely based on having the same experience and background understanding as myself so that whoever comes to the exact, same, “obvious” conclusion. My background as a CSR (customer service representative) tells me that I will always need your ID from your ID card, for example, so it should be obvious that to not cause problems, you should call in with your ID. But, for someone who grew up expecting to get by on just name and DOB or Social Security number, things we usually have memorized, they may feel like it should be obvious that the ID# is unnecessary so long as you can verify yourself. As the CSR, I feel like you should know computer systems aren’t that simple, and using different data isn’t as easy for us and makes the call take longer, which will get us in trouble with our supervisors. The customer feels like the CSR should do whatever makes the customer happy because that’s obviously good customer service. To the CSR, it is obviously discourteous to not be prepared for a call you are making, so obviously you should be a responsible adult and have your ID card handy when you’re making a call out to someone else whose job can be very challenging, especially because it makes it more complicated to abide by HIPAA regulations. See the problem?

Here are two conflicting perspectives at odds with one another. Neither one of them is really wrong, but to the person enduring the experience, it feels as if their need is clearly right. “Should” ignores all nuance in human perspective, experience, and feelings. It is the opposite of unconditional positive regard, something I have been inspired to aspire to by Carl Rogers. It can be insidious too, because we start to anticipate how annoyed we will be based on how we think things should go. Sometimes, we’re even hard on ourselves, saying we should be different based on some criteria we decided to accept from somewhere.

The way things are . . . are how they are. That’s how it is. I remember someone saying that to me as a teenager and getting pissed because the implication I interpreted was that we also shouldn’t do anything to make things any better. See that shouldn’t? It’s just the inverse of a should and it’s the same problem. Accepting that the present is what it is actually is a powerful thing. It releases you from the should! And, by being released, you can think of how you want to solve things from there. Not because you have to because of some “obvious” solution, but because that’s authentically who you are, a growing person who wants to do better. And since no one can control anyone else, you can make a suggestion, and rather than being mad if someone “should” be doing something you recommend, you can just be like, “Okay. That didn't work. I see it. That’s what’s happening right now.” Don’t make it mean that you might be wrong (though of course, we all are going to be wrong sometimes) or that you need to defend yourself into the ground. Don’t even make it mean that the other person is stubborn and will never get it and is consequently “bad.” It only means the exact thing that’s happening right now: the person you are disagreeing with simply doesn’t agree with you right now in the present moment. 

I often have wondered how many times I have planted a seed in someone else and, somewhere down the road . . . maybe they came to the same conclusion on their own and didn’t even remember our argument. Sometimes, I myself have had knee-jerk reactions to statements made by others, and I’d be annoyed, think about it, ask questions, and then eventually come to an entirely new conclusion that was neither my prior stance nor theirs. And it’s not about should, but because I am growing at my own pace, with my own experiences and perspectives, and I am not going to instantly manifest a new persona with adjusted beliefs just because someone tells me to and tries to overwhelm me with their idea of proof. One thing I learned at a very young age is that even if I came back in time and tried to warn myself about the future, I probably would not have believed everything until I had enough experience to authentically understand it. I’m grateful for any seeds that were planted with love and generosity from others as I grew up, because they did turn into fruit. Then again, there were other seeds that have been ripped out and burned forever. XD

    This is all to say . . . do not fall on the sword of "should" or "shouldn't." Love yourself. Love others. We are all growing from such different places and it makes us really weird and different. Release the suffering of "should," then, and just live and know that your best (and my best) are good enough. And your best won't be the same every day, and that's perfectly fine.

    I miss Stardust. I hurt a lot because I felt like she should still be here physically . . . but I don't need to hurt. She is where she is, and there are some new fun and weird aspects to that (yep, some bizarre cat hauntings; she has a sense of humor). So now, I will let go of what I thought should be and simply be with love from here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Stardust Daffodil


    Stardust has been my best friend for half of my life . . .

    You may have noticed that this blog has been called "Stardust's Oasis" since I started it. This is because my cat, Stardust, has been like a soul appendage to me.

    When I first moved out into a studio apartment, my very first adult, on-my-own living space, I was really lonely. I had moved halfway across the country, leaving family and friends behind, all to be with my long-distance boyfriend (who is now my husband). Unfortunately, he ended up moving halfway across the country himself to go to college, but I wasn't ready to follow him there at the time. I only had a temp job, was severely depressed, and had major anxiety issues (I only realize in retrospect), and it wasn't as easy to keep in touch long-distance back then as it is now. Even with email, many of my friends did not have consistent access and were going through their own problems.

    I decided I wanted a cat. And then I started dreaming of her. Swirling in the stars, the red in her fur shimmering like stardust. I had the dream repeatedly, and each time I went to the humane shelter looking for her, but didn't find her. I'm allergic to many cats, so to make use of the time, I would isolate myself in a single room with one of the cats there, start having a reaction that was destined to last 24 hours and often involved nose-bleeds, and then I'd leave, feeling disheartened.

    I dreamt of her again. This time, when I woke up, there was no question. I don't know why I didn't question it. I just knew she was there. I was so sure that I immediately called a vet near my apartment and made an appointment for her to come in the following day. I called up my (now) mother-in-law and asked her for a ride because I couldn't even drive myself to the shelter. I had no license and no car. She took me, and there she was.

    She wasn't with the other cats; she was in a large cage on the front counter, laying solemnly and looking frustrated and sad to be there. I rushed over, and when our eyes met, the kitty reached out her paws desperately to get me. I knew that she recognized me too, from the dreams. I asked the lady at the counter where she had been.

    "She fought with the cats, so we had to keep her with the dogs," she explained. She'd been there the entire time, but I would've never known since the dogs were in a back room. How did they expect her to be adopted?! I guess she was saved just for me, as my dad once said.

    As I met her in the private room and had no reaction to her, and she reacted to me in an intelligent way, I knew without a doubt that it was all real and it was meant to be. As I was filling out the paperwork and confirming the vet appointment I had already made, they said that she had a prior owner . . . but that she had been difficult, so they had brought her back. I told her that wouldn't happen with us. 

    On the way back to the car with her in the little blue cat carrier I had bought long before, my mother-in-law asked me what I was going to name her, making some cute suggestions. But I already knew: "Her name is Stardust." 

    Annoyingly, Neil Gaiman's Stardust was popular at the time, so everyone assumed I named her after his novel. Though I like Neil Gaiman, it had nothing to do with that but everything to do with the fiery stardust in the dream, which I felt represented her spiritual and true nature. Spoilers: I was right. 😅

    The first year with Stardust was the hardest. Though she was good at the vet for the first few trips, after she got an ear infection from dead mites in her ears (acquired prior to my taking her in and treated at the shelter as best as they were able) and after the vet had to do a deep dive to get them all out, she became an enemy of all vets. She used to steal my knives and hide them under her scratching post. She used to attack me in my sleep; you might be imagining a cat jumping on my face, even scratches, but it was more than that. Sometimes, she would go under the bed and start tearing through the mattress. She would sneak up on me in the dark and yowl and leap at me. I eventually had to put her into a carrier, wrapped up in towels, and placed in the bathtub so that I could sleep at night because it was the only way to keep her from hurting herself and me. Not only this, but she would attack anyone who entered the apartment, including myself. This latter bit was made okay by the fact that, for some bizarre reason, if you set her down in front of her cat carrier, she felt compelled to walk in. You had to close it quickly because this unstoppable compulsion really pissed her off, but it was handy to get inside until she calmed down.

    One day, after getting a permanent job to support my haughty kitty princess, Jesse (my boyfriend-now-husband) was visiting and was going to go to my apartment to meet me later. He called me at work and said, "I can't get into your apartment."

    "Why not?"

    " . . . She'll kill me." Keep in mind, my husband is a pretty big, strong guy. Like, it's a good thing he's a decent human being because his fist is the size of a small head. 

    I chided him, because if I could handle her, surely he could. He eventually got in. They also became good friends. While I was trying to teach her to be less violent, he liked to play ferociously with her. I wish I still had the picture as proof, but it seems to have been lost after multiple computer transfers, but one time she was biting him too hard, and then he spontaneously bit her back, and I was taking a picture and accidentally captured that moment. Her facial expression was that of, "Is this what it's like to be bit?" She tamed down somewhat after that incident. The below picture is from the same day, just sampling Jesse's flesh.

    After a series of events, it was time to move. As I packed up boxes, Stardust's anxiety grew. We no longer needed her to be sanctioned off to the bathroom; she slept beside me on the bed and even used the pillow like a tiny person. We had rituals, and I had tamed the wild beast, though most people who met her still found her somehow frightening. I had learned from interacting with her that it's very likely that her previous owners abused her before dumping her off, and we worked through those issues with love and patience. But she was still holding back; she didn't want to be abandoned again. Despite all the good memories we were making, I could tell she had emotional walls up against me.

    When moving day came, I got her sedated (that is a whole other story unto itself with an amusing twist at the end) and we boarded the plane together. When we arrived in my new one-bedroom apartment and I let her out to explore, quickly setting up her litter box and making sure she was comfortable before doing anything else, I saw her look at me with such appreciation and love in her eyes. I knew, in that moment, that she understood the promise I had made at the beginning of our meeting was true: I would never abandon her, and I would do everything I could for her.

    Stardust continued to be a troublemaker, but no longer violent. She stopped trying to bite eyeballs and instead would get on top of doors and jump down on the unexpecting. If we had a disagreement, she would open the freezer just a little bit so that I wouldn't realize until later that everything had melted. This cat learned to scale walls with nothing on them, and I had to put Soft Paws on her just to keep her from wrecking our deposit. But she also gave the best cuddles, understood me (I also was abused and felt abandoned by my bio-mom, who often emphasized how unwanted I was), and was always there. I was happy to think of life ahead with her of at least 12 years.

    When Stardust was 8, plans changed. One night, she wouldn't stop throwing up. Science Diet had a recall, but I didn't find out until too late. Our food wasn't part of the list, but there was clearly something wrong. We went from vet to vet. I ended up spending my entire savings of $10,000 before we got to a vet hospital that confirmed she had IBS. With the diagnosis came the hope of a way to save her life, even if for just another year with her. I had been at a really bad class (bad because it was just an 8-hour advertisement for more classes) my workplace at the time made me go to, and the hospital said they wanted to keep her overnight to observe her. I didn't want her to stay; I wanted her to come home. My wish had been granted when they called sternly during a break from the class and said, "Come. Get. Your. Cat." 😎I ditched the class to go get her with Jesse's assistance. When I saw her in the waiting room, banging around in the familiar blue cat carrier as the nurse struggled to carry her to me, I exclaimed, "MY BABY!"

    The nurse, flustered by Stardust's antics even while sick, couldn't stop herself from looking at me and going, "No." Like, she couldn't believe anyone would feel that way about Stardust. But, her expression changed when I took the carrier in my hands and Stardust's rattling stopped; all she wanted was to be reunited with me.

    Around this time, I started blogging less. I was scared of Stardust dying. This blog is her and my sacred space, in a way. I started it to reach out to my friends and family, and I was surprised other people started reading it and also became my friends. Thank you, guys!! And . . . hi, Germany? I thought to myself, "When she gets better, I'll write more . . ." But, IBS is a chronic condition. It doesn't just go away.

    Many years of research and fearful moments followed. Every year or two, she'd have a bad time. It wasn't until a few more moves, into our permanent home, that we found a vet who also has a cat with IBS and really understood. I also found a vet online who made her own cat food and had cats living into their twenties. She explained why it works and why regular cat food doesn't. None of the food on the market is right for cats despite the emerging organic and frozen options. Knowing this, I will never not make cat food. This recipe not only stopped Stardust from literally puking up blood (along with medication) and gave her back her life from the brink of death, but it stopped Tatsu Maru's (our other cat) UTIs, and another friend to whom we recommended the recipe to had a cat whose diabetes was cured! Most vets do not know anything about cat nutrition, so finding Lisa Pierson is nothing short of a miracle. You have no idea how desperate we were. It must have been frightening to employees at the Bed, Bath, & Beyond who may have been wondering why this anxious and near-to-tears couple was buying a meat grinder and looking so distressed about it (not plotting how to get away with murder, I swear!).

    After discovering that recipe, it was like a miracle. A miracle that required several hours every few weeks to keep up with the appetite of our cats. It's hard work, but it was worth it. Stardust made it past 12 years of age . . . then past 15 . . . 

    I had our daughter, Sabriel, in 2017. At first, Stardust was jealous . . . she even tried to walk on Sabriel's face as a baby when she was napping. Eventually, Stardust took interest in the fact that Sabriel was home when the rest of us were working. She felt grateful for the company and would insert herself into Sabriel's Duplo creations, or appear when Sabriel was playing with toys on the mat. Most recently, she started napping with Sabriel, curled up beside her. They adore each other now.

    But, in the past four years, she's also declined. She can no longer climb the tall cat towers we've gotten her. Due to arthritis and deteriorating kidney condition, she has struggled to use her back legs at times. Stardust mostly rests now and wants cuddles and love; no longer does she prank or cause mischief. Instead of struggling with her behavior, it's a struggle to take care of her while she sometimes deals with incontinence but other times is just fine. In fact, she has come back from the dead so many times that is hard to believe that she won't live forever. Every time I have been certain she was dying, she would suddenly pull some necromantic miracle and be just fine. She has lived far more than 9 lives while Tatsu has looked on with love unrequited. Despite her being a tricky and clever cat who enjoyed games of "fat human needs to run" where she would pretend to do something utterly insane just so you had to chase her, she's been an endearing, wonderful best friend all this time and every morning when I see her beautiful eyes, I couldn't be more grateful.

    . . .

    In the past few weeks, she stopped eating so much. She is already under 8 pounds. Sadly, Stardust goes through bouts of stomach issues on a regular basis. The vet has explained that due to her IBS, her intestines sometimes lengthen and stretch, but they don't go back. This means that occasionally an obstruction that is usually easy to pass, like a hairball, can cause a more severe blockage over time before it comes out, one way or the other. The more times it happens, the more the intestines stretch, which will inevitably kill her. Of course, her medicine for the IBS also negatively impacts her kidneys but is necessary for life. She's already way outlived the year they thought she had since she started the medication, but during the past two vet visits, they confirmed her kidneys are in decline.

    Still, we had hope. Stardust is a fighter. The fiery stardust of her nature has been as determined to stay with me as I am to remain with her. So it was shocking when she passed the difficult bowel movement and she didn't start recovering right away like normal. 

    We waited. We cleaned her. We carried her to the litter box and back to her resting place. I kept bringing her food, only this time she not only wouldn't eat it but also wouldn't acknowledge it. I had to start giving her water through a dropper. While caring for her, I realized I was waiting for it to "feel right" to know she was going to pass away. It was never going to feel right. I love her too much. We love each other too much. Being sad is the right way to feel about all of this. How naive was I, to think that it would ever feel good? If it did, what kind of relationship would we have had?! Sure, there can be relief that she's not sick anymore and I won't have to scour the floor on a regular basis for signs of illness (and to prevent our Roomba, Fraulein Sauber, from destroying herself on whatever symptom of sickness I find), but having to do that hard work has been worth it because I love her and I would rather see her every single day with those beautiful eyes looking at me with the same gratitude that I feel than live without it.

    After three days of not eating at all, no signs of recovery . . . I woke up this morning with the understanding that if you don't eat, you eventually die. And Stardust is not going to get better. One of the key signs is that Tatsu has stopped eating too. He knew something was different this time. Let me tell you, most of this cat's life is begging for more food and sometimes overeating until he throws up, so the fact that he has been so worried about Stardust that he would stop eating was harrowing. He's finally lost all the weight the vets have been asking for, but not under the conditions we would have liked. He has watched over her each night while we rest, giving comfort during these hard times.

    I called out of work today (8/31/22) because Stardust had pain, and I knew I had to make a choice. And then Jesse started sobbing when he got home and I talked to him because he had been in denial of Stardust getting worse. And, to be fair, we have thought she was going to die on and off since she was 8. We have literally spent 12 years being told repeatedly that she hasn't got much longer, watching her go through tough times and then spring back, though somewhat weaker each time, but still ready to love and keep on trucking. How could we be sure this was it? I was filled with further doubt as she brightened in his cuddles. 

    Stardust is my best friend. My soul appendage. I can't imagine life without her. And that's a huge reason I stopped writing, amongst dealing with so much change and upheaval in my life. I have wanted to write more and reach out . . . but I was scared to. The blog has been connected to her. I know that's weird and makes no logical sense, but . . . it's been hard.

    We deliberated for hours. I was anxious, because what if we're running out of time? I didn't want her to die suffering, or from starvation. She's being strong for us. She seems fine, but she clearly isn't. We've already defeated the odds . . . but what if we could go just a bit more?

    We gave her another bath. We got her into her heated bed and watched her curl up, looking miserable. Thank goodness Sabriel is being so patient with us; she's only 4, and she thinks we should all try to play video games and just pass the time, reassuring us it will be okay because Stardust will still love us and be a spirit when she dies. Jesse and I have to make scary, horrifying adult choices that we can't come back from. It took forever just to call the vet to get phone numbers for hospice. There's no way Stardust wants to die at the vet; it would have to be here, at home. But, what if she can get better again? AHHHHHHH!!! 

    And you know what? We did the hard thing, booked the appointment for tomorrow (9/1/22) . . . It was the hardest thing we ever did. And then a few hours later . . . Stardust is up and walking around. Now we're watching anxiously. If she eats, we'll cancel the appointment. If she eats, then we know she wants to live and keep trying. If she doesn't . . . And I'm honestly torn on what to hope for. Do I really want her to keep suffering just for a little more time? Isn't that what life is? 

    I'm writing this in advance and I hope it's not too sloppy. I'm not sure what's going to happen. It seems silly now that I haven't blogged in all this time because it felt wrong to while she was sick. I have so much I want to say. I've also been busy, working full time and going back to school full time. And having a 4-year-old. And having two geriatric cats for whom we have to make special food and for one of them, there are medications and special treatments to the point that I can never go anywhere because I'm confident no one but me will follow the instructions correctly to ensure her comfortable survival. I'm a little worried my in-laws think I don't like them because I can never go visit because of my work, but it's mostly Stardust. I can't even kennel her because when I do, she won't eat. She thinks I won't come back.

    One time, I dared to go on a week-long vacation and left Stardust in the care of our sister-in-law. Halfway through the trip, I had a dream conversation with Stardust; we connected just like we did before we met in person back in the beginning. She didn't speak in words, but I understood she was scared I wasn't coming back because it had been a few days. I reassured her. I woke up knowing how concerned she was, and I felt guilty. Yet, it was so magical that we're that connected, that we could talk in our dreams. Part of me hopes that we could still have that sometimes after she's gone . . .

    Is that going to be tomorrow?

    Even though we booked the appointment, I'll cancel it in a heartbeat and pay whatever fees there are if Stardust shows any sign that she wants to continue on this journey with me. I don't think either of us will ever be ready for this to be over. Even Jesse isn't ready. She's been with me literally half of my life. I don't know who I am without her. I do know that just recently, I finally found my self-confidence somewhat. I feel secure in knowing who I am and what I truly want for the first time in my life ever. I finally know how to set healthy boundaries, and I have really good friends who I know want to be in my life, not out of obligation or for what I can offer them, but because we truly care for one another. This kitty best friend, my little sister . . . I think she knows now that I'll be okay. That I'm not so lonely and broken anymore, and neither is she. We know we're loved now. Nothing will replace her, though . . . 

    There will be more to come, but for now, I need to spend these probable last moments with her. I was going to delay posting this for now, in case there's a surprise ending, but . . .I don't think I'll have the heart to post this later if I don't do it now. We're planning to say goodbye. She sniffed food but didn't eat. She's trembling in Jesse's arms right now. For now, I am focused on keeping the promises I made to Stardust . . . It's so much harder than I would have thought, or at least scarier. I can't imagine who I am without her here and I can't stop crying. I will follow up after some time has passed, work and school allowing. I don't know if anyone is still subscribed to this blog or not, but if you are, thanks for being here. Thank you for supporting us.

P. S. - I apologize for having to moderate comments. In the past years, there was spam popping up. I started having to spend more time getting rid of it than doing homework, so I just made it so all comments have to be screened, which made the spammers stop. Don't let it stop you, real people, though. I might be slow to write these days, but I need to connect to the world once again as I know what I have to say. Blogging might be antiquated in the world of videos (and I'd love to make videos, but editing isn't something I have time for right now), but I just need to make art and communicate with others the way that's right for me in the moment and stop trying to be perfect.

Thank you again for being here.