Yochabel’s Wisdom: The Last Day

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

keepsake-box

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. 

25 Comments on Yochabel’s Wisdom: The Last Day

  1. Jackie Pasquini
    October 6, 2019 at 6:26 pm (1 week ago)

    I read and re-read this last part of Yours and Yochabel’s story and bawled my eyes pout…but what a life and an amazing bond you two had together and she took so much love with her to the Bridge and is always watching over you. Thank you so much for sharing yours and Yochabel’s beautiful story xoxox

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 7, 2019 at 2:25 pm (1 week ago)

      Jackie, thank you for reading Yochabel’s story. I feel so blessed to be able to keep her memory alive through writing and in my own heart. We all have such incredible bonds with our pet companions.

      Reply
  2. Sarah Chauncey
    October 6, 2019 at 2:59 pm (1 week ago)

    Casey, this is beautiful (and I relate so much… “SCHEDULE?!”). When I was going through this, I desperately wanted a post like this, one where I could see the person’s inner decision-making process. I’m so grateful you shared this.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 7, 2019 at 2:27 pm (1 week ago)

      Sarah, thank you. I have so much respect for you and your work! It truly inspires me in more ways than I can write in this post. THANK YOU for sharing your stories with all of us.

      Reply
  3. Carol
    October 5, 2019 at 1:57 pm (2 weeks ago)

    This series of posts has been difficult to read but also helpful. My beautiful Ellie Mae was diagnosed with injection site sarcoma at the end of April. After a great deal of research I made the difficult decision to not subject her to amputation, radiation and chemo. This particular cancer has a poor prognosis, even with aggressive treatment so for Ellie I chose quality over quantity for her remaining days. I also promised her I would not let her suffer, so that left me with the very difficult task of determining when to help her leave this life. I didn’t want to do it too soon or too late. Her condition deteriorated very quickly. Well meaning friends would say that maybe she would improve but the truth was that she was going to get worse, not better. My plan was to have in home euthanasia, but her vet’s office said that it had to be scheduled a few days in advance so that they could clear that vet’s schedule. I understand that, but it left me struggling with what to do. Several times I thought the time had come and then she would seem a bit better. Ultimately I did end up taking her into the vet’s office but Ellie surprised me by being completely silent on the drive in, the only time that ever happened. I think she was ready. Although saying goodbye is never easy, her vet was very kind and did all they could to make her passing as peaceful as possible. Eight weeks after her diagnosis and two months shy of her fourth birthday she was gone. I had originally intended to scatter her ashes in the backyard, where she liked to watch the birds, squirrels, rabbits and ducks, but I found I could not let go of her. Her ashes are in a copper, sleeping cat with Angel wings that is next to one of my favorite photos of her on my bedside table. Thank you for sharing your journey with Yochabel. It helps to remember that I am not the only one to experience this loss.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 7, 2019 at 2:31 pm (1 week ago)

      Dear Carol, thank you for sharing YOUR story. We are all gifted with these amazing bonds which make it so hard to let go. You took such beautiful steps to help your Ellie Mae each step of the way. The love is obvious.

      Reply
  4. Gabi
    October 4, 2019 at 9:57 pm (2 weeks ago)

    Thank you, Casey.I wish i could post her picture, she looked very much like your kitty-
    We got a little tabby, because my other cat was lonely. She us sweet and lobing and happy and loves my old boy.
    Life goes on. Lilly is forever in my heart.

    Reply
  5. Gabi
    October 3, 2019 at 1:38 pm (2 weeks ago)

    You have me crying, actually sobbing loudly.
    My cat Lilly who left us 2 yrs ago, looked like your kitty. She was 19 yrs old. We got her at 5 weeks old. She was ill the last 4 yrs, Hyperthyroidism. We used the topical gel in her ears twice a day. At the regular time, she would show up and remind me about her medication. She was my friend and my love. I knew she was not well, but i was hopping God let me have her a little longer. Her fur was matted and i called the groomet who came to the house. She did’t like it, she fought us and she had a heart attack . I took her to the vet the next morning who suggested to let her go. I just couldn’t. She died that evening in my arms. She was creamated and we have it in the house, next to her picture. I loved her do much.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 3, 2019 at 3:27 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Gabi, I am sorry for your loss. You had such a long amazing life with Lilly. It is so special to see a fur baby through so many life stages, kitten, through senior.

      Reply
  6. Michael Almon
    October 2, 2019 at 8:26 pm (2 weeks ago)

    My heart is weeping after reading this! I’m still grieving having had to put down my beloved Samson (18 year old long haired tabby) seven months ago. We still have his beautiful brother Sydney and eight year old Sophie who are beautiful cats as well. But Samson was my best friend and loved me as I loved him. We got Dam through a couple of bad maladies through his life and I tried so hard to keep him going at the last when we found out he was dying of kidney disease. I had a moment similar to yours with Yochabel when Sam came over to me on the bed and just stared right into my eyes and I KNEW it was time to let him go! I had actually kept him alive about two weeks too long and he was suffering but I didn’t want to lose him. That stare in my eyes told me what I had been studiously avoiding… Samson’s time was up. I’ve been an absolute mess since his passing but his brother Sydney and Sophie have tried to fill the gap and they are so beautiful! I’m having trouble facing the future with Sydney as he’s pushing nineteen years now and has been such a beautiful member of our family. Oh the attachments we make and so so hard to let go of. Our little girl Sophie was thrown out of a car window in a bag with four other kittens. The driver was probably hoping a car would finish them off but the driver behind stopped and retrieved the kittens and we got her when she was eight weeks old. Samson trained her very well and they were best friends for seven and a half years. Cats are sooooo beautiful!

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 3, 2019 at 3:29 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Michael, what an inspiring story. Thank you for being a rescuer. It sounds like you both rescued each other, which has been the case for so many of us. You are right, we bond so deeply, and to know this type of love is really one of the greatest gifts we can ever ask for. My heart is full knowing you have given and received this.

      Reply
    • DENNIS J MORAN
      October 3, 2019 at 5:54 pm (2 weeks ago)

      MIKE I RESCUED MY ORIGINAL 4 CATS EACH AT A DIFFERENT TIME. AND AS EACH OF MY BABIES PASSED I HAVE HELPED ANOTHER. ITS BEEN OVER THIRTY YEARS. OF JOY AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. EACH IN THEIR OWN UNIQUE WAY. IT WILL NEVER GET EASY. THE LONGER YOU HAVE THEM.THE MORE YOU LOVE THEM. THE MORE IT HURTS. THE ONLY RELIEF I HAVE IS GETTING ANOTHER. AND WATCHING THEIR JOY OF LIFE. BEING 62 NOW I ONLY WANT SENIOR CATS NOW. 3 OF MY CATS HAVE PASSED IN 3 YEARS. I HAVE GOTTEN A 14 AND A 16 YEAR OLD TO GO ALONG WITH THE 15 YEAR OLD I ALREADY HAVE. AND I WILL GET ANOTHER. AND THAT GIVES ME PEACE.

      Reply
      • Y
        October 3, 2019 at 11:04 pm (2 weeks ago)

        Thank you Dennis et al! I’m 67 in a few days and I’ve grown up with cats as my dad loved them too!
        I’ve always… in general… loved cats, but upon getting Samson and Sydney almost nineteen years ago I fell head over heels in love with these guys especially Samson. My wife and I went through a nine year legal battle against Canada Post for being assaulted in the workplace by a violent worker. Long story short it took nine years of our life and 14 appeals to beat them and since the victory in 2010 I’ve suffered two heart attacks WITH Cardiac Arrest and both of us have have severe PTSD and anxiety disorders all caused by the unremitting stress in losing our home because our paychecks were cut off for months during the fight. Our only comfort was our beautiful cats and Ann told me after my second heart attack I was in the hospital for eight days and Samson lay everyday by the door waiting/wondering??? when I would be coming through the door back home. He was quite simply just an amazing creature and many people remarked that it was obvious that he cared an awful lot for me which was putting it mildly!
        We’ve had eight cats through our forty year marriage and through that time I have fell head over heels in love with these beautiful creatures. They are so incredible in so many ways but who would think (in the non cat world) that they could be so caring and companionable and help so much in reducing anxiety and PTSD. So our (my) loss is so intense it’s just mind numbing to me. I’ve devoted my attention to his brother more than I used to as Sam was the greeter to everyone and was so incredibly sociable whereas Sydney who had a terrible bronchial problem when growing up coughed so much when he got excited he was defenceless so he kind of moved himself out of the way and became less sociable. We discovered that the store bought food was causing this problem and so I have been making their food from Tuna, chicken, good raw food and all their supplements and Sydney stopped all his coughing which was fantastic. Sam and Syd were big cats weighing in at about 15 pounds in their hey day and Sophie is only petite at 8 pounds. When we rescued Sophie she and Sam immediately hit it off and were the very best of friends and brother and sister for seven years until Sam got really sick. I still beat myself up for holding on to him so long hoping I could bring him through his illness but it wasn’t to be. Sophie in her own way has taken over Sam’s role as comforter for my PTSD and Anxiety and I love her so much. She is so small and short hair so there’s not near as much to hug and I don’t know whether it was her traumatic beginning in life (thrown out of the car in a bag with four other kittens on the highway) but she rarely purrs and when she does it’s just detectable if she lying on me. Beautiful but I wish she was a lot bigger and long haired so I could really mickle onto her. We’ve thought about getting another rescue as Sydney is too old now to get in the game with Sophie’s antics but I just don’t know if I can handle another “ending of life” as the last three have left me beaten up especially Sam’s death. I love hearing about you other cat lovers as most people we know have little use for them or understand them as we do. They are every bit our family as our 39 year old son is and they never are mean to us, never tell us off, never argue they just love us as we love them. Wish I could leave some pictures just to show them off. Once again Dennis… thank you and God bless you for what you do in taking the older cats in to give them a home for their final days! You are such a blessing to these dear creatures.
        Sincerely,
        Mike

        Reply
        • DENNIS MORAN
          October 4, 2019 at 7:15 am (2 weeks ago)

          THANK YOU MIKE. I HOPE YOU CAN MOVE ON. ALL YOU CAN DO NOW IS LOVE SYDNEY AND SOPHIE EVERY SECOND . AND REST IN PEACE TO BELOVED SAMSON. REMEMBER HE WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU AT THE DOOR WHEN ITS YOUR TIME.

          Reply
          • Michael Almon
            October 4, 2019 at 6:49 pm (2 weeks ago)

            Thank you Dennis. Yes I totally agree but still miss him terribly.

  7. Lucy
    October 2, 2019 at 1:50 pm (2 weeks ago)

    What a beautiful live they had together. so much love, compassion, and kindness. so very touching. i’m in tears. Happy tears thought for the long and happy live they both had. Beautiful memories that will live for ever.
    Peace be to Mom. Yochabel is in Sweet Heaven.!!! but will be very much miss here on Earth.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 3, 2019 at 3:31 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Lucy, thank you for your happy tears.

      Reply
  8. Allison Hunter-Frederick
    October 2, 2019 at 12:08 pm (2 weeks ago)

    My last day with my Lucy was similar to this. She had a healthy day and we enjoyed our time together. The next morning she passed in my arms.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 3, 2019 at 4:44 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Allison, thanks for sharing your memories of dear Lucy. So beautiful, her passing in your arms.

      Reply
  9. DENNIS MORAN
    October 2, 2019 at 11:45 am (2 weeks ago)

    YOUR STORY BROKE MY HEART.GOD BLESS AND RIP YOCHABEL

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 3, 2019 at 4:46 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Dennis, thank you for your blessings.

      Reply
  10. Deborah O'Connor
    October 2, 2019 at 11:32 am (2 weeks ago)

    Crying my eyes out because I miss my sweet soul kitty so much. Yet somehow this series has made me feel better about letting my precious baby go. I did everything in my power to give her the best life right until the end. My heart is broken, but the joy she brought into my life for over 20 years was wonderful. The intense grief is the price that has to be paid.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      October 3, 2019 at 4:49 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Deborah, thank you for reading Yochabel’s Wisdom. I am honored this series gave you some comfort. I agree, the unconditional love and joy is priceless.

      Reply
  11. Janine
    October 2, 2019 at 7:33 am (2 weeks ago)

    This is so hard to read. I was tearing up reading it. Yochabel was loved so much and I know missed more than anything.

    Reply

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