Bansei (mid-late October 2002 - May 15, 2021)
Bansei did not wake me with a meow, asking to be fed. She did not sneak into the shower while the water was warming to sip the presumably much tastier water from the shower spigot. She did not rub her head against me or trill in anticipation of tuna. She did none of those things because she left me last Saturday, dying due to complications from kidney failure at the age of 18 years and 7 months.
I've lost cats before. Four now as an adult and at least that many as a child. It's always tremendously upsetting. I love my cats, past and present, all very much and all uniquely. Losing Bansei has been hitting me harder that I anticipated it would, and I've been anticipating it for a while now.
My truly awesome veterinarian gave me the bad news a few months ago, at Bansei's last regular senior checkup: the one functioning kidney was no longer functioning. Things were going to worsen, but for the time being it was manageable with medications and home hydration treatments. Bansei had been living with chronic kidney disease for nine and a half years, a slow and mostly imperceptible condition that would, every few years or so, take a leap and get worse but never really affected her daily life in any significant fashion until recently. About three or four years in it affected her litter box habits in an annoying (to me) way, otherwise the only way we knew there was a problem was when we'd do the lab tests at her semi-annual vet checkups. She was a tough old broad in that respect. Even in the midst of the end stages of her disease she continued to eat (though not enough), purr, enjoy the sun, and engage in activity commensurate with a kitty of her age, the equivalent of 90 in people years. Still, during the last couple of months there was no mistaking a deterioration in her overall health and I knew we were down to a matter of weeks, maybe months if we were really fortunate. Every time she had a relatively bad day I would steel myself, sometimes nervously going into a pre-mourn, but she always perked up shortly after.
One of the complications of not having working kidneys filter blood properly is hypertension. I knew this because I read whatever I could find online about feline renal failure, and I began to notice over the last ten days or so that her pupils tended to stay dilated more than seemed appropriate for the light level, an indication of said hypertension. Even so I was still surprised and not immediately cognizant of what exactly happened when Bansei had a stroke Saturday afternoon. I was out on my balcony and heard her yowl from inside. When I came in to check on her I couldn't find her right away, then saw out of the corner of my eye that she had tumbled down the stairs. She must have been walking out of the bedroom and toward the balcony door when the stroke hit her near the top of the stairs. I scooped her up, breathing but immobile, and held her close while I phoned my friends Amy and Lindsey for help. I knew there was nothing more to be done; the stroke had left her paralyzed. While I waited for Lindsey to come over, I held Bansei and stroked her and talked to her, trying not to cry lest I upset her further. I told her she deserved better, that I had done my damnedest to give her the very best life I could give her and how it was totally unfair that we did not yet have Dr. McCoy's kidney-growth pills that would have spared her this indignity.
Lindsey (a licensed vet) arrived and helped ease Bansei's distress and bring her time to a close. It was, given the circumstances, probably the best outcome (except for the stroke) I could hope for, only a very brief period of severe suffering and absolutely no question that I was not acting prematurely. Yet I felt, and to a degree continue to feel, quite irrationally, that I failed my precious kitty.
Intellectually, of course, I know better. I know I did everything that could possibly have been done short of a traumatic hospitalization at the end of her life that I didn't want to put her through. But that's the thing with pets—they are utterly and completely dependent on their human(s) to take care of them. They trust us to do right by them. I was responsible for her, so even though I know full well that the only thing I could have possibly done differently was opt for a euthanasia in advance of any possibility of severe decline—something I could never bring myself to do—there are feelings of guilt. That I should have, somehow, done more.
The irrational guilt will pass, I know. It was the same when Pixel died a few years ago, and though circumstances were different back in the early aughts (veterinary malpractice, plus younger me not knowing as much as I do now), it was similar when Bansei and Pixel's predecessors, Charcoal and I-Chaya, died.
I've been cleaning up the condo yesterday and today, dismantling the various devices I cobbled together to help Bansei in her elderhood and mitigate her frailties. It makes the place look very empty in spots. I notice her absence everywhere. But for the rest of us, life goes on. I have Kuro-Raimei and Zephyr still to care for and comfort me. And I will always remember my Bansei.
I first met her on the last day of November, 2002, at what I've come to think of as the King County Animal POW Camp, a dreadful shelter down in Auburn. I'd been wanting to find a new kitten after losing I-Chaya a couple of months prior and checking out various places. On walking into the facility I decided instantly that I would be taking someone home from there if just to save her from that wholly unpleasant environment. Bansei was in a very small cage with two brothers, and she looked at me in what I anthropomorphised as anxious hope. I chose her, told the attendant, and then was told I couldn't have her yet as she hadn't been spayed. But I could put in the paperwork and come back three days later. I did, and took the estimated-to-be-seven-week old baby girl cat home and gave her the best name any pet cat has ever had in the history of cats: 伴星 (ばんせい).
She took immediately to Pixel, who was by then 2½ or so. The two of them played together and Bansei at that age liked to fetch foam golf balls I would toss around our small apartment on 45th Street. She grew up fast and still tried to squeeze into small spaces she used to fit into for a while after it was impossible for her. It wasn't long before she developed the first of her many many medical and dental problems; Bansei became the most expensive cat I've ever had by far. After we moved into a bigger space when she was around four, she had to have her first tooth removed due to a genetic predisposition for resorption. By the time she was middle-aged, she'd had all of her fangs removed—at times making her twist her mouth a bit in what I called her "tiny Elvis" face—and by the time she was elderly she only had a smattering of small teeth left. When she was 9 she'd apparently decided she didn't like the (rather expensive) food I was feeding her and went on a hunger strike; taking her in to see Dr. Schuldt and discover any underlying issue, we found that she had begun to go into liver failure due to lack of intake which was due to an infection and things looked very bleak. But Dr. Schuldt is the best, and though it took weeks in the hospital Bansei recovered fully, though her kidney disease began as a consequence of all that. She had another, briefer, hospital stay for a lesser ailment too. We needed great veterinary care and I'm grateful we were able to get it.
When I would go out of town Bansei would get anxious. Until her last couple of years, she was a fastidious groomer and when I was away for any length of time she would overgroom as a coping activity. This led to many hairballs in inconvenient places and taught me to lay towels on the bed and other furniture when I'd go on trips. Her temporary caretakers sometimes reported that Bansei made it known they were unwelcome invaders and that they were to leave the food and get out, else there would be trouble. I was sorry to hear this in most respects, but it also made me feel good—Bansei had a human and it was me, nobody else.
She was upset when we moved again, into the home I'm in now. It was big and unfamiliar and she stayed in her cat-tree cube for nearly three days straight before getting accustomed to the new digs. Then she enjoyed the larger space to roam. When Pixel left us, Bansei was very sad, wailing and sniffing around and searching for her pal, and really was never the same afterward. Raimei joined us a few months later and, while this new kitten was very keen to be friends with Bansei, Ban-ban really wasn't having it with kitten energy. She adjusted and there came a sort of acceptance and détente, but to take some of the unwanted attention off Bansei, I brought in kitty number three, Zephyr, to be Raimei's principal playmate. It worked out well and we were a happy three-kitty fam.
Until last Saturday.
I will and do miss Bansei's loud voice, her subtle purr, and her loyal companionship. I will miss her forays into the shower, her insistence on only the best tuna-based food, the way she draped herself over the sofa arms on a hot day like a Salvador Dali painting. I will miss her insisting that it is time for my guests to leave when she's had enough of their presence. I miss her climbing into my lap when I watch TV and her favorite method of expressing affection, pressing her head up against mine and rubbing her cheeks on me to mark me as hers.
She was my unique and precious companion star, the Proxima to my Alpha (and to Pixel's Centauri-B). Without her I have a hole in my heart.