Living with a elderly cat who has wandered gradually into a state of dementia has been one of the more interesting experiences of my adult life. My beloved Sissy, who is now 19 years old, has begun to exhibit behaviors and traits that are eerily familiar and, I have to admit, extremely unsettling. It's a lot of like watching what happened to my grandmother before she died. Well it would be, that is, if my grandmother had had four legs and a cheap fur coat... ok, four legs anyway. There's the basic befuddlement - walking into a room, stopping, looking around and wondering, "Where am I going and why am I in this hand-basket". Understandable...happens to me all the time. And the deafness...sure, that comes to all of us with age. The fact that I can walk up behind her loudly calling out her name and she still jumps a foot if I reach out and touch her is, I am ashamed to admit, sometimes comical (I feel SO guilty). The wobbly gait, the constant visits to the litter-box (where she has been known to exhibit the same "Huh? Where am I?" expression mentioned above) are completely old-age appropriate and every woman over the age of 45 or so can totally identify with the "more frequent visits to the litter-box" thing, let me tell you. Then there's the flatulence. The less said about that the better. She sleeps more (is that even possible for a cat?), she eats less, and she has turned into "Velcro Kitty", wanting to stand on my full bladder wearing her little kitty toe-shoes at every possible opportunity. I get all that. What is troubling almost to the point of sleep-deprived madness is her new habit of jumping up onto the bed in the middle of the night, walking right up next to my ear and screaming at the top of her little kitty lungs - the sound of which, for anyone who has ever experienced the same sort of phenomena in a tiny baby, is inversely (and I might add, perversely) proportionate to her size. My cat weighs 5 pounds. If I'm doing the math right her voice strikes my eardrum at a glass shattering 130 decibels (the benchmark for the threshold of acoustical pain). She then proceeds to walk around the house making a noise that, for lack of a better description, sounds like badly-tuned bagpipes being played by a monkey on crack imitating a wounded badger. With a hangover. And a chip on his shoulder. This goes on for an hour or so. It's oddly reminiscent of many of the trips I took to the nursing home to see my grandmother in her final days, when she had absolutely no idea who I was. I'd be walking down the hall after a sad and frustrating visit, and I'd hear a voice, wailing, shrieking, and crying out so loudly that my head would automatically whip around in panic stricken hyper-alertness to find the source of what seemed to me to be "the sound of ultimate suffering". As I'd be trying to decide whether or not a life threatening emergency existed, I would finally be able to make out a single, demanding word... being screamed over, and over, and over... "NURSE!!!!" - each petition being punctuated viciously with the manic buzzing of a call button being repeatedly, incessantly and relentlessly mashed by a 98 pound woman who could probably have bench-pressed my car. My Vet describes this behavior from my cat, known as "increased nocturnal vocalizations", as "fairly typical in cats with dementia". Well yes, I suppose so if that's the diagnostic term for it (what choice do I have..."I'm an artist, Jim, not a doctor"), but it is still disconcerting as hell. What I find to be the most distressing part is not that my adored kitty has turned into a crotchety, old woman who fusses and frets constantly. No, what makes me really stop, bend over and loosen my shoes is the thought that one day *I* may be the old lady with the demonic buzzer in my hand - clutching it desperately like a lifeline - trying to telegraph to anyone who will listen my desperate life-affirming pleas for attention, affection and some semblance of dignity. If so, then, I will promise to do my best not to sneak up on anyone in the middle of the night and scream loudly in their ear....on the other hand.....
Following the wisdom of my ancestors, I walk the words to find the truth. Words are a path, the spaces between are the destination. To find a way between the words, you must walk the path and hear the deafening roar of silence.
"Who has not listened to hear the secret
stories of the land whisper from ruins or
forests, or the pages of ancient texts?"
~ Ari Berk~