By Dr. Rebeccah Shalev
My cat is estimated to be 21 years old. In “cat years”, he would be over 100! I adopted him 15 years ago, and he means the world to me.
These past few months, his health has been declining. Of course, at his age, this is to be expected. But still I admit I am struggling both with coming to terms with his mortality and with the logistics of caring for him in this time of increased need.
His vital signs are strong, and on good days, he is quite comfortable and happy. But things can shift quickly with his pain levels, so I have become hyper vigilant, always watching for signs that he is starting to flare, so hopefully I can adjust his treatments and meds in time.
I’ve noticed how much being his caregiver reminds me of other times in my life when I’ve cared for an aging or terminally ill (human) loved one. The notable difference, however, was that when the patient was a human, the whole family gathered around to pitch in, and this time, I am the sole caregiver. I don’t want to leave the old guy alone for long, and have changed my routines and work schedules to be able to be home with him more. Many nights I wake up three or four times to check on him or give him medication.
As I acknowledge both the time commitment his care takes and the emotional challenges
involved, I’m learning that self-care is particularly important for me at present. These are
the areas I’ve come to see as most crucial to my caring for the caregiver (myself):
Getting enough Sleep: When it comes to stress management, nothing is more important and more elusive right now than getting a good night’s sleep. I have started giving my cat an extra dose of CBD at night, because if he sleeps, I sleep better too. But I really just have to accept that I will be woken up at least a few times every night and I have to go to bed earlier to compensate. And like a new parent of an infant, I must sleep when he sleeps.
Eating regularly and staying hydrated: If I don’t get enough protein, my energy, brainpower, and stress resilience plummet. So I set alarms on my phone to remind me to eat, whether I’m hungry or not. I’m focusing on nutrient-dense foods, with lots of heavy proteins and fats to stabilize my blood sugar and ground me energetically. And lots of water.
Making my own health care a priority: As women, it’s so easy to sacrifice our own health when we are caring for others. But if I can’t stay healthy, I can’t care for my feline child/patient. I’m prioritizing keeping my appointments with my own health care providers, and staying on track with my regular supplements.
Getting down time when I can: Even though I’m trying to be at home with my little guy as much as possible for the time we have left, I find I can create mini-vacations right at home. When he is comfortable or asleep, I can go out and take a nap in the sun. Half an hour of vitamin D, full-spectrum light, and relaxation can go a long way towards recharging my batteries!
Acknowledging the five stages of grieving (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance): It’s often thought that this process does not begin until after a death, but when caring for a loved one where a terminal outcome is inevitable, we begin to move through these stages even before she or he is gone.
Embracing gratitude: This incredible cat has brought such joy into my life. I know that we won’t have much more time together, and I am grateful for each day I get to spend with him.