This is probably the hardest blog I have ever decided to write, and one of the most open and vulnerable too. I don’t want people to worry or be alarmed, it is just that I find writing to be a cathartic process, and at this point in the day, the only coping tool I have is to write about how I am feeling, and the muddle of thoughts going around my head right now. I know it will pass, and this moment is just transient. But I need to do something.
My cat Uisce is in a really bad way today. All afternoon she has been lethargic. She has that smell of death about her and those dazed and non focusing eyes typical of people and animals I have seen through the last stages of death. She barely has energy to move, and the slightest attempt leads to her struggling for every breath through her mouth. On the other hand, she seems really peaceful, is purring, and came to me for a cuddle, and even managed to roll over a little for her favourite belly and under arm rub. Somehow, today, we both just know that she won’t see it through to another morning, and the end is on its way.
I am struggling to write today. I can’t hold back the tears, and I probably feel more pain at her inevitable loss than I have ever felt for any human being, or even my other pets. We have just always had a very special relationship.
I need to write, because I am afraid to turn off the light. It is 3am, I’m exhausted, but I just can’t bring myself to not sit with her and watch her, or to turn off the light. I don’t want her to die alone, and I want her to feel the warmth and light, rather than the coldness of the dark. I don’t want to go to sleep and wake up to find her gone, I want to sit with her. I’m sure that sounds totally crazy. After all, Uisce is just a cat, and I should just get over it, and not be such a woose. But I can’t, and life without her is going to be really awful and strange for a very long time. It is actually something I have been afraid of, ever since she was a kitten, and I have thought I would lose her on two occasions in life already.
In 1995, my life was really a big pile of shite. I had taken a very serious overdose, and had spent months in coronary care and a psychiatric ward due to my failed suicide attempt. I felt like a total failure, and I couldn’t even manage to kill myself properly. I was in my early 20s, and I had been done with life for over ten years already. I wasn’t a depressed kind of person, I was happy go lucky. I was just dealt a right bad pile of cards, and life seemed to go from shit to more shit, no matter what I did to try and change things. I was tired of not getting the support I needed, tired of social workers, tired of do gooders, and tired of being let down by everyone, and always somehow slipping through the system. I could see no way out of things. Now, I was despised even more for being selfish and putting others through the inconvenience of having to keep an eye on me in case I tried to top myself again. People hated me more than before. I was really angry that I failed, and I had no doubt that I would try a second attempt, but this time would succeed. The problem was, that I wanted to go as quietly as possible and with the least inconvenience to others, so that didn’t leave too many options on the death front, and unfortunately I also wasn’t very brave. I came out of hospital and moved into rented digs. It was horrible. In rented accommodation, in a house full of weirdos, and still on my own in the world, but now with the added issue of trying to explain to others that I had just been in a nut house because I hated my life and couldn’t see any point in continuing. I had no income, and had failed at everything, just as always. Not because I hadn’t tried, but because I was always going to be misjudged by society. I wasn’t from a prosperous or socially high family, but I wasn’t poor enough to get assistance, I wasn’t able to undertake further studies, and I was too intelligent and not happy enough to just take on any old job and get on with it with 2.4 children for the rest of my days. I had no one to speak to about anything, no one to guide me, and was instead just floundering around in the dark, trying to keep out of mischief.
When I finally moved up the waiting list for help, my Occupational Therapist thought that I needed something to keep me busy. I wasn’t into knitting or art, that wasn’t my thing. But I decided that I needed something to give me a reason to get out of bed every morning, that would turn me into a responsible person, and when I moved out of that awful accommodation and into a more stable place with one of the other people who was trapped in that hell hole, I decided that a pet would be the answer.
We had always had pets at home, and they had always helped me with the dark moments in life. I had a cat Sam, beautiful black thing, who lived to a ripe old age, thankfully long after I had left home, although I had been talking to him since the age of about 2 years old. He was my psychiatrist, and he never complained at my dressing him up when I was 5 years old, or pulling out his grey hairs when I was a teenager. He never complained, only at my brother. My mother worked for the RSPCA, so we always had animals at home.
So, on the 31st October 1996, I went to the Cats Protection League in Lancaster with my friend Helen, ‘just for a look’. She was just coming with me, but ended up coming home with an older black cat called Meggi who was lovely, and had lived with an old lady who sadly passed away. I was looking for a particular kind of cat. I wanted an older cat, not a kitten, and I had always wanted a tabby. I had been warned against white cats because genetically they have problems with skin cancer and deafness.
Actually, I had already had two white cats in my life, both of which were not ours, but which moved in for one reason or another. One was called ‘Lefty’, who we managed to castrate, before discovering that he was a pedigree and a very unusual breed, hence why he had more toes than normal – oops! The second was the best cat ever, and actually in hind sight was very similar to Uisce. She had the worst name ever, Tinkerbell. She was a white cat, very gentle and loving, and the perfect companion. But sadly she developed a cancerous growth that would bleed all the time and we had to have her put to sleep. I was devastated at losing such a good friend, and at that point, she was the only positive and stable thing in my life, so it was a huge loss.
So there I was, at the cat’s protection league with Helen. We went to see two tabby cats, who looked at us really snootily as if we were pieces of rubbish. They were curled up in the warmth of their basket, and outside in the cold, there was Uisce. She had come from a drowning case, and her siblings had all found homes, and she was the last one left, so they put her in with the two tabby cats in the hopes they would get on. But, the tabbys refused to let her indoors, and she was a bit different and a wimp, so she was outdoors looking awkward.
I went into the pen to see these two tabbies, but before long, Uisce was sat on my shoulders, chatting away; ‘miouw, miouw, miouw’. She was the loudest and most vocal cat I had EVER met. Different kinds of noises, but not a proper cat miouw. But she just gave eye contact and seemed to be telling me all sorts of stuff, and wouldn’t jump off my shoulders. That was it. I was won over, and it seemed as though she had chosen me rather than the other way around. She just accepted me, and was loud enough that I knew there would be no getting out of looking after her and getting out of bed everyday. She had a funny character and a twinkle of mischief in her eye that let me know we were going to be the perfect match.
My housemate shook her head at me when we got home, and laughed. The two things I had said I didn’t want, a white cat, and a kitten! But I knew she was the right choice, and anyway, she looked much older than the 8 weeks that the card said she was, so she wouldn’t be so much of a crazy kitten surely. And she wasn’t entirely white as she had patches of tabby and ginger too.
One of the first things I fell in love with, was her looks, especially when she was small and out of proportion. She wasn’t traditionally pretty, but she had the most amazing eyes, that looked as if they had been outlined with a black eye pen, and then she had these kind of 60s or Egyptian fashion lines by the outside creases of her eyes, and a little black line on her lips. She looked Egyptian somehow, or like some woman in Abba-esque costume with blue eye shadow had she been a person and not a cat. In the summer her patches became more ginger, and in winter, more tabby. She loved nothing better than to lie in the sunshine. She was unusual as a cat. She had a more human routine, awake in the day but sleeping all night. She was constantly eating, and if she had been a kid, she would have been a chubby ginger kid that is always comfort eating.
I had made a point of reading lots of cat books before I got her. We had always had cats and so I had a fairly good idea of how to look after one, but this was different. This was my first ever pet on my own, chosen by me, and it was a big responsibility. The book said that cats should not sleep on the bed, so I made a little bed for her in my room, in case she got lonely, and I put a ticking clock and hot water bottle in her bed to help her settle, just as the book advised.
I went to bed, and when I woke up, I realised that there was a tiny white ball of purring fluff curled up between my chin and shoulder, ON THE BED!!! I put her back in her bed, but every time I awoke, there she was curled up by my neck. I actually loved it, and before long I gave up, much at the protest of my asthma nurse!. Then life was far more fun and simple. She just knew that I needed closeness, and she seemed to know when I was feeling sad or needed a cuddle. I had started to study for my degree by correspondance, and she was the perfect companion, actually making me want to give her a better life than the one I had at that point.
I was planning to call her Sligo, but it didn’t really suit her, and I was stuck for names. But I happened to be talking to my boyfriend Eoin who lived in Dublin, and whilst we were on the phone chatting, I was practicing my Irish which I had been learning. I said the word Uisce, and she meowed. Which was funny. I did it again, and each time she tilted her head to the side and squeeked. So that is how she got her name: “Uisce beatha”, a name hated by vets and veterinary nurses who cannot spell it!!!
Uisce beatha means ‘water of life’ or whisky in Irish language. Whisky is the Anglicised version of the word, and it comes from the name given by Irish monks to the distilled drink they were drinking in the Middle Ages. The Dolce Vitae. Either way, it was the name that she seemed to like and that she chose, and it stuck. But, it was less easy when it came to my second cat, who also seemed to answer to Uisce, and ended up being called Izzy, and then a further vowel led name, when it came to naming my dog Isla! The reason she liked the name was probably more to do with it sounding like a brand of cat food ‘whiskas’, and her shortened name was ‘whiska’.
At first, Uisce had no idea how to meow. In fact, we soon realised that she probably must have left her mum very early on, because she didn’t seem to do many of the things that cats were supposed to do. She had no idea how to hunt, was not agile or quiet in any way at all, couldn’t make a proper cat’s meiouw, never covered her poop, and seemed to prefer people to animals on the whole. So, myself and my two housemates would constantly talk to her in the hopes that she might learn to talk like a proper cat. It never worked, but she loved to be vocal, and you could have some funny ‘conversations’ with her.
My housemate Judy got a puppy not long afterwards, and it was funny to see Uisce treat the puppy as if she was her mum. Poor Holly dog got into trouble for all sorts of things that were more than likely started (or at least strongly encouraged) by the cat. Plants would mysteriously land on the floor, and things would find themselves within chewing reach of the puppy! Partners in crime, for sure. But the cat was the master when it came to looking innocent, and the dog was just rubbish at maintaining a guilt free face. Sometimes, you would find the cat paddling on the dog’s chest, and sucking teets for milk, with the poor puppy looking very confused indeed! Funnier still, was when Uisce would make bark type noises as she got a bit confused between dog noises and cat noises! There is nothing so strange sounding in the world as a cat trying to bark!
She was a really funny little character, and I soon found myself laughing for the first time in years, and watching her to see what she might come up with next. She couldn’t eat tinned food because it was too rich for her and she had a bad tummy, so the vet advised biscuits instead. I once gave her sardines, but she was sick and refused to eat them ever again. But she would do almost anything for a spot of tinned tuna, until she grew wise that it used to come wrapped around tablets! So she developed a special way to find and spit out said tablet. If we went to the vets, first thing to do when home was comfort eat, as fast and as much as possible. If only two bowls were for food and was only half full, then go and alert owner as quickly and loudly as possible until situation was resolved.
She was brilliantly behaved for me, but she didn’t feel the same for my housemate. She would steal my housemate’s bras off the indoor clothes drier, and drag them into the lounge when we had guests, and make lots of noise as if she had caught a mouse. If housemate hid her hairbands, on top of the wardrobe, in a jam jar, you could guarantee that Uisce would find them, and spend the next few days pinging them and chasing them around the house. Anything sparkly was brilliant. Scrunch up foil, little sparkly balls from the craft shop, sweet wrappers.
The funniest thing was when we were trying to teach Holly dog to fetch small items in the house when she was a puppy. Holly was not necessarily bright and her eye sight was pretty rubbish too. Uisce just looked at her as if to say ‘oh for God’s sake, just fetch it you ridiculous dog’. So Uisce learnt to retrieve, the dog took longer to catch on to the concept. It turned out that Uisce really liked the fetch game, and it worked out to be really useful. I had a cabin bed, and when I was studying, would often knock pens off onto the floor below, which involved climbing down lots of things to retrieve it. Uisce thought this was great, and before long would fetch any pen that I could throw or drop for her, as well as pieces of paper and elastic bands, and occasionally socks.
When she had her operation to stop her getting pregnant, Uisce was a proper little drama queen, and any slight illness or injury would leave her comfort eating and needing lots of cuddles and TLC. Most pitiful, was when she started to pull out her stitches and had to wear a cone around her neck, which left her walking head hanging low and bumping into everything. She has always been funny in that respect, and very cuddly. But less so of late, which is why I knew this time the end was near, as she just wanted to curl up close and to curl into my neck, the first time since she was small. She hasn’t purred in weeks, at least not like she used to, but the past twelve hours she has just wanted to cuddle and purr, and has been really quiet, not her usual chatty self, always wanting the last word. She hasn’t looked into my eyes much at all the past day or so, and right before she died this morning at 07.40am, she looked at me as if to say goodbye one last time. She was observing my face, the first really lucid moment in hours, as if wanting to remember something. That same little sparkle of cheekiness was there, just for a second, and I was remembering all the happy and sad moments we have shared together. She has been faithful and a friend from day one.
Towards the end, she was making a lot of noise, trying to meow one last time, to make sure she had the last word. She fought hard, and life is going to seem so quiet without her in my life. I miss her funny noises in the middle of the night, pretending like its something of an emergency, that she is injured, or whatever, stood in the best places for acoustics in the house, usually at the bottom of the stairs, so that I come rushing to see if she is OK. Only to find her sat elegantly with a soggy pink sparkly ball at her feet with a look on her face of ‘well, your up now, so lets play with this present I bought you’. She was always good at getting my attention.
Cats are funny like that, and I miss that character in dogs. Everything is always on their terms. They want to play at midnight when you want to sleep, they only want to sit on your knee when you are about to leave the house, or when you have your best dark clothes on as if they know that they will cover you in their fur, and then, well, you will just have to stay home. They only ever use their indoor litter tray, when they know you are in the room, and then once they have stunk the place out, they bugger off somewhere, usually outside in the garden. They only ever cough up fur balls or are sick when you have visitors, and they always conveniently bring in a live mouse when they know you don’t want to run around the house trying to catch it. Cats are just funny creatures full stop!
Uisce was always very much my cat, and so leaving her to come to Georgia was really hard, and I was always worried about moving her here. I feel guilty for so many things right now, and I wonder had I not made the decisions in life that I had, then maybe she would have lived a much longer and happier life? Both of my cats have been really ill since coming to Georgia, and the other is still recovering from pneumonia. Had I not sold my house to go to medical school, then we would have been warm and cosy, instead of living here with no electricity and rubbish heating. Maybe I have done the wrong thing the whole way along?
I think that is really what has upset me the most right now. When I got Uisce 16 years ago, I made a decision that now I had Uisce, I would strive to make a better life for myself and for her. I have pretty much spent that whole time studying and being busy doing stuff for other people, and have not had the time to play with her as much as I would have liked. We did get to the point where we had the most amazing apartment, but then I never had time because I was always working, and I ended up getting Izzy to keep Uisce company. And even now, I was still pressured by work and not letting people down.
I guess that is something that has been highlighted for me today. I am obviously sad about the loss of Uisce, but it is also more than that. I have come to realise that I am sick and tired of leading a life where I am constantly under pressure to keep others happy, instead of being allowed to go with my emotions or in giving myself time to go through whatever I need to go through. I know people, especially in Georgia won’t get why I am grieving the loss of Uisce, and it is not even about that right now, although Uisce’s death has just brought it home to me in a big way.
It was the same situation when my Granddad was ill and when he died. I was in trouble for missing medical school to visit him, and then I missed his funeral because I was on deployment with the Royal Navy and didn’t want to put anyone out, or cause any trouble. Why is it that British people never just say ‘no, I don’t want to’?? Because we think it is rude to say no, and we don’t want to upset anyone. So instead, we go through life following what we feel we ‘should’ do, instead of what we ‘want’ or need to do for ourselves.
I know that no one will get why I am feeling so sad right now, and it shouldn’t matter whether it is culturally acceptable or not to love a pet. Why can’t a person just be allowed to stop and take breathe if they are genuinely upset about something? Why do we always have to put on a ‘brave face’ or not let others down?? I’m not the kind of person who pulls a sickie, or takes time off easily if I am ill, yet I feel guilty for not going into school today because I’m upset at losing Uisce. Of course, I know that everything will be fine, I know that it is sad, and I know it will get better and life goes on. But I also know, that there will be times today when I will find myself bursting into tears, and I don’t want to be around the kids at school when that happens. Why should I put myself through such a day as that, when I have another option, to do what I ‘need’ to do for me? Death is just a fact of life, and I’m not about to kill myself or anything like that, but I equally shouldn’t be feeling guilty or worried that parents will complain for my being off school today. And I really don’t know that school or parents will get that, and I’m torn up inside by feelings of guilt. But, why should I feel guilty, for having emotions and taking time out to look after myself?
I guess I have realised that this life is not for me anymore. I would not have regretted dying when I took that overdose, nor have I regretted being alive, as I strongly feel that what will be, will be, and there is a sense of destiny there for us, regardless of whether we have chosen it or not. But if I do have to continue living a life, then why does it need to continue to be a miserable one, dominated by guilt and stress and conforming to what others want me to do?? Who am I living this life for at the end of the day, others who will leave me, or for myself? Does it really have to be that way? I want to be able to take time off if my Granddad dies, I want to be able to spend moments with my pet in their last hours, and I want to do it without that sense of letting others down. I want those last moments together to be intimate ones, not moments of guilt and anxiety at external pressures. I want time to look after myself when I need it, and to take time to take stock of things. And the thing which I am coming to realise is that, perhaps this is never going to happen whilst I am always employed by others? Maybe it is time to do my own thing? To have more stability in my life, and to be the master of my own destiny? To put energy and investment into something that is mine, rather than always being let down by others? Perhaps it is a time for change? I want to celebrate Christmas for God’s sake, not be told I have to work at school. I’ve only had one Christmas where I haven’t worked and that was last year. Otherwise, this year is another waste of time. Me, sat at home alone all day, not able to speak with family due to time differences, and preparing school work for the week ahead. I’m not Georgian, so I have no interest in celebrating the Georgian Christmas in January, because none of my family will be celebrating it, and guess what, I will be home alone again….woppee doo! I know it comes with living in another country, but you know what, how many more compromises should I make to keep others happy? Where are my wishes in all of this?
I could not have got to this point point in my life, nor would I have been alive today, had it not been for Uisce. She did everything I needed and wanted from her, she never complained, and she was always funny and charismatic, and I’m going to miss her so much more than I can even imagine right now. But I know that she needed to go, and I am keen to know that she isn’t going through the death process anymore. But I’m still going to be lost without her in my shitty little life. But thankfully I have her trainee Izzy, and my dog Isla is also a great companion, but I have nowhere near the relationship I had with Uisce, because Uisce and I shared so much other stuff together. I wanted to kill myself so many times, but Uisce was always in my head and I knew that she was a one person cat, and I could never leave her. She just gave me so much strength, and helped me to get a better start in life.
I know I have always been encouraged not to share this kind of stuff with people, and to keep it a dirty little secret. But, I’m tired of living a life for other people. I don’t want to live a lie, and if people disown me then that is fine, I can live with that. I’m not ashamed of trying to kill myself, nor does it make me mental. It was a time in my life, and I’m a human being at the end of the day. I can’t go through life hiding my feelings from others, and I am sick of being told to do so. Life is just like this, shit happens, we deal with it, and we move on. Where is the shame in that? I’ve never harmed another person, I’ve never stolen, I’ve never done anything to anyone, so why should I feel guilty for the fact that I feel grief, or ashamed that I have emotions or a history? Yes, it has ruined my life and perhaps it wasn’t the smartest career move, but you know what, I am proud of who I am, and how far I have come, and I’m not afraid to be open about it.
I know this is grief and exhaustion talking right now, but I also know I am speaking from my heart right now. And in Uisce’s 16 years of life with me, what have I actually achieved? I am living in a shitty place, in a country that is alien to me, with no friends and family here, and eating food that is not what I like. I have no electricity in my room, its not warm, and I can’t just have a shower when I want. And worse still, I just put Uisce in a plastic bag and dumped her in a bin on top of some old beer bottles and khajapuri, and now I feel shit because I couldn’t even bury her because I don’t have a garden, and I feel shit because I know I have to face the music with school about not going in today. Life sucks right now, and I am nowhere further than I was when I got her as a tiny kitten. I was never able to offer her the better life I promised her, and if anything she just died in worse circumstances than she did when I was living off benefits. Life was simpler then and I had time to give, but little else has changed in that time.
I genuinely thought that 16 years on, I would be in my own place, in a good quality life, and with a family of my own, and that Uisce would end her time really peacefully. I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. Nothing has changed at all.
But it needs to. I’m not massively happy at school right now, I’m OK with being in Georgia, I love being a teacher, and I love teaching Geography, and running the Oceans Project. But it is the fundamental stuff that really matters. I’m tired of working for other people, of giving 110% continually, but not being able to take time for the importance stuff in life as and when it really is needed.
I almost have a crazy plan right now. To ditch school, unless they sack me in the meantime, as the children have told me. I’m stuck. The children have this plan to take their GCSE exams after just 7 months of class, with English as a second language, having done no homework or extra study, and barely attended classes. It is crazy. This means their parents will pay £110 per exam, more than the average monthly salary of most Georgians, because they think that they can take their GCSE exam in January or May and pass it, and that I will then teach them A’Level. Their parents complain at me because I am not giving them high grades, and are also expecting them to take the exams. This was not what I signed up for, and I know they will fail. Then the parents will blame me ultimately. But, I know it is not my fault too. They don’t have text books, we have done none of the practical field work, and they can’t answer any of the exam questions I give them on just one topic at the moment. The GCSE takes 2 years to prepare for in Britain, and that is after years of study, knowing how to critically reason, and with English as a first language. My School Director is brilliant, and I do love school don’t get me wrong. But alarm bells are ringing right now, and its a cultural thing.
In the past, children were guaranteed good marks on exams, if parents bribed their child’s teacher, and to some extent that mentality still exists in Georgia. Parents complain because I don’t give the kids high grades for class. But I don’t want to be a part of that system, especially when their child doesn’t turn up, bring notes or do homework. If I give them a 10/10 score and they take their GCSE then they will fail and parents will ask me why they failed when I gave them 10/10. I am totally against them taking the exams right now, but I know that none of them have a clue what the exam is like, because none of them have taken a GCSE before. Parents have complained that my lessons are too hard for the students, but my lessons are far easier than the level that they are expected to be at.
I’m in a difficult situation right now, made worse by Uisce’s passing and my being emotionally exhausted. But right now, I feel done with teaching and giving my all. No one is listening to me in terms of parents and kids, and I know they are going to fail the exams, and then I will be blamed for their failure. But I know it is not my fault too. I guess I have also just reached a point in my own life, where I need to invest in something longer term, something that is mine and where I get more say in calling the shots.
I don’t know how it would work, but my instinct right now, is to leave school, and go full time on the Oceans Project. This will give me time to do things properly. We can register with the European Voluntary Service and if I do the house up here, then volunteers will have a place to stay, and I will have folk to help me get the project going. We could run more sessions, smaller, and in schools to help make ends meet, and I could do some private English lessons in the meantime to tide me over. We have an office already, and the only thing stopping me is finances in terms of my salary. But maybe I could make it work somehow?
I’m totally committed to the Oceans Project and it is what I ultimately want to be doing with my life anyway. I’d love to still teach geography, but I can’t watch people fail, and then take the flack for it. I know it is a huge decision, and I’m too tired and emotional right now, but I equally know that I want much more from life, especially if I am considering adopting as my kids need to be first priority as much as possible. I hate that I feel guilty for taking time with Uisce today, but I think that, no matter whether she is just a cat, or whatever, she still deserves a little bit of my time in her final hours, at least, after all that she has done for me in her life. Things that she has done consistently, and without complaint, and having NEVER let me down. I’ve a lot to thank Uisce for, and life will be really hard now I don’t have my little Guardian around to see me through the bad times. But I also want to continue her work, and to strive to make that better life for myself, one in which I am HAPPY, and where I am guilt free for taking the time in life to stop and mark time where it is needed.
I’m going to miss you Uisce, and I’m sorry that I didn’t give you more in life. xx
UISCE BEATHA DIED AT 07.40am on Tuesday 13th December 2011