I had a best friend.
She happened to be a cat.
Her name was Miso. And, she died last week.
From the moment I fell madly in love with Miso16.5 years ago, I began to dread the inevitable likelihood that I would one day have to face her death. It seemed like every moment I shared with her held a majestic beam of light up to the knowledge of impermanence twinkling in my heart, creating a steady reminder of the rare gift of the finite time we would share. I knew Miso's passing would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life. And it was. Anyone who knows me well knows I don't cry easily, but in the last week - I wondered if human beings could die from tear shed dehydration as I sobbed like a two year old face down on the kitchen floor, the living room floor, my bedroom floor, on my bed, on the couch, in the car, on a chair, in the park, on the toilet. Pretty much all the time, and everywhere... for days. Long deep aching sobs, sobs you can barely breath through, sobs you think you might vomit from, sobs that convulse you from head to toe... the only words I could speak while sobbing were "Miso. No. I'm so sorry. I love you so much. Thank you". Not all at once, not in that order, and often times accompanied by moaning sounds I didn't even know my body could make.
It hurt so bad. It still hurts so bad.
But the biggest tidal waves have passed now, and some tender realizations have emerged.
I benefitted greatly from talking to friends and therapists who understand grief, and listening to podcasts about pet loss - so I wanted to throw my hat in the ring and write this essay for whoever might need it now, or someday in the (hopefully distant) future.
Miso had been sick for over a year (on medications that gave her excellent quality of life), and I knew that she could take a nose dive and pass anytime. I would often internally coach myself in order to prepare, and sometimes suddenly rush into a room to check and make sure she was still breathing after a hint ran through my mind that maybe the time had come and I missed it. She was always still breathing. Because Miso didn't naturally pass away. I had to face my greatest fear and be the one to make the decision to humanly end her life when her organs began to fail. I know it was the right thing to do. The hospital vet, and her primary care vet both told me it was the right thing to do, and that if it were their pet, they too would choose to end their suffering. Plus, the idea of waiting too long and then feebly standing by as she transitioned into an acute stage of pain was simply not happening on my watch. But, even with all the logical appropriate humane decision making of myself, my husband, and a team of veterinarians - it was still one of the hardest and most painful decisions of my life. Because I loved Miso so much. I loved Miso more than I knew I was capable of loving another living being. Miso taught me what love could be beyond the human concept that rings through our minds. She taught me about the love that silently passes like a lightening bolt of energy toward and between whatever we cherish most in life. I loved everything about her. I loved every moment with her. I loved every quirky and majestic queen like quality of her personality, the details of the patterns of her fur, the way she looked up at me when I called her name, the pink pads of her paws, how she stretched, and ate, and cuddled.
How could I choose to end that? How could anyone?
Something about love that our culture rarely discusses is that it doesn't only exist during the good, sweet, fun, and celebratory times. Sometimes love requires us to be fierce, protective, and stronger than we ever knew possible. Sometimes love tells us that no matter what we think or feel, there is something that we must accept in order to fully honor the love we share and posses with another. And sometimes, as much as I wish this wasn't true - sometimes that means we must accept that whether we like it or not, death is the final destination of our love. Whether someone we love passes, or we pass - that love given, received, and felt moves, shakes, and swirls at the threshold between who is still living and who has crossed over. After Miso's death, I now believe that grief is birthed when the immense surge of love energy shared is suddenly untethered because its ground channel for transference has become absent from the physical world. It is like your whole love operation, the one you have been shepherding and stewarding for years, suddenly gets unplugged, thrown upside down, and spilled all over... and this spill, this big mess of wild raw tender energy floods in all directions ..making waves that rock your body, mind, and emotions into pieces..
In the days after Miso's death when I was an emotional disaster of epic proportions, one of the things my friend said that has stayed with me and became the inspiration for this essay was that "The size of the grief is in comparison to the size of the love". (Thanks Luke, I love you). That struck such a deep chord and helped make sense out of what had felt like an embarrassingly messy out of control reaction to my cats passing. As this thought has sunk in more over the days, I have connected this truth to so many other aspects of my life. And recognize now the many ways in which I have not grieved for the losses of people, places, and things I loved dearly in the past. But instead stayed stuck in sort of numb sadness for weeks, months, or years. I now know, the tears are the way through the grief. I am by nature a very sensitive, emotive, TMI kind of person. I have struggled to fit into a culture that seems to always want to put a thin failing bandaid across the deeper realities of our experience of being human. I've always believed in the importance of processing, expressing, and sharing our grief, our hearts, our secret inner truths - while simultaneously knowing it is nearly impossible to find spaces and places that this is welcomed (and safe) outside of super personal relationships, art making, and therapists offices. I've often wondered what the world would be like if we were allowed to always be honest about what we are moving through, to show up anywhere with our whole humanity, and to not shy away from communicating our true thoughts and feelings? I wonder this now more than ever.
Before Miso passed I thought I knew grief, and I thought I knew love. And I do, and I have. But similar to how I thought I'd experienced jet lag flying to Europe only to discover years later after flying to China what jet lag REALLY was, I now know what grief REALLY is. You may think this means I have not experienced enough sorrow and loss in my life to even be writing an essay on grief. "Oh boo hoo, your cat died and now you finally know pain - cry me a river!" It is the opposite of that. I know pain very well. I have experienced a great deal of trauma and complex loss in my life. And for a lot of my life, it shut me down completely. I was barely living. Being alive felt like hell, and from 12 years old to 22 my heart was always at half mast. Miso helped resuscitate parts of myself that had protectively shutdown and laid dormant after going through trauma and loss. She brought me back to the child I had been before I experienced the sorrows that made me stop trusting there was any basic goodness to life. She purred her sweet spell of love and reignited these aspects that had turned off from my fear of letting my heart be too full of love and therefore irresponsibly vulnerable to pain. People numb out as a protective measure for the anticipatory losses looming on the horizon of their lives (or from the anguish of what has already occurred). This makes perfect sense to me, and I truly know what it is like to live that way.
Now that I understand that the love that existed (and continues to exist) is in relation to the size of the loss - I would love again and again, forever, bigger, bolder, with even more of my heart, and for as long as there is breath in my body. Because that is what it means to truly live. Anything else, is a half lived life making ghosts amongst the living. Miso taught me how to innocently love again through her big green eyes fixed on a world that she inherently saw joy and pleasure in. To see a rose and think "my goodness, what beauty there is to behold" (Miso loved to smell and eat roses.. of course!)
You might be holding your beloved pet while reading this thinking "My god, what hell shall befall us!" or if you don't have a pet, you may be thinking "I will most definitely never subject myself to this kind of suffering, no pet soul mate for me thank you very much." But, I wrote this for you. I wrote this for everyone, because Miso was "just a" cat. A cat I loved more than almost anything. But we all love something or someone almost more than anything. And we all will have to say goodbye to someone or something we have loved more than anything at some point in our lives. And even while I shook with sobs, I simultaneously felt a steady sort of grace. Like a part of me could see myself from outside myself... and that part said: "You have loved so truly and with everything you had. That is what really matters. This pain is your love too"
Love and loss makes us richer, deeper, more complex and true versions of ourselves.
Miso began to fall very sick on a Monday afternoon. By the evening she was no longer herself. I didn't know it at the time, but I would not see the glimmer of her true spirit again. After being hospitalized on Tuesday, tests were run with scary results, later that day she returned home and slept one more delicate night in our lives. At the time, we didn't know it would be her last night. Hope hangs on. Even if you wish it wouldn't - it does. My husband and I slept nearby her in the living room, watching over her, staying close and praying she would not take a sudden turn toward greater suffering. On Wednesday morning the hospital vet called with even more grim results. Pancreatitis, elevated kidney values, blood in her urine and stool, liver malfunction, and extremely high white blood cell counts indicating an extreme full system infection. We could put her in the ICU for a few days, but the chance of survival was slim and if she survived it would probably only extend her life a couple of weeks. A part of me really wanted to do that, until her primary vet confirmed the same horrific diagnosis from the hospital vet and let me know that even if her life was extended it would most definitely be with suffering, multiple interventions, and probably death just from the strain of it all. But more than anything anyone said - it was very clear that Miso was incredibly unwell. She was barely moving, she hadn't eaten in days, she could hardly drink water, her eyes were glossed over, when she did move it was extremely slow and deliberate. Where a once vibrant big personality had reigned only days prior, a completely vacant and weary fraction of Miso remained.
We knew that it was time.
On Wednesday July 28th 2021 around 9 PM PST, Miso passed away at home under as lovely circumstances (as something dreadful) could be with the support of an incredibly kind, understanding, empathic doctor from Compassionate Care. Candles lit, my husband playing acoustic guitar, Miso in her favorite napping place. I couldn't have hoped for a more well held, peaceful end of her life. I know as time goes on and the raw feelings continue to subside, I will see that evening with even more grace and gratitude. But wowee. It was still so fucking hard.
Part of me thought that making the choice to end her life was the hardest part. And then once the choice was made, I was certain the actual experience of moving through the passing of her life would be the hardest part. But in the end, the hardest part was once she was truly gone. (though don't get me wrong, watching her energy leave her body while holding her and sobbing was absolutely agonizing). While preparing for her death over the last year I would often wonder if maybe it would feel like she was just "away" and that maybe I could tamper the sense of loss by tuning into the way it felt when I went on a trip and left her with a cat sitter. I had surely survived being away from her many times in the past - couldn't I just feel that way somehow? No. That was not possible. The unbearable, undeniable, permanent truth that Miso was dead hit me like an explosion and there was nothing that would undo that truth. My body knew, and it knew it to the core of my being. Death is real. Death had happened. Death is the other side of the wheel of life.
The doctor left us alone to spend some time with her body. It was very strange. To see her there, as just a body. It was the same beautiful body I had loved, but it was also un-mistakingly not her.
She was no longer there. Her spirit was gone. Her energy had dispersed.
Her sweet paws no longer flickered with her warmth when I touched them, and her tail lay limp. It was so strange, and yet, it was somehow reassuring. It was reassuring that she was something so much more than that body. She was the force that animated it. She was the being that had occupied that form. And although I do not know where she is now, and I do not intend to claim that I do... the fact that she ever "was" at all... the fact that she came into that sweet fluffy body.. and then eventually left it behind - does make me trust that her unique energy surely existed in all it's glory, and that it is still somewhere.
How was I so fortunate to have had this love in the first place?
This love. The love that we have. The love that we share. The love that we carry. The love that makes us who we are. In the immediate days after her passing I struggled a lot with being able to be home. Home was Miso. Home was us as a family. Without her, home felt hollow, empty, cold, haunting. I hadn't anticipated this, and it was very difficult. But as I became stronger with time, the hollowness of her absence helped me realize something important. That maybe who we think we are, and what we think we are doing in life is really just a combination of everything and everyone we love. Like, maybe our idea of ourselves is not so much what we think we are, but more so everything our relationships make us. The relationships that shape us, what we participate in, where we hold our attention, beliefs, our energy, and our time. Without Miso I feel a part of myself is gone. It was a part of myself I never realized only existed because of the love I had for her. Now that I see that, I think about all the other loves I share in life that are currently still operating, holding me together, upright, and whole... and how they make me who I am in ways I have yet to understand. So now I wonder, when the love that is making us who we are changes form and moves away from us, how will we change with it? How do we continue to embody it in a new way?
Who will I become without Miso? Only time can tell.
Yes. Opening oneself completely to the potential of great love, means simultaneously opening oneself to the potential of great loss. There is no way to sugar coat it. One cannot exist without the other. But I really believe the experience of a true and potent love in this life is worth the ocean of tears exchanged in the letting go. I wouldn't trade it for the world. If I could take a time machine back and meet Miso all over again, the only thing I would do differently is love her EVEN MORE.
I love you forever Miso. Thank you for everything you taught me and for taking such good care of Mike and I. You will never be forgotten. You are the most beautiful cat in the world. It's true!
Talk to friends, family, and therapists that truly understand the level of grief. Talk about your pet. Tell your favorite stories about their life. Write all your favorite memories, look at pictures, make drawings, poetry, art. Have a ceremony. Create an altar.
Compassionate Care In Home Pet Euthanasia Portland Oregon
Lap of Love - In Home Pet Euthanasia & Hospice National
Pet Loss Podcasts (These SUPER helped me!)
Pet Loss Companion Podcast
The Grief Coach Podcast
Episode 21 with Stephanie Rogers from Lap of Love
Coming Back Podcast
Episode 115 with Kevin Ringstaff