Our cat is teaching our son about aging and dying.
Our cat T-Bone is teaching our nine-year-old son about aging and dying.
I asked our son his answer to our Death Deck question:
His answer, quickly and with emphasis, was C. “Way worse, Mom. T-Bone has been with me since I was born!”
He’s right. My husband and I adopted T-Bone 16 yrs ago from a shelter. Our son likes to tell the story that she leapt into our arms when she saw us. The reality was she just sauntered up to us begging for attention in the way that cats beg, rubbing against our legs and meowing. She was so friendly and sweet, but horribly malnourished and scrawny. We decided she was perfect.
We played with her every day, snuggled with her at night. She became an important member of our family.
When our son was born, she developed an amazing bond with him. Each time he cried, T-Bone would come running and stand there meowing her loudest as if to say, “Help him, Do something!” We called T-Bone his little cat mother. It was challenging as new parents to have two small beings screaming at us, but each time our baby quieted down, so did T-Bone.
Over the years, our son and T-Bone developed a loving friendship. T-Bone kept coming to his side whenever he cried, comforting him when he was hurt, angry, or sad. Our son began a daily ritual of kissing her before school, greeting her immediately upon coming home, and snuggling with her at night.
T-Bone is now 18 yrs old.
She’s gotten plumper with age, softening as I remember witnessing my grandmother doing. She continues to love food, however now with her arthritis, it takes a lot of effort to walk to her food dish. Walk 10 steps. Lay down. Rest for a minute. Walk again. She reaches her goal, it just takes awhile. She can’t get up on our son’s bed alone, we now lift her up at bedtime. She’s an old woman that knows how to get her needs met. When she wants our attention, she yells. When she needs help up, she yells again. When she wants to drink fresh shower water, she gets herself to the bathroom and meows until we abide.
T-Bone is helping us teach our son that we take care of the ones we love. That, as we get older, we can’t move as fast and we may need help. That, as she ages, T-Bone continues to contribute to our family through her love, her sweet little snores, the comforting presence she provides each of us on rough days. She’s slower and plumper, but also patient and gentle.
We cannot avoid the fact that T-Bone will die.
Working as a hospice social worker, we speak openly about death. Our son knows that T-Bone is elderly. He talks frequently about how sad he will be when she’s gone. He often comments on what we will do with her body, who will be there when she dies, and if he gets to skip school due to grief. I find these conversations hard, but important.
By encouraging this openness in communication, we are helping our son create a healthy understanding of aging and death. With that, he can hopefully be less fearful about death, be an empathetic friend to those that have lost their pet or family member, and appreciate more deeply the love that he has for his aging cat.