Celebrating Life: The Princess Pumpkin Puss, A Pain In My Neck, Randy Pausch, & Lt. Col. Frank Slade Teach Us About Living Life

This is nominally a personal productivity as well as a SQL Server performance blog, but I seldom indulge that facet—too busy being productive, don't you know?

Ward Pond's annual amalgam (May Glad Tidings be Upon You) inspired me to do something similar.  My plans changed Sunday & instead I am writing to celebrate life.

Princess Pumpkin Puss

I returned home this Sunday evening from a brief Christmas trip with the in-laws to find that it was time to take my Pumpkin Puss to the vet one final time.  Bless her little kitty heart, we knew it was coming. 

Pumpkin adopted me eight years ago.  Friends & I were replacing my furnace when in waltzed the most gorgeous cat in the world.  She was a feral Maine Coon.  I didn't know cats could be so big & beautiful.


We are not amused

She was a great cat, sleeping with me, going in-&-out as she pleased, ruling the roost as other ferals came-&-went, regally surveying her fiefdom from atop the couch, from the porch, or from under the evergreens.


Pumpkin surveys her fiefdom

She had triggers behind each ear, scratching of which was bound to get her rear leg to thumping,  She coughed up the biggest hair balls I've ever seen.

Two years ago Pumpkin Puss was diagnosed with renal failure—a pretty good way to expire as terminal conditions go.  (Columnist Art Buchwald left us laughing).  She had 6 months to live—or so said the vet.  He prescribed "special food" & medication to maximize her remaining days.  I'm a big believer in the Golden Rule as well as self-preservation.  If I had six months to live, you could keep your "special food"—I'm living it up, baby!  Instead of trying to put pills down her throat each day & segregating her "special food" from the other felines, we fed her all the tuna she could eat.  Every night was a Chicken-of-the-Sea buffet.

Pumpkin was a loving cat—as cats go—and last week she started incessantly crawling on my lap in a way she'd never before done.  We knew the end was near.  Each evening I put down my notebook & petted her for hours.  It was good for us both.

Wednesday afternoon before we left I spent an hour with her, & she was jumping onto the table, eating, & drinking just fine. 

Neighbor Karen cares for our cats when we're gone, & we got regular reports from her.  Everything was as expected until Sunday.  It was shocking to return after only four days & see the extent to which Pumpkin had degraded.  She squeaked out a raspy hello when she saw me.  I tried to water her, but she couldn't even hold up her little head to drink.

I cradled Pumpkin as my lovely bride drove us to the emergency vet center.  Pumpkin was still strong enough to twitch her tail as I petted her, even as she lay on the table taking her last breaths.

Aforementioned lovely bride reminded me that Pumpkin had waited for us to return home.  I'm glad she waited.  I'm devastated, yet I'll treasure each moment of those last hours we shared.  She’s all wrapped up now, nice-&-neat, ready to be buried under the evergreens.  She loved lurking under those trees & now she'll get to do so forever.


Lap lounging

Slapped Upside My Head

Not that I needed to be slapped upside my head yet again this year, but I’m taking this as yet another reminder of how precious life is.

In January I started experiencing what the docs thought was merely a muscle strain.  I awakened one morning in March & couldn't even arise to satisfy my morning ablutions & such.  I've never experienced such intense pain for such extended periods of time.  The "muscle strain" turned out to be an acute cervical herniation—a direct by-product of working too long, too hard, with my thick skull bent forward & down.

That boring ergonomics stuff we hear about?  Pay attention or you could be next!

In July I went under the knife—nothing like the healing feeling of cold blue steel, eh?  My throat was slit, my trachea & esophagus were retracted, the delinquent disk was removed, & an alloy replacement was inserted.  As my friend with a similar surgery wrote, I am cyborg, hear me clank.

Today, I am a new man!

I couldn't've asked for better cooperation from my team.  And of course my lovely bride couldn't've been more supportive.

Yet this taught me how precious—how fragile—our health is.  For four months I was rendered useless in innumerable ways—my fitness regimen had to take a hike, my work was seriously affected, & I learned to know pain that narcotics could scarcely touch.

Living Life

And now my Pumpkin Puss is gone.  I am grieving, sure, yet I celebrate her life!  From the moment she found me until the night she left us, we've had a good life together. 

I've always been one to go for the gusto, and my surgery gave me new appreciation.  More important than my life with Pumpkin is my life with my lovely bride.  With luck, we'll have many decades of health, happiness, & prosperity ahead of us, together. 

Nothing can replace Pumpkin, yet we still have Fannie May the Wonder Dog & handfuls of other four-legged furry felines to keep us company.


Merry Christmoose from Fannie May & family

Action Items

I gave the commencement keynote for ITT this year.  Among other things I spoke of Choices, Intentional Living, & The Last Lecture.  Here's an excerpt:

Intentional Living

I take my choices very seriously—not just in my career, but in all aspects of my life.

You see, I practice Intentional Living. Each quarter I craft a Vision Statement which contains my choices for the next three months. These short-term choices are focused on long-term goals. I post this Vision Statement in a prominent location. When I travel I tape it to my room's mirror. I read it aloud each-&-every day.

Valuable training isn't always technical. I learned about Intentional Living in the Dale Carnegie Course in Human Relations. This course changed my life, & it can change yours, too.

The Last Lecture

...I'd like to share a bit about the life of Professor Randy Pausch. Some of you may have heard of him. Randy was a professor at MIT, a geek like us, specializing in virtual reality. A short time ago he learned he had pancreatic cancer. He gave what is known as The Last Lecture. Approaching death, he shows us how to live. The man has inspired me & millions of others. To learn about the choices Randy made, to learn how Randy's death can help you make the most out of life, search the Internet for "The Last Lecture". Get comfortable. It's 76 minutes. Or order the DVD & watch it with your family.

The Bucket List

Rent The Bucket List.  No, buy it.  We did.  Watch it often.  What's on your Bucket List?

Practice This

Study my friend Alik Levin's blog:  www.practicethis.com.  Here are my favorite posts:

Alik asks:  Would you like to learn to live? Take your life for a test drive. Do not be afraid to fail.  Lt. Col. Slade faced life fearlessly—& look what it got him.  (Scent of a Woman was Al Pacino's best performance ever, eh?)

Start Today!

We ought to make the most of life while we’re here, & that—notwithstanding what the next life has to offer us—failure to do so is foolish.

Pumpkin Puss, the pain in my neck, Randy Pausch, & Lt. Col. Frank Slade have much to teach us.  I invite you to learn the lessons.

Last week was a celebration of the birth of the Baby Jesus.  New Year's Day is nigh.  Any day is a great day for self-improvement.  We don't need an arbitrarily important day to turn over a new leaf, yet now is as good a time as any & may be better than most.  I challenge you 1) to create a Bucket List; & 2) craft an action plan—a Vision Statement—for engineering, for enjoying, & for living the rest of your life.  Celebrate life!  Good luck with your Bucket List! 

I, for one, will learn to tango.  Since every good intention, like babies crying in restaurants, ought to be carried out immediately, we already have appointments with Arthur Murray.


Jimmy May, MCDBA, MCSE, MCITP: DBA + DB Dev | Senior Performance Consultant: SQL Server
A.C.E.: Assessment Consulting & Engineering Services

We are what we think.
All that we are arises in our minds.
With our thoughts, we make our world.

This post was written with the PracticeThis.com plugin for Windows Live Writer

Comments (8)

  1. Ward Pond says:

    I’m humbled to have inspired such a touching post, Jimmy.  My condolences on the loss of Princess Pumpkin Puss..  I’m glad she waited for you.


  2. Jimmy May says:

    Thank you, Ward, not only for the inspiration, but also & especially for the kind words.  It’s been tougher than I thought.  Sheesh, she was “only” a cat.  Yeah, right…

    We must remain mindful of the lessons cited above.  In fact, I just got off the phone with Arthur Murray.  Oft-mentioned lovely bride & I *are* going to learn the tango.

    This, my friend, is the key to Intentional Living.  Not merely conceiving, but taking action.

    Best wishes for a happy, healthy, & prosperous New Year!

  3. Brent Ozar says:

    Wow, what a great post!  That totally reminds me that I need to just go buy the Bucket List – that movie was awesome.

    I didn’t know about the Intentional Living strategy – sounds a lot like GTD.  They need to teach this stuff in high school.  Life moves so much easier and smoother once you nail that strategy of planning the work and working the plan in your personal life!

  4. Becky Learn says:

    Thanks for sharing your description of Pumpkin Puss. I’m sorry for your loss. You really know how to pick yourself up and pick things into an uplifting perspective. Good luck on the tango!

  5. Jimmy May says:

    @Brent Ozar:  GTD (or, as I like to say, GSD 😉 ) has alignment with Intentional Living.  Yet I would maintain the latter is an effective strategery for GTD–& so much more.  Yes, there’s a lot that ought to be taught in high school which isn’t, e.g., the 3 R’s, critical thinking, the value of money over time, the value of work, American Exceptionalism including American history, & yes, GSD/Intentional Living.  (And there’s a lot that oughtn’t be taught, e.g., junk science.)  Don’t get me started…

    And yes, having a methodology for personal effectiveness benefits everything we touch, personal & professional, family & career.  One thing I like about Intentional Living which separates it from other strategeries is the short- & long-term planning components.  As I all-too-rapidly-approach middle age, there’s a LOT I want to do–& I have limited  time left to do it.  With the blueprint for life provided by Intentional Living, I am far more likely to git-‘r-done–including emptying my Bucket List.

    Yes, buy The Bucket List–watch it with the whole family, eh?  As sentient beings, we don’t have to lose loved ones to realize how precious life is; we can learn from the experiences of others.  Let me know how it works out for you.

     @Becky Learn: Thanks, Becky.  We have Choices in life, & I strive for good ones.  (I’ve made enough mistakes & can scarcely afford any more!)  Choosing to Celebrite Life strikes me as one of those good choices.  I’m not suggesting it’s easy right now, what with my Pumpkin Puss gone now for only a few days, yet the approach is valid.

    I think The Tango will be a great metaphor for 2009.  Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. Brent Lao says:

    Jimmy, I am sorry to hear the loss of sweet Pumpkin. I am sure she had all the attention and love in the world for the past 8 years. Am glad that you were with her at the final moments. Now, I need a tissue paper…

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