Notes on a Buddhist path

Goodbye, my friend

November 20, 2012 By | 9 Comments

One cat just leads to another. ~ Ernest Hemingway

When I was growing up we had a smattering of creatures who looked to us for care and comfort. There were the goldfish who came in plastic bags and went too easily with a flush of the toilet. The parakeet who I found dead on the bottom of his (her?) cage due to my disregard for covering the cage on one particularly cold Southern California night (or so my mother reminded for years whenever I would bring up the idea of getting another.) Kittens and puppies, cats and dogs lived and died under our roof until about the time of my high school graduation. From then on I didn’t own another pet, and I was just fine with that.

At age 36, love and marriage herded the direction of my life towards animal companions again. Kevin brought not only his martial arts practice to our union, but a cat as well. We added a dog, then another dog. Moving from Pasadena to Sacramento our California menagerie expanded our very first day with a very pregnant cat abandoned by her previous owners at our rental home. She soon produced two progeny, we bought a house, added three more cats and so it went until we were the crazy, bleeding heart and empty wallet neighbours with seven cats and three dogs. As Kevin used to say, we were just your average mid-size Irish Catholic family.

Jack and Rosie

Over the years life and time had her way with us all. Along with the deaths of one pet after another our marriage ended and I moved to Canada. Jack and Rosie, the offspring of our unwed mother cat,  came north to join me. When Rosie died shortly after her arrival, Jack’s grief was palpable. He looked for her in all her old, favourite hiding places. His meows were mournful and his furtive searches for his sister weighed on my resolve not to get another cat right away. Just three weeks after Rosie’s death I saw an ad in our local online bulletin board for a 15 year old cat in search of a new home. The match seemed perfect: two old gents living our their retirement years together. And with that Clause came to live with me and my lonesome Jack.

Three months ago Clause died after a long and slow illness. Jack didn’t seem to go through the same mourning he did for Rosie. Perhaps because they only knew each for three years, perhaps because Jack was glad to be the only four-legged being vying for my undistracted attention for food, water and litter box cleanliness. Or maybe he hid his grief deep in his belly where it was harder for me to see.

This month Jack’s health turned upend. After several visits to the vet, lab tests, pokes and prods and with no definitive answer as to why my 17 1/2 year old cat, who once just weeks ago jumped easily from the floor to the four foot high window sills of my apartment, seemed suddenly lost and unable to climb on a chair. He stopped eating nearly two weeks ago. His bowels dried up and his urine slowed. He drank water with a passing interest and his stumbles gained momentum on his grace.

Last night a new vet saw him and was alarmed at his extreme weakened condition. She found ulcerations in his mouth and attempted to chip away years of tartar causing his gums to bleed. She hoped that the accompanying antibiotic shot and fluids may ease the pain in his mouth so he might want to eat again very soon. We came home, but the bleeding in his mouth never stopped.

I sat with Jack and tried to make him comfortable, but I kept getting caught in my cycle of blame and guilt for what I had done to him by the vet visits, the meds and tests. I questioned every appointment, every pill and tincture I had forced into him. I realized that all my strength was dripping out onto the floor, mixing with Jack’s life blood. My thoughts and my breath came back to the Dhamma; of sending loving kindness and compassion not only Jack, but to myself as well. With all my effort I couldn’t stop the pain of grief from choking my lifeline to my dear cat.

Picking up the phone, I called my Dhamma sister, Fawn. She reminded me that everything I had done for Jack had come from a place of love and good intentions. “There is our life kamma,” she said, “and our death kamma. Jack is following his destiny and he’s lived such a good life. Tonight could be a good night to die.”

We talked through my tears and my failings and by the end I felt the heaviness within me start to lift, like a bank of fog clearing and opening the way to see what lies in front of us. I sat and meditated for awhile, sending wave upon wave of loving kindness, metta, to myself. A shift happened and my berating voice stilled. Joy warmed within me. Joy in knowing peace and that it could emblazon a clear path to the other side for my loved one. Metta radiated from me in such a way that I could feel its strength supporting Jack in his suffering. I kissed him and said goodbye, not knowing if I would see him alive again. I went to bed with joy holding me close through the night.

About 2:30 in the morning I heard Jack’s cries. He had crawled down the hall from the kitchen, the tracks of his ruby blood evidence of his journey. I laid down a towel and placed him on it next to my bed. I could see his tense body relax a bit and the two of us shared the next couple of hours in states of joy and grief, sleep and listening.

The sounds of him vomiting at 5 a.m. wrestled me to wakefulness. I cleaned him of the pool of blood he had coughed up as best I could and got dressed. Breathing in and out, keeping my heart and mind open I sat down next to him on the floor. I said the things you say to someone you love who is dying. It’s okay to let go. Don’t stay for me. May you be free from suffering. May we meet again.

At 5:32 a.m. Jack’s suffering ended. Holding him in my arms after his death I heard for the briefest of moments what sounded like a purr vibrate from his body to mine. I can’t imagine my life without knowing he was in it, he and all the other animals that have come and gone. What a gift to behold a life and its fading wake.

Thank you, dear friend. May your transition from this life be peaceful and at ease. And may there be catnip and mice and fields of flowers that hold you in their arms.

Image credits: © Tess Wixted

Comments

  1. Lynn marttila says:

    Dearest Tess,
    May the joy and grief you shared with Jack be with you now as you move through being without him. How blessed he was to experience his life with you and your loving heart……may you be free from sadness. Lynn

    • Thank you for your touching words, Lynn. The sadness moves in and out of me like so many waves on my heart. I do miss my friend, yet I am filled with joy knowing his suffering is finished. Blessings to you.

  2. Tess, so sorry for your huge loss. I, too, know the love and loss of dear pets. Be safe and well. Nancy

    • Nancy, thank you for your kinds words. They do hold our hearts, don’t they, both when they are with us and after they leave. I’m glad Jack passed through my life. He still resonates everywhere for me.

  3. My thoughts are with you.

Trackbacks

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