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).
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.
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.