Saturday, August 2, 2014
Just a few weeks ago, I lost one of my beloved feline companions, a Russian blue colored kitty named Toss. My now 18 year old son and I got Toss from Buddy Dog as a feral rescue kitten when my son was just 4 years old. My son named him Toss after a similar gray kitty who was in a video called "Paws, Claws, Feathers and Fins," given to me and my son by a friend who worked as an animal control officer. In the video, a four year old girl goes to a shelter, adopts a gray kitten and names him Toss. My son followed suit and did just the same! I formed a very physical and visceral bond with Toss from the very start. When we first took him home, he was scared and shaking. I held him in my arms for 8 hours straight, helping him feel safe, until eventually he purred. Toss became known for purring as soon as I touched him. And he loved to sit on my lap. Whenever I would go into my "writer's cave," to write, Toss would come over, put his front feel on my legs, and ask to sit on my lap. Sadly, in June when I took him to the vet after watching him start to become frail and lose a lot of weight, I learned that he had either spleen or liver cancer, that in the eyes of the vet was untreatable. Many people I know, coming from a place of good intention, then told me to euthanize him so he "wouldn't suffer." While in no way did I want my cat to suffer, I felt equally strongly that if he was living reasonably peacefully, it was not my place to determine his life or death. I promised Toss that I would follow his lead. And as I spoke with him and petted him, of course, he purred. So, a hospice period ensued. Toss was having trouble eating dry cat food, so I started to give him mashed chicken breast, which he ate with great joy and abandon. So that he could eat peacefully without possible intrusions from our other cats, I set up a special feeding station in the bathroom, where we could close the door. Whenever I would call him for meal time, Toss would get up from under the china cabinet he found as his personal cave, and walk into the bathroom, co-creating a ritual that became very meaningful to us both. After he ate his fill, I would pet him and he would purr. Sometimes he would lie on the rug with feet outstretched and crossed in graceful sphinx position. Toss was a very graceful and elegant cat. As each day went by, he became a little bit weaker, yet every time I would touch him, be it under the china cabinet or in the bathroom, he would purr. When I would go into my writer's cave, he would still accompany me. He became too weak to put his paws up on my legs, so when he stood beside me, I picked him up so he could lie on my lap and purr. Yes, my beautiful companion was indeed transitioning. However, grace and contentment were his signature moods, not pain and suffering. Our ritual of crushed chicken in the bathroom, gentle caresses with purrs and lap visits while I was writing continued up until the very evening before he died. The night before he died, it became hard for Toss to get up from under the china cabinet and walk into the kitchen. He could not make it to the litter box, so I had to clean up after a regretfully incontinent cat. I brought him chicken and fed him from my hand. And up until hours before he died, he ate and he purred. Around midnight in his final hours of life, I could see he was in the final stages of transitioning. My other cats had gathered around him in the bathroom the previous night, somehow just knew to sit quietly and let him eat. It was as though they had gathered to honor him, and only wanted to nurture him and give him space to eat. I found myself asking should I stay up all night to accompany him as he passed, or should I try to get a few hours of sleep, because I had a long day ahead of me. I spoke with Toss, petted him, and he purred. And I got the message that it was okay to try to rest a bit. At 4:30 am, my Maine Coon Cat, Scarlett, clawed loudly at my door. I knew what that meant. I got up, and went to the china cabinet. Toss had just passed. His body was warm. His breathing had just stilled. I sat with him for a little while, petting his fur, and for the first time, not hearing him respond with his gentle purr. He had passed peacefully and gracefully, in the company of his brother and sister kitties. And now our hospice mission was complete. I was deeply moved by our connection from kitten hood through end of life. And being able to honor him and accompany him on his journey was a sacred and beautiful gift. Both my parents died in hospice care. And I am grateful I have been able to provide hospice care for almost all of my pets. To honor a life's journey through its final moments is priceless.
Finding balance and having a sense of belonging are two important experiences many of us strive for, and sometimes find challenging. We get pulled in so many different directions as we go about our daily life: self-care and care for others, work and relaxation, daily necessities and fun,and solitary pursuits and connecting with others can each be polarities as we strive to find balance. Authors Joel and Michelle Levey believe that our search for balance is not "just a solitary affair." This search extends beyond even our relationships with close friends and family, and how we integrate work and personal life. They write, "The sense of belonging to a larger whole is a fundamental force in our search for balance, one that begins in our need to be connected to a larger community, extending our to encompass the entire human family, and ultimately to all nature." Seeing where we fit into the larger web of life, gives us a sense of context, that brings both balance and peace, in the eyes of the Leveys. One might even ask is it possible to find balance solely as a solitary pursuit? Might one of the reasons we struggle with balance and often feel so alone be that we may not recognize how critical it is to feel our place in the larger whole of life in order to find the peace we are seeking? If we were to make a plan to find balance, might we try to identify steps to take at three levels: balance within oneself, balance in relationships with others and balance in our connection to the larger whole? In that sense, self-care gets expanded. Self-care can include healthy eating meditation exercise and meaningful pursuits, and also spending quality time and feeling emotionally connected to friends and loved ones. And it also includes engaging in activities that connect us to nature, to a larger sense of community and to matters that concern the greater good. The kinds of activities that help us pursue all these levels of self-care lead to the kinds of interactions and connections that help us feel like we belong. We cannot lead lives of quiet isolation, which can then breed quiet desperation. Building bridges between different parts within ourselves, between ourselves and others and with ourselves and experiences of the larger whole lead to a sense of integration and meaning most of us seek.