written by Ginger Keller Gannaway
These days my dad reminds me of my cat. As he ages, he resembles more and more my cat J.T. Both are very old. She is 16 or 17 (no one recalls exactly when we got her from a friend at work). My dad is 92. They move in slow, deliberate ways and show little interest in the world at large.
Both make annoying sounds. The cat meows incessantly. She starts crying at three a.m. and goes until five. Her vocalizations can be pleading and helpless or demanding and stressed. She starts with short, emphatic, “Meow. Meow. Meow.” If I don’t heed her call for food, she tries sick-sounding, “Meeereow, Meeereow!” and will mix the short cries with the drawn-out ones at uneven intervals. After seven or eight cries, four minutes of silence might convince me that she’s given up. I smile and settle deeper into my pillow when, “Meertchkmrowww,” assaults me.
Dad’s sounds are more predictable. He moans any time he is conscious. It’s a low steady moan, almost a hum but void of any musicality. It has a pinch of pain in it and a rhythmic quality that is in sync with his breathing. Once my dad’s roommate’s wife told me, “Your dad sorta sounds like he’s purring.” (a weird coincidence of phrasing, for sure). But Dad’s moans have no satisfying feel, and he’s unaware he’s making any sound at all. After he assured me he was not hurting anywhere, I pleaded with him: “Please stop moaning, Dad.”
“What?” he asked.
“Moaning. You’re always moaning.”
He paused, stared at me, and said, “Am I off key?”
My cat, on the other hand, knows she’s meowing. She wants food. “She’s a cat,” explains my husband. “She just wants a taste.” Maybe so, but we can’t leave food out all the time because our dog will devour any morsel she walks away from, and in three minutes she meows for more. I refuse to cow-tow to her unreasonable, middle-of-the-night cravings! I sometimes get up, act like I’m going to the kitchen to shake out some Tender Vittles, and then fake her out and rush back to my room and shut the door on her.
Perhaps my dad and cat moan and meow to let the world know they are still here.
Thankfully, both Dad and the cat love to sleep. True to her feline nature, our J.T. sleeps at least seventeen hours a day. She curls up on the sofa arm, the window ledge that gets afternoon sun, or the blanket-covered bench at the foot of our bed for the best sleep. Likewise, Dad is asleep way more than he’s awake. Every time I visit, I find him napping – mouth wide open and snoring instead of moaning. My, “Hey, Dad!” makes him sputter awake, force his eyes open, and give me a smile, so happy to have a visitor. He drinks some of the smoothie I bring him and soon dozes on and off for the rest of my visit. Even when we watched the champion LSU Tigers take care of ALL their opponents, he’d nod off until our “Geaux, Tigers!” yells roused him. He is as much an LSU fan as he’s a fan of saying, “Any time is nap time.”
Both J.T. and Dad are picky eaters. Our pet now only wants soft food and gets sick if she eats too quickly. Dad is at the soup, yogurt, and ice cream time of his life with pudding and milkshakes as snacks. Both look skinny and act tired.
The two do share a calm air of acceptance. Their wants are few: a comfortable place to rest, small bits of food and drink, and regular signs of love/attention. Maybe Daddy’s moaning really is his version of purring. He prefers to close his eyes, hold a loved one’s hand, and listen to the conversations from his visitors that make him nod and smile. Satisfied and comfortable, he moans (purrs) and reminds me that he (and cats) understands the joy of serene relaxation.
NOTE: A year after my mom died, my dad moved in with my husband and me in Texas. Two years later after a couple of falls, he switched to assisted living. Now he’s bed-ridden and in a skilled nursing facility. I visit him several times a week, and I love him way more than my cat.