Saying Goodbye to Hedda, Part Three: Creating an End-of-Life Ritual

end-of-life-ritual

Guest post by Sarah Chauncey

This is the third post in a three-part series. Sarah Chauncey is the author of an upcoming book for adults grieving the loss of their cat. We featured part one, Facing the Possibility of Euthanasia, two weeks ago, part two, Making the Euthanasia Decision, last week.

Euthanasia is one of the most excruciating decisions a cat guardian will ever have to make. Part of what makes it so difficult is that our culture has no rituals to mark this transition, nor to grieve the end of a relationship that holds a unique place in our hearts and lives.

In my experience, creating a ritual to say goodbye before euthanasia made a significant difference in my ability to process grief.

When I knew my 20 years with my cat Hedda were coming to an end—after I’d forgiven the vet for daring to utter the word “euthanasia” and after I’d broken through my own denial—I decided that I wanted to say goodbye formally. I cleared my schedule so I could be with her for the final 24 hours.

Creating a Ritual to Say Goodbye

Each person, each cat, and each relationship is unique. Just as with The Decision, nobody can tell you what is right for your or your cat. This is what I did; if something resonates with you, incorporate it. If something else comes to mind, try that.

1. Express gratitude. I talked to Hedda. I thanked her for staying so long and for being such a wonderful companion. I thanked her for saving my life through several bouts of severe depression. I told her what an amazing job she’d done in this lifetime, and how much I’d miss her. I told her how sorry I was that I couldn’t fix her body, but that that was the nature of bodies. They eventually fall apart. But who she really was would never die. She stared straight into my eyes with such clarity that I thought she must have understood. Not the words, of course, but the intention. The language of the heart.

2. Separate energy. Although I’d been telling Hedda it was all right for her to go, I sensed that my energy was holding her back. After 20 years together, our energies were pretty entwined. I did a formal visualization and called my energy back to me, and I released her energy back to her. If you’ve never done this, picture defragmenting a hard drive; you’re making sure each byte of energy is where it’s meant to be.

3. Find a mantra. What is a line that encapsulates your relationship with your cat? For me, it was one I adapted from Buddhist teacher Adyashanti: “What’s looking through your eyes is also looking through mine.” Whenever I whispered it, Hedda looked straight into my eyes—something she hadn’t done in a while. It’s hard to articulate just how powerful this was—I began feeling (not just believing) that Hedda and I were expressions of the same consciousness, and that what was about to die was “only” her body.

4. Allow tears. Crying doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. I had dreaded this event for years; I had cried oceans just imagining it. Yet once it was imminent, there was no story in my mind about how it shouldn’t be happening. Something about the urgency of the situation brought me into the present moment in a way I’d never felt before. There were tears, of course—sometimes so many that I thought they might never stop. But as long as I allowed what I was feeling, the feeling eventually passed.

5. Play music. Find a song that’s meaningful to you. I played “Lullaby” by Cris Williamson on repeat. I’d sung it to Hedda as a kitten, when she loved to be rocked like a human baby. Although I’ve loved the song since its release in the late 1980s, it’s recently become a bit of an anthem for transitions. She seemed soothed by the music, though the song still makes me cry.

6. Offer treats. If your cat is still eating, this is the time to ply her with her favorite food or treats. For Hedda, this was tuna (which she hadn’t been allowed for years due to kidney disease) and malt-flavor hairball gel (yes, really).

hedda-end-of-life

The Last Hour of Hedda’s Physical Life

I had read articles by several animal communicators who said animals want to know what’s going to happen during euthanasia. I explained who was coming, where they were going to stand, what would happen, and (based on my understanding) what she would probably experience. I also explained why—that I didn’t want her to suffer

At 3:00, I lit a tea candle and smudged the room with sage.

We snuggled.

I reminisced.

She purred.

I cried.

She kept one paw on my arm, and she looked into my eyes frequently. She also wanted chin scratches. A lot.

At 4:00, the vet arrived. (I had borrowed money so that her last experience would be familiar—on her heating pad, on my bed, in my arms.)

During the procedure, I lay next to her on the bed, my forehead pressed against hers, one hand on her face and the other on her belly, and I whispered over and over again through tears, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be loved.” Which might seem an odd thing to say as I was paying to have a vet end her physical life, but what I meant was: “May you (in all incarnations, on all dimensions) always be safe, happy and loved.”

I held her as she took her last breath, my tears soaking her fur, and I felt a subtle vibration that I’d swear was her spirit leaving her body (at least, I’d like to think it was).

What’s amazing to me—still—is how peaceful and even beautiful her passing was. It didn’t stop the tears, it didn’t make me miss her any less, and I was in a fugue state for a month afterwards. But I believe that creating a ritual—taking the time to say goodbye before euthanasia—made all the difference in my ability to come to terms with her death.

Sarah Chauncey is the author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna, an upcoming gift book for adults grieving their cat. She runs @morethantuna on Instagram and Facebook, “a celebration of nine lives,” and she started #tunatributes, a support community for people grieving their cat. She lives on Vancouver Island.

37 Comments on Saying Goodbye to Hedda, Part Three: Creating an End-of-Life Ritual

  1. Suzanne
    May 28, 2018 at 3:12 pm (7 months ago)

    It’s so hard and fresh from just this Friday night. I can’t stop crying and thinking about the pain that my beloved Seymour had in his last hours. We went out to dinner and came home to him crying and panting. We rushed to the emergency vet who diagnosed him with sudden heart failure. This was the most painful decision to make for the sweetest cat I have ever had. The vet said he would not survive the night and I could not let him suffer.
    I held him and petted him and told him how much he was loved and that I promised to take care of his sister Sapphy. I looked into his big round eyes and felt him go, as if he was asking me for forgiveness for not staying with me longer.
    I haven’t stopped crying for three days. I have lost other cats but this one, it’s suddenness has me in such grief. All my other kitties know and have not left my side. i
    Your articles were beautiful and I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved Hedda.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 29, 2018 at 5:22 am (7 months ago)

      I’m so sorry about Seymour, Suzanne.

      Reply
  2. Jeanne B.
    May 27, 2018 at 1:00 am (7 months ago)

    That part about the vibration felt when the spirit left? It’s real. I’ve experienced it three times. I lost three in three years’ time. Each one chose to begin their transition at a time when the vets weren’t open, and rushing to the nearest ER a half-hour away made no sense because I didn’t want them dying in a carrier with me driving in a panic. So, I just stayed with them, like a death doula, holding them, loving them, comforting them.

    Each time, I knew the moment they left their bodies. Zander (18.5) meowed three times, then left. Ophelia (21) simply slipped away in the sunshine. Blue, his was the hardest–and the first of the three. He was not quite 10, he had kidney disease, and he was my soulmate. He didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want him to, but his body had other ideas. So he struggled to get out of his body. It was torture to watch, and I was so angry that I couldn’t get him to a vet to help him.

    I was desperate for his struggling to end, and I knew it had to do with me. I was holding him back somehow. I begged him to just let go, but he persisted in holding on.

    Sobbing, I visualized lifting him up to the Universe. My version of God is spirit rather than Being, but for some reason, I imagined hands reaching down toward us. I asked God to please take Blue, and to keep him safe for me. I had to visualize relinquishing him, and even though I’d asked… I had a hard time handing him over.

    The hands just waited while I struggled with the act of handing over my beloved, forever.

    Eventually, I worked up the bravery to do it. I watched myself place Blue into the larger hands. They paused for a moment, waiting as I withdrew my own, then they rose and disappeared.

    At the same time that the hands rose, I *felt* a rush of wind. I felt him leave. I opened my eyes. His body made one last slight convulsion and he was gone. I think I sat there holding him for 15 minutes before I was sure he was gone.

    He was the most beautiful cat. My heart of hearts. My soulmate. It was so hard to hand him over like that, but I knew it was the only way to free him. I loved him more than life, and I’m pretty sure I was better than tuna to him, too.

    I look forward to reading your book.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 27, 2018 at 5:41 am (7 months ago)

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Jeanne. It takes a lot of love and courage to help a beloved cat pass over.

      Reply
  3. Nancy Dloughy
    April 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm (8 months ago)

    I’m sitting here with tears running down my face, and I can’t breathe. Sarah, I cried through all 3 parts of your story but REALLY lost it when I got to the last part. I lost my Boo a month ago today. He was fine, then he got out of the house. He was out all night, and the next morning, my daughter went out to look for him. She had tried looking for him the night before, but it was already dark, so she waited until it got light. I think he just stayed under one of the vehicles out back. He wasn’t an outside cat, so I think he was scared. She found him under one of the pick up trucks out back. He was fine the day before. The truck he was under had all kinds of stuff in the truck and also under and around it. That night he passed away. He was acting strange. He wouldn’t eat, and didn’t want his treats, and he was the biggest treat monster. Then he let out this awful meow that we had never heard before. My daughter got a sheet, put it on my bed, and laid Boo on it. He then lost control of his bowels and pooped. My daughter cleaned him up, and moved him to the bottom of the bed so he wouldn’t fall off. We both knew he was going to pass away. He let out another one of those awful meows, and then just laid there quietly on his side. I was watching his breathing. He used to stick the tip of his tongue out of his mouth all the time, and he was doing that. I was sitting on the bed next to him, and I leaned over to look at him, and his tongue was now hanging out of the side of his mouth. My daughter had come back in my room from the living room, because she told me she just had a feeling. She looked over at him, and in a panicked voice, said “Mom, he’s not breathing!”. She got hysterical crying, and I was trying to keep it together. She picked up Boo, took him in the living room, put him in her lap, and just sobbed. He was HER baby. That was Sunday night into early Monday morning. I didn’t even have money to have him cremated. I had to borrow it. I really wanted to do a necropsy to find out what happened, but I couldn’t borrow any more money. I just had a feeling he got into something either in or around that truck and poisoned himself. I will never know what really happened, and it’s tearing me apart. I just CAN NOT stop crying! Sarah, I like what you did with Hedda that last day. It sounded so peaceful and beautiful. Unfortunately, you can’t do that when they suddenly pass away.

    So sorry this is so long. Sometimes I helps some to talk about it, but just a little. R.I.P. sweet Boo. We will see each other some day, and we will never be apart again.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 12, 2018 at 4:49 pm (8 months ago)

      I’m so sorry, Nancy. What a traumatic way to loose a beloved cat. My heart goes out to you and your daughter.

      Reply
    • La
      November 7, 2018 at 11:36 pm (1 month ago)

      Sounds like anti-freeze poisoning…..

      Reply
  4. P Perkins
    March 25, 2018 at 6:26 pm (9 months ago)

    Thank you for a wonderful and helpful series of articles. I last lost a cat at Thanksgiving last year. Fortunately for the first time i can recall, i could tell he definitely was ready to go, but did not seem to be in any great pain. It was the holiday so vet not open and i did not want to go to an ER so i just took care of him at home. On TG day i just laid down on the floor beside him and talked to him and petted and told him what a fine cat friend he had been and he passed quietly. I still have difficulty thinking about it. I like the idea of a goodbye ceremony. I have used a mobile vet one time for a treatment. In the future i think i will have one come to my house if I have to do euthanasia. And at some point I am sure I will, I have one now with multiple problems including CKD and a potential of cancer. Too many times in the past I think I have waited too long and went to far with treatment. Advancing age in myself is making me more aware of over doing treatment. i have always been able to hold them while the meds were given and my long time vet usually made the appt. at end of the day so there were fewer people in the waiting room. But the cats always hate going in the car and having someone come to the house is a better approach.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 26, 2018 at 5:43 am (9 months ago)

      I always encourage cat parents to consider in home euthanasia – I believe it is so much less stressful for both cat and human, and it makes a difficult experience more peaceful.

      Reply
  5. Terry
    March 25, 2018 at 4:14 am (9 months ago)

    God bless you and all you did for your loving Hedda. Thank you so very much for sharing. I cried the whole time I was reading your story and am still balling my eyes out. I have 2 cats that are 17 and 15 and even though they are in could health now I dread the moment that I’ll have to make the decision. Reading your story gives me faith that I’ll make the right decision when the time comes. Once again, thank you very much

    Reply
  6. Janet
    March 23, 2018 at 7:28 pm (9 months ago)

    Thank you for sharing this, Sarah. We said goodbye to our beautiful 18 yr old Russian Blue, Katarina two weeks ago. I am so grateful that we were able to find a vet who would come to our home. It was a beautiful day, so she was able to spend the morning outside in the sun and grass, eat tuna and sardines and Fancy Feast; her last hour spent in my lap with me telling her many of the things you told Hedda. I swear I heard a little noise, like a low squeak coming from her when her spirit left. I held her in my lap the rest of the day. It was so difficult to let go physically.
    She was diagnosed with kidney disease 18 months ago, causing a roller coaster of emotions over that time. The good thing about it was being able to consciously spend so much time with her, have time to say goodbye, and to prepare myself as much as possible.
    We have been through this many times (except no others occurred at home), and we will have to go through it many more times. It never is easy, but this was the most comfortable and peaceful. (I don’t know how else to say it. We have had a couple of very traumatic experiences at the vet’s office previously.)
    We are planting a garden for her this weekend.
    How wonderful that those who are going through this very difficult experience has the resources you have provided. Thank you again.

    Reply
  7. Erika T
    March 22, 2018 at 6:32 pm (9 months ago)

    All these touching , loving stories. ❤Thank you all for sharing. My soul kitty was a black kitty Mooglee who I held at home while my vet/boss did it on my bed. 9 years later I still miss him bunches

    Reply
  8. Erika T
    March 22, 2018 at 6:24 pm (9 months ago)

    How beautiful, my heart hurts for you Hedda is a lovely lady. Bless you both & take care I’m sure your book will help many people who are hurting. My sympathies

    Reply
  9. Gabi
    March 21, 2018 at 10:16 pm (9 months ago)

    I was crying with you…it’s very hard.
    My Lilly had heart attack. I took her to the vet and he suggested to let her go. I couldn’t, just couldn’t. I asked him to give her fluids and vitaminB. This was in the morning. She died that evening. She was 19. I loved her so much..I still see her in the house sometimes.
    I haver a news kitty, who is a lover. She is not Lilly, though..

    Reply
    • Sarah
      March 24, 2018 at 8:02 pm (9 months ago)

      I’m sorry for your loss of Lilly, Gabi. I’m glad she visits you. Each relationship is so unique, but none can replace another.

      Reply
  10. Lucy R
    March 21, 2018 at 5:13 pm (9 months ago)

    Thank you Sarah, for sharing with all of us, your final moments with your precious Hedda.
    She was bless to have such a caring and loving Mom, she had a wonderful Life
    and now she new it was time to depart !
    Her memories will always carry you trough. I have been there 5 times . tears come down my eyes every time i think about it. But time will help the pain .
    god bless you

    Reply
  11. Name*
    March 21, 2018 at 4:30 pm (9 months ago)

    Tears. Just tears.

    Reply
    • Gehard Konig
      March 30, 2018 at 8:08 am (9 months ago)

      Yes, tears, sadness, and hurt. We love these little creatures so much, with an intensity and depth, that is so different from how we love the significant humans in our lives, don’t you think. There is really something wrong with illness and death as a necessary part of our existence. Don’t like it….!

      Reply
  12. Lou
    March 21, 2018 at 3:40 pm (9 months ago)

    Shedding tears of recognition reading this. It’s 2.5 years since my own darling Hedda (also a wee black girlie) passed in very similar circumstances, at home, surrounded by love. My soul cat and still much missed, even tho there are now 2 new loved pusses in our home.

    Reply
  13. Debi
    March 21, 2018 at 2:38 pm (9 months ago)

    So sorry for your loss, Sarah, and every other fur parent that has had to face the death of their beloved companion animals. We all eventually must deal with this. I have several times and the pain is almost unbearable. I try to think of the many years of joy these beautiful beings have given us, and all the love they have experienced because of us as well.

    Reply
  14. Silvia
    March 21, 2018 at 2:22 pm (9 months ago)

    Thank you so much for sharing this preparation and ritual….I will pass it on to friends who might be in need of this in the future.
    I wish I had prepared more before I took my cat to the vet( I was trying to stay detached so she would not feel my anguish), and I was so shocked at how quickly the end happened after the injection….my thought was “Oh wait, I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye”
    I then brought her home, laid her on the couch, and spent the day with grieving and endless crying.
    It made me think of the Irish at funerals when there is all this wailing….this is what this felt like.
    I talk to me cats daily and thank them for their presence and healing.

    Reply
    • Sarah
      March 24, 2018 at 8:07 pm (9 months ago)

      Thank you, Silvia. I am incredibly grateful that a couple of people told me ahead of time, “It will happen shockingly fast. Be prepared.” It sounds like you created your own ritual and goodbye (if not exactly your first choice). I can understand not wanting her to feel your anguish.

      Reply
  15. Patti Zentara
    March 21, 2018 at 12:49 pm (9 months ago)

    A touching ending. My last cat, Luvey, stood up after a nap..seemed wobbly, fell over ,and died in an instant. She was 17 and. A beautiful tortie!
    I held her for hours, waiting for her to come back. I thanked her for all she had done
    In my life. I still pass the spot where she had her last nap…and I cry at times, like
    know. I have been through 9 deaths with my cats. None are easy. I have a young
    cat now….I see her napping and I know I will have to face losing her, too.
    Life with no cat is not for me. All are different. Luvey died just over a year ago and
    I miss her still.

    Reply
    • Sarah
      March 24, 2018 at 8:08 pm (9 months ago)

      I’m sorry for your losses, Patti (as I read your comment, I thought about how much love was embodied in those nine relationships). I imagine (and have heard) that sudden loss is much harder, at least for the surviving human.

      Reply
      • Patti Zentara
        June 1, 2018 at 11:48 am (6 months ago)

        Thank you. It was really hard for me and took many months of grief.
        I did get another cat, Sedona, a beautiful Calico and it took me
        over a year to appreciate her.
        I think Sedona sensed that. She was feisty and not friendly.
        However, I learned a lot from Jacjson.
        Sedona has become a cuddlier! And her beauty astounds me.
        I think there is PTCat Disorder for some of us. That sudden loss was
        more than a bummer…it was agony.
        Thanks for your comment,

        Reply
  16. Kitty Mommy
    March 21, 2018 at 11:41 am (9 months ago)

    We had to do this a couple of months ago for our sweet kitty. As part of our ritual, we took off work the last day. We let her hang out in all of the typically “forbidden” spots for a while–like the kitchen counter and top of the tv cabinet–and I swear she knew why, because she had the most self-satisfied look on her face. We gave her her favorite foods–fried chicken and deli ham–which she gobbled with enough glee that we were half-rethinking our decision that it was truly “time” (it was). And we carried her on an extended “patrol” of all the areas of the house–attic, basement–where she normally wasn’t allowed to roam. It was a banner day for her! And while I’m still tearing up to think about it, I have to smile.

    Reply
    • Sarah
      March 24, 2018 at 8:10 pm (9 months ago)

      I smiled when I read this–I hadn’t even thought about “forbidden” spots, but what a great idea! I know what you mean about second-guessing (I experienced the same thing, even though I now trust it happened at the right time).

      Reply
  17. Maggie@shelter-cats
    March 21, 2018 at 10:21 am (9 months ago)

    Thank you for sharing your story, Sarah. I cried reading it, as I’m sure you did writing it, but it’s important to think about that time that we all dread. We can take it to heart and maybe be a little more prepared. It’s difficult to think clearly at the time.

    Reply
  18. Steven Howard
    March 21, 2018 at 10:05 am (9 months ago)

    This was painful to read. I’m just having a hard time…

    Reply
    • Sarah
      March 24, 2018 at 8:11 pm (9 months ago)

      I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, Steven. All of this brings up painful stuff, I know, especially if you’re in the midst of it.

      Reply
  19. Melody
    March 21, 2018 at 9:39 am (9 months ago)

    I’m so sorry for your loss and for Hedda’s loss of you. I truly feel you made the transition for Hedda peaceful and made sure she understood what was happening. I hate to say it like this but I feel this was the right way to do it. It seems like every event was “right” and the way it’s supposed to happen, if you understand what I’m trying to say. There’s always so many gaps in this process that feel left out or forgotten in the midst of the hardship and difficult feelings so I think the way you did it was smooth and every possible item was covered. I dont know how to explain what I mean by this, I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. I say this from my experiences with pets passing. I have always had a very difficult time dealing with the loss of one of my pets. I think it’s because death is so sudden, you have no time to prepare, so emotions and rituals you feel would make it more acceptable to handle aren’t done. I felt at real peace with how you handled this and I’m very grateful that you shared this for I think it will finally help me properly deal with my pets passing. The story calmed me in a way I have never felt before. I will try doing this when my time comes, which might be soon for my beloved cat Sweet Pea. I feel right with the things you did, it seemed like the right way to do it, It felt right. Thank you for sharing. You really helped my heart moving forward! Hedda was a very, very lucky girl to have you!

    Reply
    • Sarah
      March 21, 2018 at 2:31 pm (9 months ago)

      I understand, Melody, and thank you. I hope you have years ahead with Sweet Pea, and whenever the time comes, I hope you have the freedom to take the time to say goodbye. It really did help my heart.

      Reply
  20. Kayleen
    March 21, 2018 at 9:08 am (9 months ago)

    My girl knew I could never make this hard decision… so she simply loved me knowing it was her time… she waited until everything was ‘ in perfect alignment’…ie my depression had lifted..a new job… beautiful sunny day…Leap year… Daddy had finished his temporary job and was home all day so she had plenty of cuddle time with him ( he had been working long hours for previous weeks) … and we came home to her laying on the floor with her beloved brother ( pink and grey Galah) nearby… she was barely breathing… we took her to the vet… and on the way there ( 5 minutes away) I held her and cried and cuddled… I told her over and over again..I love you but if it’s your time to cross over then go to the Rainbow Bridge… she looked straight at me..and purred in a way I have never heard before… the vet took her straight to the room…gave her the injection..but that was more to help ease her without pain… we picked her up and cradled her between us …she crossed with us holding her between us in a big group hug… yes they are awesome animals… your Hedda was a true Angel with Fur

    Reply
  21. Janine
    March 21, 2018 at 8:14 am (9 months ago)

    This is hard to read. I cried just reading it. But it’s great you made Hedda’s final hours the best possible for her.

    Reply
  22. Maria
    March 21, 2018 at 4:13 am (9 months ago)

    So, my tears are rolling againg… Thank you for sharing this with all of us; I too believe that you can actually sense when the soul leaves the body. I also know, that telling you cat-friend that the transision from leaving that old and tired body, into being a free spirit that feels no pain, will help her. Your own sorrow you have to set aside for a while.
    To Nalle, Signe and Jenny – my cats that I held in my arms during their passing (at the vet clinic) – I love you so much and still miss you.
    To Kajsa – the cat I loved more than anything else in the world – I am so sorry I could not be there for you when you left this world. You have the biggest room in my heart.

    Reply
  23. Rachel Woodisse
    March 21, 2018 at 4:10 am (9 months ago)

    I’m writing this with tears in my eyes but what a beautiful passing. So much better if you can be at home.
    The hardest but kindest thing you can do for your cat….
    The euthanasia call line in California I’m guessing was at Brighthaven, which I had the honour of attending for Reiki Training a year ago, special place unfortunately now closed but I believe their advice service is still running. So important to talk about euthanasia and grief. Thank you xx

    Reply
    • Pat Gibson
      March 21, 2018 at 6:14 am (9 months ago)

      Still crying. God bless.

      Reply

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