Last July, over a space of about a week, our seventeen year old cat, Natalie, went blind.
Her veterinarian said the blindness was the result of untreated hyperthyroid and high blood pressure and that her sight could not be restored. He also indicated she probably had kidney disease and might not live much longer. We felt so guilty because during the pandemic, when she was chipper and frisky, we hadn't taken her for checkups. We began to inquire after someone who would come to our home to provide euthanasia. Luckily we weren't in a rush to send her across the rainbow bridge.
What we saw was alarming and heartbreaking at first. For days on end she sat in a basket near the door or on top of the printer in my office, listless and dissociated. Natalie had been a very chatty cat before losing her sight but now she was utterly silent. She barely ate and didn't groom her once glossy, long coat. She wandered in circles and bumped into walls and couldn't find her litter box. Worst of all the lenses of her eyes dried up and peeled off. Her gorgeous green eyes turned white. We cancelled plans and stayed home to take care of her dreading and expecting the day when she would tell us it was time for her to go.
Over the next two months we watched her closely, mindful of any sign of discomfort, as one would for any cherished family member. We couldn't know for sure if she felt good or bad; she seemed to want to be left alone. We tried to engage with her but she wasn't interested. Instead, we cleaned up her litter box mistakes, tempted her with foods she loved, gave her her medicines and let go of expecting her to get either better or worse. We practiced radical acceptance that as long as she kept eating and drinking we would support her process. Then one day, about a month ago, she started talking again.
First, she said hello to me when I came back in the house from out of doors. Then, a few days later she started saying, "I'm hungry," and "my water bowl needs freshening." Finally she came to where my husband was sitting reading and said, "I want to sit in your lap." When he picked her up, instead of insisting on being put back down immediately, as she had been doing, she settled into his lap and began to purr. As he stroked her he had tears in his eyes.
Week by week she has gotten a little better. Yes, she still gets into her litter box and pees on the floor (now protected by a disposable pad.) And no, she can't go outside, of course. But she finds her way to an open screen door or window and eagerly sniffs the air as she used to do. She asks to get up in bed so she can "make biscuits" on my chest. She eats up her favorites, chicken, tuna, cantaloupe and kitty party mix, and grooms herself meticulously. She even wants to come in the den and "watch" television with us. And every day she devotes some time to learning how to get around her home better in darkness. She's even back to jumping up on the table at dinner (and being put back down on the floor). So in all respects it seems as if Natalie has accepted being blind and is getting on with her life.
If we live to be as old as Natalie we will all go through losses like hers. Natalie went through an illness and lost her eyesight. She went through a deep grieving process and got a little depressed and irritable, maybe, (I don't really know.) Natalie has had an adjustment that has been hard and long. She has taken her time. She has worked it out, she hasn't given up. And finally she has returned to her kitty love of life for whatever time she has left.
I hope we are all able to follow her good example.