This afternoon, I came home and gave my cat a bath.
Sounds like fun, I know, but it wasn’t as bad as you think.
Stitch is one of three cats in our house, and he is by far the oldest. At 13-years-old, which is roughly equivalent to 417 in human years, he walks around the house like he owns the place, his breathing labored and wheezy, his steps a little weak and staggery.
Then again, he is 417, so that’s to be expected.
Last week, while we were on the porch, it occurred to me that he’s stopped washing himself somewhat, and that he really needed a bath. So, at 9 o’clock at night, I took him into the kitchen sink and washed him.
He didn’t resist. He sat there as the mildly warm water ran over him out of the spray faucet. He let me lather him up and wash him off again.
That’s the same thing he did today. He just sat there and let me take care of him.
Three years ago, he would have scratched your eyes out just to look at him.
For the first 10 years of Stitch’s life, he labored under the belief that everyone was out to pet him and that he wasn’t going to like it. I think it stemmed from being held by young kids too long and too tightly when he was a kitten.
We got him from a friend who knew that we were cat people. She dropped him off at our house and told us she knew we’d love him. Immediately our oldest son, then two, and our niece, then around six, decided that he was their personal petting zoo. It probably scarred him for life.
From then on, he’d hide in the chairs under the kitchen table and would lash out at people who walked by. He’d hiss at anyone who got too close to him and he spent most of his time letting everyone know how unhappy he was.
It was okay though. He was nice at times, and would semi-infrequently rub up against our legs or give us a yodel in the middle of the afternoon to let us know he was hungry and that even though he hated us, we should still love him.
And we did.
But sometime in the last three years, he changed. It was like one day, he forgot he was angry. In the afternoons, I would come home from work to find that all he wanted was to curl up in my arms and have me pet him. He would practically trip me going into the bathroom to get me to pick him up.
So I did.
It occurred to me that he was getting old and that this may be a form of kitty cat dementia. Maybe feline Alzheimer’s made him forget to be pissed off, mean and shitty. I can think of a few people I’d like to get that kind of dementia…
I looked at him differently after that though. I knew he was dying. I knew he was getting ready to leave us. I knew he had just a few more months to live the life that he hadn’t lived when he was younger.
I pet him more. I let him curl up in my arms more often. After 10 years of living inside all the time, I took him outside with me when I read on our back porch. While we were out there, he would roam a little. He would sniff all the new plants and planters. He would attack sticks and worms. He would sit beside me and let me pet him. Occasionally, he would curl up in my lap and fall asleep.
So when I came home this afternoon, and he looked weak and withered, I decided that he needed another bath. He’s not washing himself and the fleas are taking advantage of him.
He sat there in the sink and enjoyed himself. And later, as he was shivering in the towel I wrapped around him, I could hear him purring.
There’s a lot of love that comes from giving a bath to someone and from getting a bath as well. The giver has to accept the frailty of the bather’s condition unconditionally and to show their love by taking care of the other. At the same time, the bather chooses to show their love for someone by submitting to the act of being bathed and accepting, unconditionally, the love that is being given.
For a cat who hated everything, he had found a little to love. And so, finally, had I.
I decided that it would be best for him if I blow-dried his hair.
I know. As if a bath wasn’t bad enough.
But I figured with his deteriorating state, standing around shivering wouldn’t be a good thing. When I put him in the bathroom sink and turned on the blow dryer, he wrapped his paws around one of my hands and lay there. My 13-year-old cat getting a comb and blowout.
As I was drying his hair, I started thinking to myself, “Someday I’ll be doing this for my mom, as she did hers, and in time, someone will take care of me too.”
Our lives go on and we move forward with the ones we love. We give them our attention, we give them their space to be who they are and we love them for their differences in spite of how difficult they can make our lives. We usher them into our private world and slow their exit as much as we can, even if it makes us weaker in the process.
Even if that loved one is a cat.
After he was dry, I brought him onto the couch with me and put him on the back of it, in the sun, where he likes to sleep. He laid down and purred for a while, just barely touching my shoulder with his paws.
When I got up to get a glass of wine, I heard him get down.
He went to the cat litter box, but he couldn’t get out. He had laid down in the cat litter.
So much for the bath and blow dry.
Maybe he just wanted another one.
Copyright (C) Liz Carey 2014