Yochabel’s Wisdom: Living with Loss

yochabel-wisdom-casey-hersch

Guest post by Casey Hersch

This is the last in a series of eight 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.

We are stronger than we think

Sometimes we don’t realize how much strength we have until we are thrust into one of life’s challenges. If someone had asked me a year ago what I would do if Yochabel had a terminal condition, I never would have believed I had the inner resiliency to endure it.

I knew she was a senior and I couldn’t have her forever. To brace myself for the impermanence of life, I imagined what I would do without her. My reaction was always the same.

I couldn’t imagine my life without her. It was even hard to imagine my life before she arrived. She made such a difference. I never wanted to go back to what life was like before her.

But, POOF, just like that, I was hit with a hard dose of reality.

Yochabel was gone.

And BAM, another reality check: I had endured dealing with her bladder tumor while caring for both of us. I was stronger than I thought. We all are.

woman-cat-heart-connection

Feeling hurt and relieved at the same time

After Yochabel was euthanized, for a brief moment, I felt a surge of relief revive my tired body. All the stress, worry, and carrying of our pain lifted. Yochabel was safe and no longer in any discomfort. I felt sure that I had done what was best for her.

But the relief that Yochabel was no longer a prisoner in her own body was quickly replaced with a tremendous void in mine. Lying on the bed, I sobbed and gasped for air as the reality that she was gone penetrated my consciousness. I begged for my imagination to take me out of this pain and to bring me back to our cozy snuggles and a life that seemed so perfect. But I couldn’t turn back time and bring her back.

My only choice was to accept reality and find a way to move forward.

As I started to lift myself off the bed, the thought of walking down the hallway without her clip clop behind me froze my body in position. The silence in my house without her was terrifying. I am an only child. I am used to silence. But this silence jarred my senses. I was immobilized by the emptiness.

Sobbing so hard my eyes felt like they would melt out of my head, I soothed myself by drawing attention to our last day and the many gifts she gave me. I focused on her wisdom and the lessons she taught me. I thought about what she would want me to do.

What would Yochabel want me to do RIGHT NOW?

She would want me to live my life and to live it with joy.

She embodied joy and gratitude. I was not showing my gratitude for her sacrifices, loyalty, and love by locking myself in my bedroom unable to walk through a door in my own house and back into my life.

So, step by step, holding her pink fuzzy blanket tight to my chest, I slowly walked down the hallway. As I came around the corner and passed her room, I turned my head away. I couldn’t bear the emptiness. I looked at the smiling cats with princess tiaras sewn on her blanket I carried, and I smiled because she loved her princess blanket and so did I.

Keep memories alive and find meaning

I held onto her blanket like a lifeline. It comforted me  the same way a child is comforted by a snuggie.

I surrounded my home with favorite pictures of her. I shared stories about her with anyone who would listen.  One of the best ways to cope with loss is to keep the memory alive. Looking at pictures, telling stories, and reliving the memories is very healing. Sometimes I shared the same story over and over and as I laughed, cried, and reminisced, slowly but surely, I started to accept she was gone. I started to accept that her memory was still with me and always would be.

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Yochabel had no choice; she had to leave her body. While neither of us wanted this, by not accepting this reality, I was punishing both of us for something neither of us could control. I found peace when I realized that the best way I could honor our relationship was to continue living my life. I lived in honor of her.

Unable to sleep for many nights after she left, I thought about the many lessons Yochabel taught me about living AND dying. It was during one of these nights that I realized the ultimate way to honor her was to share her wisdom with others. This was the beginning of the Yochabel’s Wisdom series on The Conscious Cat. Writing became an outlet for me to heal, to remember, and to keep Yochabel’s memory alive for the greater good.

With every loss comes a gift. Our challenge as humans is to look closely for these gifts and to find ways to turn a loss into something beautiful and meaningful.

Grieve at your own pace and be gentle with yourself

Several months passed. I cannot count how many times people asked me when I was going to get rid of her designated space in my house.

My answer every time was “when I am ready. I don’t have a plan or a timeline.”

Even though I had cleaned Yochabel Beach (her litter box), I couldn’t remove it. Seeing it out of the corner of my eye comforted me. Her beds, washed and tidy, remained in their spots. I even changed the blankets as I did when she was alive. Seeing her silly, fun, handmade blankets comforted me.

It didn’t matter to me if people might judge me as holding on too long by not clearing out Yochabel’s room. I had my own process, and I honored it on my own terms. I found comfort in ways that only I could. I had to allow myself to be me and heal at my own pace.

yochabel-grey-tabby

The Kubler-Ross model, also known as the 5 stages of grief, describes a normal, yet individual process of grief:

  • Denial: This cannot be true, it never happened.
  • Anger: Why me? How could this happen?
  • Bargaining: If I did this… then…
  • Depression: Sadness, isolation.
  • Acceptance: It is going to be ok.

This process does not start at denial and end at acceptance. It ebbs and flows. It is normal to have denial, anger, depression, denial, and some bargaining here and there. Others might have days of acceptance and then days when they are more vulnerable, returning to anger and bargaining. There is no timeline for these stages. What matters is that healing is taking place, and bit by bit there is a shift toward acceptance, and being able to live with loss.

The healing power of those who understand

My greatest healing came not only from the things I did on my own terms to remember and honor Yochabel, but also from the gestures made by others around me.

Living with loss can be a way to grow closer to other people who can surprise us with their kindness and understanding. There is nothing more healing than feeling understood. When others honor your loss of a pet companion, it helps your healing process.

Days after Yochabel passed, I got a call from Dr Haas, Yochabel’s in home veterinarian. She said she had something for me. I hadn’t seen Dr Haas since the night we said goodbye to Yochabel. I knew seeing her would be both wonderful and hard.

As we made our way toward each other, tears started to flow from both of our eyes. Our bond was solidified through Yochabel. Perhaps I would have never met this wonderful woman had it not been for Yochabel. She handed me a package. To my surprise it was the most beautiful art piece of Yochabel. Weeks before Yochabel passed, Dr Haas began working with the artist to have this custom made. “I knew Yochabel’s time was soon,” she said, “and I wanted to honor her in the best way I knew how.” This art piece sits in a central location in my home. It is a daily reminder that I don’t have to see Yochabel to know I have an angel watching over me.

cat-angel-art

Even weeks later, just when I thought no one other than me wanted to hear about Yochabel one more time, I received another package in the mail. It came from a woman I had known since birth, but who had not known Yochabel. I opened the package and tears streamed down my face. It was a perfect image of Yochabel, painted on a rock. Holding this rock in my hand, I felt like Yochabel’s eyes were looking at me. (Editor’s note: the painted rocks are available on Etsy*.)

cat-rock-painting

I had no idea that this woman understood just how much Yochabel meant to me. It comforted me to take my Yochabel rock room to room. When I combed my hair in the morning, it was on the bathroom vanity; when I cooked dinner, it was on the counter. At night, it sat on my nightstand. But more than the gift itself, was the feeling I got when a dear person in my life said, “I know you are hurting. I am here for you. I get it.” This made all the difference in living with loss.

What I learned from all of you

As the Yochabel Wisdom series comes to a close, I thank all of you who have been there, reading and honoring Yochabel and our bond. I am at peace knowing her wisdom will live on. Each one of our pet companions lives on in their own significant ways. It is the smallest gestures – a comment on a blog or on social media, a card, or a smile – that help all of us live with loss. But at the end of the day, the greatest thing we can all do is to breathe in and let all the love we have received from our beloved pet companions fill us up. Then when we allow this love to expand us, we know that living with loss is about loving ourselves and each other. This, my friends, is what all of you and your pet companions have taught me.

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. 

*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in Etsy’s affiliate program. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links,
we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

32 Comments on Yochabel’s Wisdom: Living with Loss

  1. Silvia Shanahan
    November 15, 2019 at 6:24 pm (5 days ago)

    I came across this from one of my favorite authors and I find it so comforting in times of loss:
    From John O”Donohue’s book “Eternal Echoes” about loved ones departing.
    From his chapter on Absence:

    Everyone who leaves your life opens a subtle trail of loss that still connects you with that being.. When you think of them, miss them, and want to be with them, your heart journeys out along that trail to where they now are.

    There are whole regions of absence in every life. Losing a friend is the most frequent experience of absence. When you open yourself to friendship, you create a unique and warm space between you. The tone and shape of this space is something you share with no one else. Your friend struck a note in the chamber of your heart that no one else could reach.

    The departure of the friend leaves this space sore with loss, some innocence within you is unwilling or unable to accept that one you gathered so close is now gone. It is the longing for the departed that makes the absence acute. Absence haunts you and makes your belonging sore.

    Reply
  2. Jackie Pasquini
    November 11, 2019 at 6:29 pm (1 week ago)

    I truly loved reading about you and Yochabel’s life together and dealing with your illnesses. It really hit home when you talked about inner strength that you didn’t know you had and I totally understood how you were feeling after Yochabel went to the Bridge….meaning holding her blanket, leaving the litter box etc. It reminds me of when my Clark left for the Bridge. I made an entire memorial to him and to this day I even have his medical reports and bills. I can’t toss anything of his. I get that writing helped and so glad you shared yours and Yochabels story. Clark…with my help writes updates from the Bridge and it helps me like it does you writing the Yochabel Wisdom Series. You both were so good for each other xoxox

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 11, 2019 at 7:28 pm (1 week ago)

      Jackie, thank you for your kind words. I really believe our cats choose us and give us exactly what we need at the moment. Yochabel was the perfect match for me in so many ways. I know, in the future, there will be other matches, different, yet special.

      Reply
  3. Cindy Collins
    November 8, 2019 at 4:20 pm (2 weeks ago)

    This series of posts concerning losing a pet hit home with me. I lost a beloved kitty very suddenly two years ago and haven’t yet fully processed his loss. His sister is still with me and she is now 16 years old and not in the best of health. I’m very aware that my time with her is limited and I’m trying to prepare myself for the day when I will have to say “Goodbye” to her. Your sensitive and caring expression of your experience has really helped me acknowledge that as loving pet parents, this is the most painful part of our story. But would I trade a moment of the love and warmth and humor from my furry friends? Not for a minute. Thank you Casey for giving me strength and permission to work through this in my own way.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 9, 2019 at 12:17 am (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Cindy, thanks for writing. I am sad you are facing the inevitable, more loss. Please hold on to the love and warmth because this never goes away, it just changes. We are all who we are because of this love we give and receive. My thoughts are with you. Casey

      Reply
  4. Debi
    November 6, 2019 at 11:42 pm (2 weeks ago)

    After my beloved husband passed 11 years ago, I was given a card with these words:
    “Weeping and aching, I longed to honor your passing. I longed to honor your life. Searching everywhere, I found only one answer. Honor myself. Become all that I am, and carry you inside that beauty.”
    When my soul kitty passed recently in June, these words helped me again to deal with my grief. Hoping they may help others as well.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 12:00 am (2 weeks ago)

      Debi, I absolutely love the quote. I will keep it in a safe place. Thank you for sharing it in honor of your husband AND your soul kitty. Simply beautiful.

      Reply
  5. Andrea
    November 6, 2019 at 10:06 pm (2 weeks ago)

    You are so right, there is no timeline for grieving. We must take the time we need and be gentle with ourselves.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 12:18 am (2 weeks ago)

      Andrea, absolutely! When we go at our own, natural pace, it feels so much better.

      Reply
  6. Eleanor Skibo
    November 6, 2019 at 8:18 pm (2 weeks ago)

    Casey Hersch, you did a remarkable job with
    Yochabel and telling the story of both of your lives as both of you traveled the road of illness, living, loving, and eventually separation from your companion, Yochabel.
    Now, Yochabel is free from pain and will move into a brighter light where the sun shines all the time, trees and flowers dance and sing and all G d’s creatures are at peace with everything. Take care of yourself, Casey and remember her presence both here own earth and the spirit she’ll share with you now.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:01 am (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Eleanor, thank you. It really means a lot. Thank you for sharing in the Yochabel’s Wisdom journey from day one!

      Reply
  7. Tracy Steen
    November 6, 2019 at 5:00 pm (2 weeks ago)

    Thank you so much for writing about your beautiful baby. My heart truly goes out to you. I’ve felt all of the same things when losing my babies, and to read your story made me feel validated like someone else really gets what losing a pet is like. You’ve also inspired me to finally do something I’ve wanted to do for years-to write about my own sweet angels.

    Much love and gratitude,
    Tracy

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:20 am (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Tracy, I am so happy Yochabel’s Wisdom helped you in some way. I am thrilled to hear that you are inspired to write about your angels. I have no doubt the writing process will bring many gifts and surprises. Happy writing and continuing to honor your special angels.

      Reply
  8. lucy
    November 6, 2019 at 1:13 pm (2 weeks ago)

    My heart breaks for you. i have been there many times. When time is right, it will be a reward to rescue another kitty that is homeless, and give her a beautiful Home . Yochabel will be happy knowing mom is not alone. and also a tribute to Yochabel. Thank you for sharing your happiness and Sadness with us. She is in Heaven and looking down at mom with love. God will blessed you and keep you in his care.

    Reply
    • Robin L. Waters
      November 6, 2019 at 3:17 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Casey, know your articulate heart-filled words go out to others like a healing salve. Please think of us to tell more about your future lessons learned from pet caring. I have been so moved by what you’ve gone through, those universal emotions that all who have loved and grieved have experienced.
      Blessings to you on your journey, wherever that takes you. I shall share this post.

      Reply
      • Stephanie Brodersen
        November 6, 2019 at 9:33 pm (2 weeks ago)

        Thank you!

        Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:22 am (2 weeks ago)

      Lucy, thank you. I do plan to have another kitty in my life. I believe they find us when we need them the most; the perfect match to help us grow and love. My heart is open to what will come my way.

      Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 2:47 am (2 weeks ago)

      Robin, thank you for your support. I love how you developed a fictional character, Rosie, in your latest book, Beaming Up Rosie, who experiences the ups and downs of life and loss but draws strength and connection from her many cat companions.

      Reply
  9. Maria T
    November 6, 2019 at 12:32 pm (2 weeks ago)

    All these posts – Yochabel’s Wisdom – had helped me a lot, still suffering from the loss of my beloved Kajsa (another longhaired Tortie), and I will read them again when I need to be reassured she is in a better place now. I can feel her presence, and I know she is watching over me. The “steam punk” style piece of art of Yoachabel is just amazing, I would love to learn if the artist works for commission.
    Stronger, I am, but not always.
    With love, Maria

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 9, 2019 at 6:13 am (2 weeks ago)

      Maria, my heart still breaks for you every time I think about your sweet Kajsa. Hugs to you!

      You can contact the artist, Dr. Anjali Daryany, at doctordaryani@gmail.com.

      Reply
      • Maria T
        November 10, 2019 at 5:00 am (1 week ago)

        Sending a big hug and comforting thoughts back to you, Ingrid.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          November 10, 2019 at 6:31 am (1 week ago)

          Thanks, Maria!

          Reply
  10. DENNIS MORAN
    November 6, 2019 at 11:29 am (2 weeks ago)

    SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS. BUT PLEASE HONOR YOCHABELS MEMORY. BY ADOPTING A SENIOR CAT. TO GIVE A BEAUTIFUL LOVING HOME TO A CAT WHO MAY NOT HAVE A LOT OF YEARS LEFT. I JUST ADOPTED A 15 AND A 16 YEAR OLD. AFTER TWO OF MINE HAD PASSED. AS MUCH AS MY HEART STILL HURTS. THE REWARD I HAVE NOW IS SO UPLIFTING. GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:29 am (2 weeks ago)

      Dennis, I remember you are very loyal to seniors. Thank you for taking care of our senior cats. I will open my home to a lovely cat in the future. I agree, giving our love to others makes it all worth it.

      Reply
  11. Gabi
    November 6, 2019 at 11:02 am (2 weeks ago)

    My heart aches for you. My Lilly looked exactly like Yochabel.
    I hope they are playing together, on the other side.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:30 am (2 weeks ago)

      Gabi, I agree. I am sure Lilly and Yochabel are looking in the mirror and comparing eye colors! Makes me smile.

      Reply
  12. Jenny
    November 6, 2019 at 10:04 am (2 weeks ago)

    Thank you so much for your series. I was caring for my beloved Nita during this time as she valiantly fought jawbone cancer. Your words — your insights — helped me as I faced the inevitable.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:33 am (2 weeks ago)

      Jenny, I am sorry for what you and Nita went through. It feels bitter sweet to know Yochabel’s Wisdom helped you with a very difficult phase. I loved writing this series and getting to hear so many of your stories. It lifted me incredibly.

      Reply
  13. Janine
    November 6, 2019 at 8:29 am (2 weeks ago)

    I still struggle with the loss of Nani and Pono, but reading your posts do seem to help me put things in a different perspective. Our cats are gifts to us for only a short while and we need to cherish every second we have with them. Only those who have had the love of a pet like we have will understand. My in-laws do not understand. We missed my husband’s brother’s wedding because Pono was so sick and his family has not forgiven us for it either. But if we had to do it all over again, we would do what we did, stay home with our boy and give him the comfort he needed at the time. Thank you for all of your posts about Yochabel. I know how hard it was for you to write them. I could hear the heartbreak in every post.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:35 am (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Janine, I am glad I could offer some perspective. It was hard to write this series, but I knew I needed to do it for Yochabel and for others who struggle just as I did. Well done, honoring what is most important to you. It isn’t always easy, but I am happy to hear you are at peace with your decisions regarding your beloved Pono.

      Reply
  14. Connie Fischer
    November 6, 2019 at 8:23 am (2 weeks ago)

    I woke up this morning thinking of Yochabel. I don’t know why. Then, here is this article from her Mom. My heart breaks for you, my dear. Losing our precious fur babies is definitely as hard as losing a human loved one. I have been through this and know that it takes time. You may not want to hear this, but I honestly think that rescuing another fur baby that needs your immense amount of love would be a loving tribute to Yochabel. Bless you, my dear.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      November 7, 2019 at 1:38 am (2 weeks ago)

      Dear Connie, WOW! It makes me smile knowing you were thinking about Yochabel and then we showed up on consciouscat! Thanks for your insight. I agree, loving another cat is yet another way to pay Yochabel’s love forward! I love caring for cats in need. It is a win win.

      Reply

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