grief

A Pet’s Loss Once Removed Is a Loss No Less

cat-at-window

As a Reiki Practitioner, I rarely work with young, healthy animals. Most of my feline and canine clients suffer from degenerative diseases such as arthritis, kidney disease, or diabetes. Some are terminally ill. Reiki can help bring healing and balance to these animals by reducing stress, providing pain relief, alleviating side effects of conventional treatments, and strengthening the immune system.

Reiki can be especially beneficial for animals suffering from a terminal illness. I even offer joint treatments for pet and guardian. Often, animals will not allow themselves to transition because they intuitively feel that their person is not ready to let them go. Joint Reiki treatments for the pet and his or her person can help both through this difficult time by enhancing the bond and allowing a gentle transition.

Unfortunately, working with older animals and hospice patients also makes it inevitable that eventually, I’m going to lose these clients. The experience of losing an animal client is unique. It’s different from losing my own cats, but it hurts nevertheless.Continue Reading

Coping with Unexpected Loss: A Personal Journey

Amber The Conscious Cat

When I had to let Amber go after a brief, sudden illness last May, I wasn’t prepared for the depth of my grief. It hadn’t even been a year and a half after I lost Buckley. Here I was, faced with grieving yet again.

It’s not like I hadn’t experienced loss in my life before. Most of us who’ve reached the age I’m at have had to deal with loss. I lost my mother in 1994 after a brief illness. I lost my soul mate cat Feebee in 2000 after a valiant seven-month battle with lymphoma. I lost my office cat Virginia in 2002 after a brief decline following a fourteen-year-long life with FIV. I lost my father in 2004 to heart disease and cancer. And as those of you who’ve read Buckley’s Story know, I lost Buckley after she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy and given a very poor prognosis that she outlived by a considerable amount of time.

I had lots of experience with grief, and I survived all of these losses more or less gracefully. I learned that there is only one way to deal with grief, and that’s to go through it. There is no way around it. You can’t run from it.  I learned about the stages of grief. I learned that you don’t go through them step by step, but rather, that you sometimes cycle through them over and over, until, at some point, mercifully, you may find that you’ve reached the final stage, acceptance. But even reaching acceptance doesn’t mean that you ever really get “over” a loss.

So you’d think that with all this personal experience in grieving, I would have been better prepared to handle losing Amber. The force of my grief over losing her caught me completely off guard. And I realized, in the middle of the shock, the tears, and the pain, that I had never lost a loved one as unexpectedly and suddenly as I lost her. Twelve short days, from the time that she was mildly ill to the time that I had to let her go. I never expected her to not get better when I agreed to hospitalize her. I always expected her to come home.  Come home she did, but not in the way I would have wanted her to. Because of her poor prognosis, after four days of intensive care, I made the agonizing decision to stop treatment, bring her home, and spend the afternoon with her before my vet came to the house that evening to help her with a peaceful transition.

As with all my losses, there were commonalities. Despite the incredible outpouring of love and support from not only my ”real life” friends, but also my online friends,  there were times when I felt alone in my grief, disconnected from the world around me and normal everyday activities. I was physically exhausted most of the time – grief takes a toll not just emotionally,  but physically. I tried to take care of myself as best as I could, by trying to eat regular meals, getting some exercise, and staying connected with friends.  But it was hard.  Going out into the world was challenging – how could life be going on when my world had changed irrevocably?

In The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood, author Nadine M. Rosin, after losing her nineteen-year-old dog Buttons, writes:  “…being out in public felt totally bizarre, as if the world had come to an end because of some horrible disaster, life as we’d known it on the planet was over, but I seemed to be the only person who knew about it.” I’ve rarely heard this particular emotion of feeling out of synch with the rest of the world expressed better. I limited social engagements to activities with friends who understood my grief, and I’m fortunate that most of the people in my life are animal people, and they do understand. I simply didn’t have it in me to make polite chit-chat with those who didn’t.

I knew I’d make it through, just like I made it through all my other losses. But one year later, I also realize that this loss left me forever changed in ways the others didn’t. And perhaps it had to do with the suddenness of the loss.

With all my other losses, I’ve always had time to prepare for loss. While anticipatory grieving is difficult, I believe that it does help in the end – you have time to get used to the idea of eventually having to go on without your loved one. But Amber was a healthy, happy cat who had rarely been sick in her life. There was nothing that could have prepared me for this.   It was much harder, much more painful, and much more complicated than my other losses. With the others, I rarely second-guessed myself. I didn’t rail at the universe for having my loved one taken from me so quickly. I didn’t blame myself for decisions I made during Amber’s last two weeks.  I just grieved.

A year later, I can finally say that I’ve found peace. And I learned this, yet again: grief is a process. It requires being gentle with yourself as you go through it. It requires allowing those who understand to support you, and staying away from those who don’t. It requires courage to face the pain, rather than run from it.

Grief can be a transformational experience.  It rips your heart wide open, and you’ll never be the same. It’s up to each individual whether they’ll choose to let grief destroy them, or whether they’ll do the challenging and difficult work that will ultimately allow it to be transformed into personal growth and expansion.

To honor Amber, her love, and all she has brought into my life, I didn’t have any other choice except to let something good come from this devastating loss.

Happy Father’s Day 2010

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! 

My dad passed away more than six years ago.   This Father’s Day, I miss him a little more than I normally do.  My grief over Amber is still fresh and raw.  One aspect of the grieving process that often catches people by surprise is that frequently, it causes us to relive all the other losses we’ve previously suffered.  Holidays like Father’s Day always intensify the emotions.

Last year, I wrote a piece titled Father’s Day Reflections, and I thought I’d share it again here today:

My relationship with my dad was complicated at times, but I always knew that he loved me, and I have many wonderful memories of him.  His life was shaped to a great extent by his experiences during World War II in Germany, and as a result of suffering so much loss at such a young age, he held those he loved close to him – at times, too close for a daughter who wanted to spread her wings and fly from the nest!   He instilled in me my love of nature – some of my earliest and fondest memories are of long walks in the woods and parks near our home.  He taught me the names of all the flowers, trees, butterflies and animals we’d encounter on those walks.

He worked hard at a job he didn’t enjoy all that much to provide for my mother and me.  We were by no means rich, but he always made me feel like we were.  He fell in love with the Alps after first catching a glimpse of them as an American POW in Bavaria after the end of World War II.  The story he told was of being held captive in a basement with a very small window, through which he could see these beautiful mountains, and even in the darkest days of his captivity, looking at the mountains would give him hope.  He vowed that he would come back to these mountains someday, and he did.  Some of his happiest times were vacations spent hiking those magestic mountains.  He loved to travel, and after taking early retirement, for the next nine years, he and my mother traveled extensively.  He especially enjoyed his travels in the Western part of the United States – every Western movie he’d ever seen came to life for him there.  He would talk about those trips for years to come.

He had a difficult time dealing with my mother’s death in 1994, and his life contracted again.  He didn’t enjoy traveling by himself, and other than his annual visit to the United States, he stayed close to home.  When he became ill with prostate cancer, I wasn’t sure he would want to fight – but he surprised me.  He wanted to live, and he survived.  Then he decided that it was time to make a lifelong dream come true.  He sold his home of forty years almost overnight, and bought a condo in the Black Forest, where he spent the last two years of his life in an environment that he loved.   Having been a life-long worrier, he learned to live in the moment and “appreciate each flower and each butterfly,” as he once told me.  He passed away after a short illness, and knowing how happy he was the last two years of his life was a great comfort to me.

If you still have your father, tell him that you love him today.  My dad had a long, sometimes difficult, but ultimately good life, and I miss his physical presence in my life.  However, his spirit is never far from me.

What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving The Loss of a Pet

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As a society, we are not equipped to handle grief and loss, and many people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving.  This can be compounded when the loss is that of a pet.  Even people who are genuinely sorry and want to express their sympathy often don’t know what to say to comfort the grieving person.

It is difficult to know what to say, and as a result, people often, without meaning to, say the wrong things that, rather than providing comfort, only serve to upset the grieving person even more.   Sometimes, the best thing to say is to simply acknowledge the loss – because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to not say anything at all.   As I’m dealing with my own grief about Amber, I’m once again reminded of how much some of the things people say hurt, even though they’re offered with the best intentions.Continue Reading

A Tribute to Amber from The Boomer Muse

Guest Post by Layla Morgan Wilde

Cat Saturday – In Memoriam
This edition of Cat Saturday is dedicated to Amber, a beloved cat born on July 29, 1998 and died on May 13, 2010. Amber lived with her human mom, Ingrid King near Washington D.C. The beautiful and wise Amber graced our pages as a Cat of the Week #55. She will be deeply missed by her many fans at her blog Amber’s Mewsings at Ingrid’s website The Conscious Cat.

Photo quote de jour

There have been several kitty deaths in both my actual and virtual families in recent months. Every death feels like a sucker punch to the gut. Nothing can prepare for the moment when a beloved four-legged friend dies. This time, the death of Amber treads a little too close for comfort. With Coco and Domino’s health scare, I’m steeling myself for a kitty funeral in my own backyard. Maybe it won’t happen for months, maybe years. In the meantime, I savor every moment and can’t take enough photos of my three. Today, when happily shooting in the garden this morning, I had no idea, Amber was dead but is it possible my cats, through some psychic cell phone knew bad news was in the wind and posed accordingly.  Merlin posed by the peace sign. Those old blue eyes knew something.

Coco was especially meditative in the herb garden. She sends condolences of a heavenly sort.

Domino, Amber’s cyber-soul mate, her long-distance Romeo will have to wait to meet and marry his Juliet. Amber loved her “tough guy”. He’s used to danger and death, and but maybe his heart is little bigger having known love.
 
Link of the Week
Lightning-strike.com – a wonderful pet loss support resource.

Time with our beloved fur friends is fleeting.  Enjoy yours.

All photographs © Layla Morgan Wilde, used by permission.

Layla Morgan Wilde is a writer, photographer, and intuitive life coach.  She shares words and images designed to inspire and amuse on her blog, The Boomer Muse.

 

 

A Tribute to Amber from Catnip Connection

Guest Post by Linda Mohr

Today’s Catnip Connection is a tribute to Amber who passed away on May 13. She was Ingrid King’s inspiration for The Conscious Cat and as Ingrid described her “a gentle, loving cat with a wise old soul.”

The following There is a New Star Shining in the Sky Tonight was written by Sarah Hartwell. She released this essay into the public domain so that it may be freely distributed.

“There is an old belief that the stars shining in the night sky are the spirits of those who have died. They have shed their earthly bodies and exchanged them for bodies made of light; thousands upon thousands of our dear departed friends all promoted to glory in the night sky. There is another saying that the brightest flame burns the shortest.

My friend, you were the brightest star in my own universe. While I burn on, my flame dimmed by grief and despair at your passing, the stars are watching me. They are too far away for me to touch, just as you have gone somewhere I cannot follow until my own star-time comes. They cannot be held close for comfort, just as I can no longer hold you close, though I held you close to comfort you in your final hours. We were together for such a short time, but the stars will burn forever.

One day I will grow tired of this earthbound body, my own star-time will come and my spirit will soar into the sky to burn with all those friends who have gone before me. On the inky cloth of space we will be reunited in constellations of joy. Until then, my flame burns low and dim and cold without you. Through my tears I look upwards to see if you are watching me and what do I see?

There is a new star shining in the sky tonight.”

Peace and hope to my dear friend Ingrid.

Linda Mohr is the author of Tatianna – Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend.   For more information about Linda, and her book, please visit her website and her blog.

A Tribute to Amber from The Creative Cat

Guest Post by Bernadette Kazmarski

It’s never welcome news when a friend’s cat is ill, especially when the friend is a skilled caregiver providing all the requirements for a healthy life. Logic or intuition, or both, may warn you that only the most virulent diseases could get through the defenses your friend has provided her cat, and the outcome may not be good. 

On May 13, our friend Ingrid King said goodbye to her precious Amber. Ingrid always described Amber as “a wise old soul in a feline body”, quiet, loving, gentle, purring constantly, providing comfort and support for her human mom though times of great change and other loss.

You could see Amber’s inner peace in any photo of her, always composed and calm. A tortoiseshell cat, Amber had the typically unique markings, and Ingrid found her name from the heart-shaped amber spot on the top of Amber’s head.

I’ve gotten to “know” Amber through reading her posts on Ingrid’s blog, The Conscious Cat, in Amber’s Mewsings, but I feel as if I just “met” Amber through reading Ingrid’s book, Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher. I really appreciated getting to know the loving and free-spirited Buckley who inspired Ingrid to change her career and then to write the book, but always in the background was Amber, quietly providing support and love, never questioning, always devoted to Ingrid. I’ve known cats like her, and aside from all the other lessons in the book I came away loving Amber very much.

A chronic illness can prepare you for a loss, but an acute disease, especially with non-specific symptoms, can send you and your veterinarian scrambling for answers, and the loss can be a shock. After noticing some non-specific symptoms about ten days ago she began treating Amber for laryngitis and coaxing her to eat, but Amber ended up in feline intensive care and was diagnosed with a virulent calcivirus, complicated by an underlying heart condition.

Ingrid has also been a supportive mentor for me as I’ve learned social networking, blogging and using Facebook. 

It’s hard to believe Amber gone so quickly, and Ingrid and her new kitten Allegra must be feeling very lost, so my household will send them love. 

Bernadette Kazmarski is a a multi-faceted creative spirit:  artist, writer, graphic designer, painter, animal advocate, environmentalist.   From commissioned pet portraits to animal inspired merchandise ranging from prints to textiles to greeting cards, looking around Bernadette’s websites is a feast for the senses:
http://www.bernadette-k.com/
http://portraitsofanimals.wordpress.com/)

A Tribute to Amber from Conversations with Eva

Guest Post by Eva Cat

EVA:  Sad week.

R:  Yes.  A very sad week.

EVA:  Sad bunny.  Sad cow.  Sad Amber.

R:  Yes, many sad things this week.  And Amber’s Mom is very sad, too.

EVA:  I love Amber.

R:  Yes, all of us love Amber.

EVA:  Up.

R:  Up.

EVA:  Hugs, please.  Snuggles, please.                  Sad.

R:   Yes.  Very, very sad.           

In Memory of Our Friend, Amber

Eva is the newest addition to a home already full of very needy, special-needs cats that pretty much run the place.  Her human, “R”, does the best she can to try to keep up with Eva and maybe, if she’s lucky, stay one-half step ahead of her.  

This Week on The Conscious Cat: A Tribute to Amber

After losing my beautiful girl so unexpectedly and suddenly last Thursday, I’ve been struggling.  I’ve experienced loss before.  I lost my first cat, Feebee, after a lengthy battle with lymphoma in April of 2000.  I lost my office cat Virginia two years later after a brief decline, caused by her FIV positive status.  And I lost Buckley Thanksgiving weekend of 2008 after receiving a dire prognosis of restrictive cardiomyopathy a few months earlier.  All of these losses were difficult.  I coped as best I could.  I survived.  And I thought that, as a result of getting through these past losses, I would be better prepared to deal with this most recent one.  After all, I’m the person others turn to when they need help coping with losing a pet.

But when I had to let Amber go after a brief, severe illness, I was completely blind-sided by the depth and intensity of my grief.  I had never lost a cat without having lots of time to prepare.  Anticipatory grief, like all grief, is painful, but by its very nature, it is, for lack of a better word, a bit more gentle.  This sudden, unexpected grief has been simply devastating.  I’m still unable to really put this experience into words, and I’m still struggling. 

Amber was my heart.  She was the inspiration behind The Conscious Cat, and it just doesn’t feel right to return to “business as usual” when I’m still in deep mourning.  

The one bright spot during these dark days have been my friends – both real life and online.  The outpouring of support from my online friends has been overwhelming, and incredibly comforting.   For the most part, these are people I’ve never met in person.  We’ve connected through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.  Most of us have never even spoken on the phone.  And yet, they’ve all been there for me in various ways – offering cyber hugs, expressing their sadness and support in comments on this site and on Facebook, sending private messages and e-mails.  Their love and support feels no less real than the love and support of my real life friends.  I’m blessed to have every single one of them in my life.

Several of my online friends also ran tributes to Amber on their blogs.  So, instead of our regular fare of cat health information, feline lifestyle and book reviews, this week, I’ll be honoring Amber’s memory and celebrating her life by running some of these tributes here on The Conscious Cat

Thank you, all of you, for your outpouring of support – each and every one of your comments, e-mails and private messages means so much.

Amber

Amber
July 29, 1998 – May 13, 2010
Be at Peace, Beautiful Girl

My beautiful girl died peacefully at home in my arms late yesterday afternoon, with the loving and gentle assistance of my dear friend and Amber’s vet, Fern.

As some of you already know, she had been sick for ten days and at the Hope Center for Advance Veterinary Medicine in intensive care for the last three and a half days. We just received confirmation today that what we had suspected was true – a calici virus had ravaged her system, causing multiple problems ranging from laryngitis to pancreatitis, complicated by an underlying heart problem we didn’t even know she had, which made it impossible to find the right balance between providing supportive care and not pushing her heart too far. Yesterday it looked like she was getting better, but yesterday morning, she took a turn for the worse, and her prognosis was so poor that I decided against further treatment. I took her home and spent the afternoon with her. The final good-bye was very peaceful.

Amber was a wise old soul in a feline body. Her gentle, loving presence brought so much happiness and joy to my life these past ten years. She was the inspiration behind The Conscious Cat, and even had her own column here, titled Amber’s Mewsings. You can read her entire story here.

I’m still in shock – I keep hoping I’ll wake up and find that these last ten days were just a bad dream. I’m going to miss my beautiful girl terribly. Her little sister Allegra only got to know her for a little over a month, and it breaks my heart that the two of them never got a chance to become close.

Amber taught me to slow down, to appreciate the gentleness in each moment, and to listen with and to my heart. Every cat we loose takes another little piece of our hearts. Amber took a big piece of mine tonight.