In the last 38 hours my cat of 17 years passed away. Although his life was nearing closure, Nicholas was in excellent health and I had hoped for another year or two with him. I suspect he caught something after capturing a mouse, then he declined rapidly and was gone within a matter of days.
It’s possible I could have deferred his passing had I better understood his symptoms earlier, but the initial symptoms mimicked those he’d had before and overcome multiple times without issue. By the time I realized the severity of the situation, his disease had progressed to a level I felt was beyond turning back. After research, calls with vets, and an agonizing internal debate, I eventually decided I wanted him to pass at home in a peaceful and quiet environment with me at his side.
I share this because I believe it’s important to recognize that decisions like these are not in any way easy to define, especially in the moment, and every situation is unique. I followed my intuition, as painful a process as it was, and in the end I feel at peace about the decisions I made—that it was right for him and for me. I battled doubts, indecision and heartbreak, but I was able to stay relatively calm and extend love and comfort to him throughout the process.
By limiting my interactions with others, I avoided the myriad and varied opinions that, though well intentioned, I find can detract from the true intimate connection between me and my beloved pet and make decisions more difficult. I find that people come with their own experiences, fears, and judgements that can cloud immediate and relevant circumstances. I would rather hone in on my intuitive proddings, often requiring some peace and quiet. As a result, I didn’t reach out to family and friends, I just focused on him and doing what I thought best.
Moving on to healing, I did not want to stay completely still during the process or after he passed. I felt the urge to clean up, bury him, package his things and take care of things around the house as my mind and heart continued through different stages of bereavement. I found the steady, calm organizing and cleaning tasks to be comforting.
After his passing, I recognized moments when I would normally be aware of him as I moved through the house—closing the laundry door so the sound wouldn’t disturb his napping, glancing at the bed on my way down the hall expecting to see him curled up on his spot on the bed, hearing noises and my mind immediately thinking it was him drinking from his water dish in the next room, or thinking for a moment that I heard the tap of his paws on the linoleum. These instances bring heart pangs yet I welcome the reminders of his vibrance as opposed to the recent images of his decline. There are also the habits that change—cat food and litter on the grocery run, his greeting upon returning home, him coming to find me at bedtime, him walking on me and making noise so I’ll get up and feed him. These things take time to shift into different patterns.
Through processing his passing, I found walking in the garden and embarking on small garden projects to be surprisingly soothing, even offering a lovely sense of optimism. Yesterday, I spent time watering and grooming plants. I put a few fresh blossoms in vases, added some more cuttings to my growing collection of baby plants, and checked on my rehabilitating ficus—happily noting many budding leaves.
Today I repotted my violets and took a few cuttings. It occurred to me that being surrounded by life in the context of death, is a wonderful reminder that death is simply a transition. One thing ends and another begins, and changes surround us constantly. I noticed that the palpable life I sense in the plants—by touching them and even being a part of their development and regrowth through watering, grooming, rehabilitation and new plantings—attunes my spirit to the essence of life as opposed to dwelling overmuch in the realm of death.
Simply being surrounded by so much life is powerfully life-affirming. Seeing a cotton tail bunny in the backyard, noticing so many bees humming around the Autumn Joy sedum that’s just now coming into bloom, fresh blossoms on the hydrangeas, and the emerging pink tinge of panicle blossoms as the season progresses brings awareness to life in flux surrounding me, full of energy and vigor.
Even this unique hydrangea blossom that has passed its prime, shows a singular beauty in its fading color.
My neighbors lost their dog two years ago and, I am sure, experienced a similar process of grief. Recently, they brought home a new puppy named Grizzly. They call him Grizz. I got to visit him last week since they were called away from home for a longer period than they wanted for the new puppy. Grizz and I walked around the block and played on the lawn and inside with his toys. I’m happy they’re starting a new adventure with Grizz and happy I get to share in the experience. There’s nothing like puppy energy—his initial shyness, his playful exuberance once he’s comfortable with a new face, the soft fur on his head and ears, and the innocent sweetness in his eyes. It’s a reminder that sorrows heal and new experiences emerge all the time and in their own perfect timing.
In my artwork, I have a series that I call the Horizon series. It shows abstract landscapes with a horizon line that often includes a sunrise or a sunset. People have asked me before if a piece represents a sunrise or sunset and I usually say it’s whatever they wish it to be. Do you want to think of something coming to an end, a moment of peace or rest, or do you want to focus on what’s next, optimistic and full of promise? This is how I view this moment of my life—an ending and a beginning. I hold dear all the wonderful experiences I have had with Nicholas in my life and I don’t regret one moment. As my life progresses and new experiences emerge, I hold those memories dear and I take them with me as much as I recognize my experience with him has changed me for the better.
I am full of love with every memory and a sense of abundance for having the amazing blessing of Niko in my life. Along with that appreciation, I feel now is a time of rejuvenation and a fresh start.