Life Lessons, Old and Young

I am trying to learn patience. It’s a hard lesson.

I have a cat — Opus, also known as The Bubby, star of stage, screen and watching movies with BDH — who is 18 1/2 years old. She’s my best friend, and I love her more than almost anyone on this earth. She’s also driving me slowly insane.

She’s as deaf as a post. Well, not deaf in the “I can’t hear” sense — cats don’t work that way. With cats, hearing loss is cognitive. So she’s deaf in the “I-was-thinking-of-something-else”, senile old man sort of way. In the muttering-to-herself-and-not-paying-attention sort of way. She can hear when she HAS to — things that kick in her self-preservation instincts, like sharp noises and vacuum cleaners and such. But most of the time, for all intents and purposes, she is as deaf as a post. Getting her attention is nigh unto impossible. Things she used to love — putting on music and having dance parties, having big games of chase — she can’t do anymore because she can’t hear.

Plus, her English isn’t as good as it used to be. (I know you think I am kidding, but hear me out.) That’s a problem. It’s part-and-parcel with the hearing loss, obviously. But when she was younger, Opus knew MANY words. She responded to a huge vocabulary — and she’s a VERY smart cat, even by the vet’s standards. We had many words as cues, much like commands you use with a dog. So things I used to do by simple speech — getting her to come to me, telling her what she could and could not do, all sorts of interaction — I can’t do anymore. All the simple commands we lived our life by are no longer working.

And she shouts all. the. damn. time. Part of it, I think, is that she can’t hear so she can’t tell how loud she is being. So all her communication is at full roar. But also, some odd behaviours are kicking in as a response to the hearing loss. She howls like she is in a cat fight whenever she wanders off alone to the litter box or to eat, almost as though she is trying to scare away anyone who might be a threat to her, because she cannot hear threats coming very well.

And she knows something is wrong too. She follows me everywhere. She needs much more attention than she used to. And she is slower and more frail.

And it is hard, dealing with her some days. It’s hard dealing with the constant shrieking for what seems to be no reason. It’s hard being patient with her when I want her to obey me and she doesn’t, in situations where she used to do so. Her neediness is hard. It all can be a bit wearing on me. And I lose my patience with her, and I shout at her, and she’s gotten more than a few little (soft) pats on the bum and time-outs in her cage when I get frustrated with her. Which all comes to naught, because she doesn’t hear and doesn’t know what I want anyway. She’s got the attention span of a soap dish, and she has no idea what I am going on about.

It’s not her fault. She’s so old. She’s something like 90 years old in human years. But she is a challenge.

So I have been trying to take it all as a lesson. I am trying to learn from her. I am trying to be patient and learn what’s going on and give her what she needs. Because I figure, soon enough, there will be a baby here with equally poor grasp of the language, who will cry when he or she needs something, who is unable to respond to what I tell him or her, who will need constant attention and whose needs I will have to figure out. And that, too, will require patience.

And it seems to be working, in some respects. For example, one of the reasons I am finding that Bubby is shouting a lot of the time is that she’s hungry. She’s not being obstinate — she’s ravenous. And even though there’s food out, she’s not got the cognitive skill anymore to figure out where it is. She gets confused. So I am trying to learn to distinguish what her yelling means and respond when she is hungry. And that is making it quieter around here.

Another thing I am trying to do is be patient and understanding when she wants attention. For one thing, she’s not going to be around forever, so I am taking the moments when I can get them. But also, it must be very confusing for her, this new state of being, and she’s probably a little scared when she wanders off into another room and finds herself without someone she trusts to comfort her. And if I get upset with her then she gets more upset and confused. So I am trying to be patient and understanding. How much does it cost me to give her some love and cuddles when she feels she needs it?

So I am looking at my little elderly girl as a test run for caring for a very small child. I am trying to learn what I can from this situation so that hopefully, when our child comes home, I can respond to the stresses and the crying and the upset with a good deal of patience. I am trying to learn to pay attention and listen, to learn what the crying and the behaviours mean — because with a child, crying happens for a reason. Fussing happens for a reason. Smiles happen for a reason. And they won’t have the English, the words, to tell me what they need.

And I am trying to be patient and just give Opus as much attention and cuddling as I can, because soon we will be in a similar situation with Mystery Baby. I know that when our child first comes to us, he or she will be scared and confused and need comfort and time to bond.

I am trying to learn to be a better geriatric cat owner, and hopefully, by extension, learn valuable lessons I can carry over into parenthood.

We almost lost our kitty a few years back to kidney failure. But I went into hospital a few days after she did, and she suddenly, surprisingly, got better. I always liked to tell myself that it’s because she knew I still needed her.

And in situations like this, when I am learning from her, sometimes I still say Opus knew I’d still need her. And so she’s sticking around, until she knows that her job is done and I’ll be okay on my own. She’s not finished with me yet.