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May 20, 2022

On Love, Grief, & Letting Go of our Furry Friends.

My orange tabby cat, Tony, was a constant, loving presence during the 10 years of his life.

That period of time was full of change, including moves, breakups, traveling, being laid off, and starting a new career. Let’s just say in that decade of my life, I made some good decisions, and I made some bad decisions, but Tony stuck by me.

It’s hard to find the words to convey how much I loved this cat. He was like my child, my roommate, my best friend, and my constant companion. He was unbridled, unconditional love on four paws.

Tony would take off all night, show up on my doorstep at daybreak exhausted and hungry, then he’d eat, bathe, and sleep it off for most of the day.

He loved almost no one but me. He came running home when he heard his call—a little tune I would whistle from the front porch. He was known and loved around any neighborhood we lived in. He slept with me every night. His loud purrs kept me awake, but I loved it.

Just before Tony turned 10, I noticed that he was wheezing. I took him to several veterinary hospitals and veterinary schools. His heart and lungs were fine, but they couldn’t figure out what was causing the swelling in his throat that was closing his airway. The last of many veterinarians to treat him identified the issue as cancer of the larynx.

He said in his 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, he had never seen a case like this. He explained that Tony was pulling air in and out of a tiny pinhole in his throat. The doctor said that most animals would have stopped breathing, but Tony was clinging to his life with everything he had. I reached my fingers through the kennel where he sat. He was now in an oxygen tent that helped him breathe easier. He looked peaceful and tired. It was time for us to let go of each other.

Right after Tony died, I felt so much pain and remorse.

I wrestled with guilt for not putting him down sooner to spare him the pain he endured. I regretted the times I was away from him traveling and some of the years behind us that were full of turmoil.

People often advised me to go get another cat because it helps take the pain away.

“You need a good distraction,” they’d say. But grief is a healing process. Distractions only delay healing. When we grieve someone, we honor our love for them. And that’s an important part of healing. I owed it to Tony and myself to take time to be with this grief.

A few weeks later, I booked a massage at a place my sister recommended. I scheduled myself with the only person who had an opening on such short notice. During the massage, the massage therapist, a young woman, spoke up in a soft voice and said, “I don’t want you to think I’m strange, but sometimes I see things. I don’t usually tell people when I see things while I’m working on them because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. But someone told me I should tell people what I see, and they can decide how they feel. Like it’s my duty to tell people what I see.”

I said, “Wait. What?!” slowly turning to look over my shoulder. I have never paid anyone to give me a reading, but there have been several times when my path has crossed with people who can see things that most people can’t. I’ve come to believe that it’s a gift just like some people are gifted with musical or artistic talents.

“Are you seeing something now…with me?” I said.

“Yes, I am,” she said.

My heart raced. I said, “Please, tell me.”

She answered, “Did you recently lose someone you love very much?”

I sobbed and told her about Tony. She told me there was a ball of energy in my left shoulder. Tony used to snuggle with me at night up against my neck and shoulder where she indicated the energy was sitting. Pushing away tears, I told her how guilty I felt that my life was full of so much change and that I didn’t spend more time with him these past few years instead of traveling. And I felt horrible that I didn’t know how to help his illness.

She paused and then said, “He thinks it’s silly that you feel guilty at all. He had a happy life and he’s happy now. He wants you to know he loves you.”

She went on to say that we are all forms of energy, we just reside in different “vehicles.” She said Tony prefers this new form to his cat body—he liked being a cat, but he was limited by where he could go.

She told me that Tony was with me in this energy form. He was excited to see my life now—all the places I go and experiences I have.

She urged me to keep enjoying my life, knowing that Tony was with me. She said, “You can call on Tony at any time, and he’ll hear you. Talk to him and feel him near you. But…at some point, you’ll get to a place where you will release him, and he’ll go on to his next life, whatever form that is.”

I moved to Atlanta that fall after Tony died. I talked to Tony sometimes and imagined him running around the garden behind my new place. He would have loved it there. Within the next several years, I met my husband, started a new career, got married, became pregnant with our first child, and moved into a new house.

Somewhere in all this, the hole in my heart stopped feeling painful and tender. I think I unconsciously released him somewhere in there.

Today, in our flower garden, there is a stone with Tony’s name on it that I painted. It rests over the soil where his ashes are scattered.

Sometimes, when I’m in the yard playing with my family, I look over at his rock, and I feel a sense of peace, love, and gratitude for all that he brought to my life.

I think of his energy somewhere out there in the world.

~

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