In loving memory of Otto

Always the loudest man in the room, the widest smile, the best stories, the worst jokes, the biggest heart, and the most full of life. I just can’t stop thinking about Otto. Impossible to wrap my head around his hasty exit.

Otto Palmer

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A journey’s end

Zora died on Saturday night. In spite of what looked like a speedy and impressive recovery from a brief and bitter battle with cancer, a sudden turn had the final say.

After staying with my friend for about three weeks, we were finally able to return to my apartment last week when the subletters moved out.  I was sure this would be exactly what Zora needed to complete her recovery.  Once she could sleep in her favorite spots and return to her routine, all normalcy and happiness would be restored.

But even though we were at home, she stopped eating her prescription food. Then she wouldn’t eat her favorite (pricier) food, even refusing her treats – which normally would be the only thing to get her to break into a jog.  So on Friday, her doctor ran some tests to reveal that her kidneys were the issue – or was it the strange thing they felt in her tummy? – or was it just an infection?  They wouldn’t be sure until Monday when her test results would be returned.  In the meantime, Zora and I were sent home with a bunch of needles and medicines that I would administer over the weekend.

But within a couple of hours of returning home, Zora was different.  She no longer seemed sick.  I could tell she was dying.

Her eyes became a bit glazed.  Alertly disoriented.  Barely blinking, she didn’t sleep for the entire night.  She stared into what seemed like another dimension.  And although she was still aware of me, she also seemed to become aware of something – someone else. She would look up, somewhat startled, as if looking at someone who entered the room.  I wondered if (or hoped) it could be my father – coming to greet her, take care of her for me.

Awake through the night, I was strangely calm.  I understood our time was ending.  I understood that the battle was lost.  I just wanted to treasure every remaining minute.

But it wasn’t until the following evening when I forced myself to let it end.  Knowing this would be the last time she would be at home, the last time she would look out of her favorite window, the last time I would place her in her travel bag, I closed the door behind me and we went to the emergency room.

They prolonged it with some more tests, poking her belly, taking blood and x-rays, and giving me some small percentage of hope that she could come back from where she was going.  But finally they told me what I already knew.

I held her in my arms.  Although she was still disoriented, she looked up at me with recognition.  She was tired. Very calm.

The doctor explained that she would receive two shots – a sedative, then the euthanasia.  As the sedative was given, she curled up to me, turning her face into my chest.  And she was gone before even the first shot was finished.  Perhaps she was relieved.  Warm and far too still in my arms, finally she was resting.

I was broken.  I am broken.

Now the burden of recovery is mine to bear.  Just as she was doing her best to adjust to losing a leg, figuring out how to navigate without being whole, I’m suddenly doing the same.  Eventually my tears will dry.   But right now my heart just aches.

Zora and I were together for almost six years (my longest relationship to date).  She made some major moves with me, remaining patient through (almost) every life change.  Jobs, friendships, and scenery have been different at every turn.  And I’ll admit that sometimes I haven’t felt at all stable – financially…well, yeah, or emotionally.  But Zora was my stability – my consistency.  In spite of our nomadic lifestyle, Zora and I had a feeling of home wherever we went together.  And when I traveled alone, including the recent sojourn to Suriname, Zora still represented home.

Some people may think these types of love and family relationships should be reserved for humans.  But no.  The love of an animal can be given and received quite deeply. And the pain of that love lost is just as deep.

Reaching the end of her journey, Zora decided I would be strong enough to handle the next steps of my journey on my own.  I’m not so sure I agree.  But I have no choice.

Rest in love, Zora.

Zora

The unexpected

I’m sitting in a corner of the Miami airport.  And I just paid 8 bucks for internet access. It was worth it just to see Zora on skype for a few minutes.  But I can’t deny that paying so much for the internet feels like a violation of my human rights.  Maybe this is something Obama can deal with in his (optimistically presumed) second term – universal obamanet.

Anyway, I digress.

The point is that the last two weeks have been full of surprises.  And with every unexpected turn, I’m reminded that we have less control over matters than we hope we do.  Apparently plans are just for naïve chumps.  Or maybe they’re better seen as an outline of a preferred path.  But if we’re not willing to shift, adjust, or entirely scrap our plans when changed circumstances require, we lose.

Exactly a week ago, everything went according to plan.  My sister, my niece (the youngest of my sister’s brood), and I stood in my mother’s sister-in-law’s house – in Chicago – waiting to surprise my mother for her birthday.  We have lived in different cities for so long that she doesn’t expect to see us without months of advance planning.  I’m obviously all over the place – on some other continent, with little money and selfish priorities.  My sister is busy on the east coast, working nonstop, supporting her family, and raising her (abnormally attractive) children.  But this time, taking ownership of the unexpected, we decided it was time for our Mom to have her (lack of) birthday plans changed.   So when she saw us standing there, yelling “surprise!” in her face, she looked as if she was seeing ghosts with a family resemblance.  The moment was priceless.  And in an instant, we tossed her into a weekend (or a week, considering I stayed for much longer) of unexpected plans.  Once the initial shock wore off, which took about a day, she made our plans her own.

But as the Chicago surprise plans went off without a hitch, in the back of my mind I was dealing with some major unexpected events unraveling back in Amsterdam.  Backing up another 4 days, when I was still having one incredible and productive day in Suriname after another, outlined plans were finally going from blurry hopes and wishes to concrete next steps and partnerships.  But just overnight everything shifted – my focus and priorities included.

The morning after one of my best days in Suriname, I found out that Zora might be dying.  A healthy cat when I left Amsterdam (though the doctor wanted her to work on her abs), she was in good shape to stay with our friend while I hopped around the globe a bit more.  Well, certainly not as pleasant as a birthday surprise in Chicago, but cancer also gives no warning.  It just shows up – uninvited.  And rocks whatever plans you thought you had.  It took my Dad.  It took my grandmother.  It’s taken so many. And now it was threatening Zora.  I fucking hate cancer.

Zora’s unexpected health concerns immediately took priority.  She’s the only family I have in Amsterdam (people often ask: “do you have family here?”  And I almost always respond: “It’s me and my cat.”). So once I recovered from the panic, and the tears became less frequent (took the better part of a day), I had to make some decisions about where I needed to be and when.  The Chicago trip was days away, during which time Zora was having more tests and little could be done other than waiting.  So I decided to proceed with this trip.  Plus, when I found out Zora’s prognosis, I would be with my mother, which would be helpful.  But the day before leaving for Chicago, I went to the Suriname Airways office to change my Amsterdam return date.  And just like that, two months in Suriname would become one.  And this would just have to be okay.

As for Zora’s plans, she was expecting to have an easy couple of months without me all up in her face.  But when tests came back to confirm that her leg tumor was malignant and growing quickly, suddenly the only concern was saving her life.  The doctors did not want to waste any time.  And they certainly couldn’t wait for me to return to Amsterdam next week.  So yesterday, just like that, before the cancer could reach any other part of her body, they rushed to amputate her leg.

So here I am, in Miami, heading back for my final few days in Suriname.  Having just spoken to a healthy, alert, highly-medicated, three-legged Zora on skype (she’s staying with and being cared for by more than one dear friend in Amsterdam), I can finally breathe.  Unexpected events may have turned some things upside down. But just like we’ve adjusted to every shift, turn, and stumble in the past, Zora and I will adjust to her prolonged life on three legs.  And as my Mom said, Suriname will still be there when I’m ready to go back.

Thanks to all for the kind and well-wishes sent Zora’s way over the past week.  I hope she felt them.  I certainly did. I’ve also learned that Zora and I have a lot more family and love in Amsterdam than I realized.  I owe her life to my friends who have cared for her so well.

Please pray for Zora

Dear friends,

If you know me even just a little bit, you know that my cat, Zora, is the love of my life.  She means the world to me. And the only bad thing about being in Suriname for so long has been spending so much time away from her.

Well, the universe has dealt a blow that reminds me, once again, that when things are going well – moving in a positive direction – other forces may have plans that differ greatly.

Today I learned that my sweet Zora is very sick, with a vicious tumor on one of her legs. If test results come back favorably, the best we can hope for is that she will only have to lose that leg.  Otherwise, well, I’m not sure I’m prepared to think about the worst case scenario.  But I’m sure you can imagine.

I don’t often like to ask for help. But in this case, I’m not sure what else to do.  So if you’re reading this, I just ask that you pray, or chant, or call on your spirit guides (whatever your process entails) that Zora will be okay.  I think I can handle most things that are thrown my way.  But losing Zora right now just isn’t an option.

Thank you, friends.

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