Guest post by Casey Hersch
This is the seventh in a series of posts by Casey Hersch. Casey discusses the many lessons she learned about caring for Yochabel during her illness, including her quest to stop Yochabel’s cancer from growing and spreading, barriers present with senior cats, variations in diet including supplements and herbs, and how to focus on the individual cat’s needs. Yochabel was not only Casey’s feline companion. She left Casey with ways to cope with her own illness, and with a greater sense of acceptance and gratitude.
Loving and Letting Go
Several months had passed since Yochabel was diagnosed with a bladder tumor. We had courageously and lovingly faced this tumor together, pleading with it to give us more time and limit its destruction. But Yochabel’s time with me in this physical existence was coming to an end.
The tumor was committing the ultimate crime: It was stealing JOY from Yochabel’s once joyful and blissful existence. This was a message to me that I had to prepare myself to commit the ultimate act of love and sacrifice: Loving and Letting Go.
Yochabel and I had a ritual which started our days. I bent down on my knees and she leaned her head towards mine. Resting our foreheads on each other’s, we gazed into each other’s eyes. As her eyes locked with mine, I said,
“I love you so much I want to keep you forever. There is SOOO MUCH LOVE.”
In these quiet and tender exchanges, I could sense what she wanted me to know and understand. I could feel her love and trust in return.
On this particular morning, as we welcomed each other, I stayed pressed against her forehead longer than usual.
“Please Yochabel, help me know when it is time for me to help you leave your body. I love you so much. I know I have to let you go. I don’t want to. I need a sign from you when you are ready.”
Interrupted by Yochabel’s need to use the litter box, our ritual ended. Normally a quiet cat, when she returned to me, she let out an assertive “Meow.” It was as though she was saying to me,
“Mama, we need to get ready. The time is near.”
Making Friends with Death
I hadn’t made friends with death. I know some people have. My friend, a hospice social worker, has made friends with it hundreds of times. But despite my spiritual foundation, I was afraid and uneasy. I wanted Yochabel’s death to be peaceful. When the time came, I needed to know who to call and how to walk through this unfamiliar door. The last thing I wanted was for Yochabel to need me to take initiative only to be frozen by my fears. Yochabel had comforted me hundreds of times, and this was a time I needed to be fully present to comfort her.
So I coped the “Casey way:” I made a plan. I collected names and numbers of local vets who perform in-home euthanasia. I inquired about their bed-side manner and rapport. After all, we needed the right fit to see us through this sensitive phase of life. I also needed to gain comfort with after death arrangements. We chose cremation.
Call after call, I was directed to a website with the same repetitive script:
“Mrs. Hersch, you can schedule your euthanasia appointment on the online calendar,” the office attendant said.
“Schedule a date and time for Yochabel to die?!!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, Mrs. Hersch, our schedules are very full, and we are unable to perform same day services.”
Despite my need to have a plan, the last thing I wanted was to have a plan for WHEN Yochabel would die. Death shouldn’t fit into a calendar, the way we try to jam so many parts of our lives into one. The idea of scheduling euthanasia for a Tuesday at 5pm turned my stomach. I imagined each day between now and then, consumed with anticipation of the dreaded day.
When I called cremation services, they said the same thing. How, I thought, can I schedule cremation when I don’t know when she is going to die? Without a schedule for cremation services, I faced not having a place for her body following the euthanasia.
There was no way I could plan her death. It did not feel right. When the time came, I wanted to make the decision in the moment. I didn’t want to feel rushed to help her die, and I didn’t want to anticipate her day of death.
I concluded I could not have a plan. I was going to have to take it moment by moment. By trusting the greater process of life, everything would fall into place in its perfect, natural order.
While mentally walking through the doors towards Yochabel’s euthanasia may have helped me face reality, in many ways it was insignificant. It was impossible for me to anticipate what I would feel or need when the moment came for Yochabel to leave. What I didn’t realize was when the day arrived, it would be deeper, more meaningful, and spiritually richer than I could ever imagine. Death, a very natural part of life, would bring its own solution.
The Perfect Plan: Natural Order
It was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. I felt Yochabel was ready and needed me to help her leave her suffering body. It was my intuition—a deep feeling inside of me—that told me this was true. Faced with a three day weekend, the timing was awful. Many clinics were closed. I tried to talk myself out of my intuition: let’s wait until Tuesday. But I had a nagging gut feeling that planning Yochabel’s death around a three day weekend was also not honoring what was happening in the present.
As I pondered my options, I heard this voice inside my head that kept saying, “Hurry up, you don’t have time to waste on these details. If this is Yochabel’s last day, you need to spend every second with her. The clock is ticking. The final goodbye will be here before you know it.”
“Tick Tock Tick Tock.” I laid down on my bed and closed my eyes, trying to get the truth out of my head. Panicked and flushed, I opened my eyes, knowing that this time tomorrow Yochabel would be in heaven, and our lives would no longer be the same.
Suddenly, I had a thought. I called Yochabel’s in-home veterinarian. Even though I thought she would be out of town, she answered the phone.
“Casey, I promised you I would see Yochabel through her life however I am needed. If you need me to euthanize, I can do it tonight.”
Until this moment, I had forgotten about our dear veterinarian, Christine Haas. From day one, she had dedicated hundreds of hours to providing in-home compassionate care for Yochabel. And in this moment, right when we needed help, it was perfectly arranged. The best person on the planet to be with us through a sacred and enduring goodbye had shown up, someone who both Yochabel and I loved and trusted.
The Last Day
It was a beautiful last day. I was able to arrange euthanasia the moment we needed it. It was a natural process. Yochabel and I both felt it and knew it. The timing was ours, not someone else’s schedule. Everything was in its perfect natural order.
Savoring every moment with Yochabel, I camped out next to her with a photo album. As she layed by my side, I cradled her and showed her pictures of our time together.
“See Yochabel, this is when Dad made you the Santa outfit, my favorite. And here is the picture of you after your first bath. Sheesh those fleas were bad! But you were so cute after a blow dry.” As I cried and rained puddles onto her head, she purred and rested contendedly. This was our sacred space.
“Yochabel,” I said, “you have changed my life and I promise your wisdom will live on.”
I abandoned all diets and protocols and arranged a smorgasbord of meals for Yochabel to indulge in. She ate to her heart’s content. As she devoured the last shreds of home cooked rabbit, I smiled, grateful that up until an hour before euthanasia, she could experience and enjoy her passion: FOOD.
Just minutes before Dr. Haas arrived, another miracle happened. Yochabel, barely mobile, went to her litter box, and instead of taking the short-cut and plopping back onto her bed alongside me, she took a different route. With determined eyes and even a little bit of pep I hadn’t seen in weeks, she walked around me and plopped down right in front of my face. She was so close to me that I didn’t have to move my head. I was already forehead to forehead, eye to eye, with her. She stared deeply and intently into my eyes for long minutes. It was similar to our ritual, yet so different. This was intentional and purposeful. As she looked into my eyes, I could see her age more clearly, her eyes showed the wisdom she possessed, but also a new wisdom she was about to know—crossing over the rainbow bridge. I heard her whisper,
“Mom, it’s ok. You gave me the best life. It is time and we both know it. We have SOOOOO much love.”
Yochabel passed away peacefully and surrounded by those who love her most. Her body was laid to rest with dignity in a beautiful box adorned with my husband’s art. We captured all that is truly joyful about my fluff ball of love and goodness.
Stay Tuned for Part Eight
Yochabel’s Wisdom: Living with Loss
Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker, author, and founder of http://www.lightyoursparkle.life. She specializes in chronic illness and ways to empower others to be an expert on their own bodies. Pet companionship, and in her case, her cat friends, have been at the heart of her own healing. She is passionate about integrative treatment models for humans and pets.