A Soul in Cat’s Clothing

Avatars are meant to be temporary

Mar 24, 2011 by

Spot the Cat is not doing well.  Spot is one of three cats who made the journey across the country with me after my husband died.  I call our little family “Bonnie and the Traveling Cats” because we all had to go.  We all had to change.

Did you know cats can get heart disease?  Spot has it and it makes his little chest fill up with fluid.  He can’t breathe well.  I watch him try to carry on his normal feline activities while his chest heaves, trying to bring in enough air.  He is uncomfortable.  I can take him to the veterinary internal medicine specialist to have the fluid drained, but it scares him half to death and his chest fills right back up.  He is not getting better.

How do I know when it’s his time?  I have the power to make this choice, but how do I know?  It feels as if this is an important algebraic equation I don’t know how to solve.  It’s the nightmare about being surprised with a test I haven’t studied for.

I find myself staring at the timeless, careless mountains a lot; wondering if we are nothing more than avatars in our own lives.  Avatarwas a mythological term before video games and movies started using it.  It’s an embodiment of something, perhaps a god or an idea, a mere vehicle for something animated and essential.  So it is with us, and in my humble view, with my cats.  Our bodies change and fail us in time, but the important thing is what’s inside.

I’ve been through this before.  When Dave’s treatment reached the point of diminishing returns, I grilled the doctors about our options.  I wanted a way for him to die surrounded by the warmth of his home, his cats and his family.  They told me he couldn’t leave the ICU and we tried to bring in as much warmth as possible.  We brought his favorite cat, some pictures, some music to remind him of other journeys he had taken.

I told him we thought it was time to let him go and part of him seemed to leave us then.  I told him it was his job to figure out how to die and my job to figure out how to live without him.  Looking back, I think this was all about avatars.  Everyone thinks it’s hard to tell when someone is dead, in the movies there is always a doctor checking a pulse, but actually it was incredibly obvious.  The body left behind is barely recognizable.  At the moment of death, I actually looked around the room to see where Dave had gone.

Avatars are meant to be temporary and I do not have the power to change that.  This is not algebra.  There is no right answer.  My task is only to schedule the time of transition for Spot, as it was mine and his family’s task for Dave.  It’s simply a matter of when to relieve him of his declining body and send him on his next journey, a journey every single one of us will take in time.

About the Author

Bonnie Simon Has Written 35 Articles For Us!

I am an urban homesteader in Colorado Springs, CO where I raise chickens, make my own yogurt and am learning to grow some food, all within sight of downtown in a 1950s era neighborhood. I am starting a small business designed to fill the gap between local farms and local dinner tables.
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  1. Rebecca Crichton

    Oh Bonnie,
    Your comments about your cat show your compassion and recognition of the cycles we all have to deal with. Newhart, my beloved Golden Retriever, left on his own as I was starting to call around to have a vet come to my home. He was a great guiding spirit in my life. I even have a little shrine of sorts for him. Whenever I look at it I smile and remember his great presence. I think I’ll take a photo and do a blog about it.

  2. I surely know what you are going through, having had the comfort and companionship of many cats and two dogs in my life. When I had to put my first dog, Sammy, down, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

    I based it on his quality of life. When he began to suffer, I woke one morning knowing it was the day. he died surrounded by friends, cheese, and tango music (his fave). My friend, the vet who came to the house to give him the injection that stopped his big, brave, wonderful heart, said you never can be sure it’s exactly the right day, you just follow your instincts.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post.

  3. Btful post on end of life A Soul in Cat’s Clothing http://bit.ly/fojna3 #bonnie #simon #pets #relationships #soul #mate s#atsGf

  4. I just read this and had to comment on what a fabulous sharing this is. OMG! I had to make the decision for my mother and she spent 3 weeks in in-home hospice. The moment of her passing was so clear to me. She was there, then she was gone. I didn’t even feel like the body in front of me held her in any way, it was just her physical representation from this dimension.

    Now I’ve also a cat with heart problems. He seems no worse for ware, Thank you, but I wonder if one day he will just decide to leave me. He so hates to be given his heart med pills, that I decided that they cause more stress than they help…he is off all those meds and much happier for it.

    I love the strength and vulnerability you show in this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  5. I’ve been there many times with the cats I’ve had over my lifetime. I appreciate how you were conscious of giving your husband “a good death”, and you want to do the same for Spot. Animals know when it’s time to go. People do, too, if they are fortunate enough to have the opportunity and the courage to listen, and to be surrounded by family and friends who can support them in passing over. Lynn Andrews wrote a powerful book on that subject: “Tree of Dreams”. – SerenaK

  6. Bonnie, I can really relate to what you’re going through. I’ve been a cat lover all my life, and I’ve had to make that horrible decision for one of them: Castor was in the late stages of FIV (which was a newly discovered illness at the time), and he was getting repeated infections. He’d get better when he was on antibiotics, but as soon as the a/b’s were discontinued, he’d get sick again.

    When I returned home from college after my senior year, Castor was doing very poorly. I went to greet him, and although he lifted his head to say hello, he was in so much pain that he snapped at me when I tried to pet him. With tears in my eyes, I said to my mother that it’s incredibly unfair to let him keep suffering like this. I knew what had to be done, and I offered to take him to the vet for his final appointment. I tried to keep my cool when the vet prepared the injection, but I couldn’t stop crying. “I love you, Castor!” I said as he drew his final breath.

    I’d adopted Castor as a kitten, and for 9 years he had been a wonderful companion. He too had been an avatar in my life.

    Right now I have the pleasure of living with three cats, and these three little avatars — and, as I like to think of them, Bodhisattvas in fur coats — are the most wonderful gifts to me.

    You have my support and my deepest compassion as you and Spot have your final days together. Enjoy every moment you have left with him, and know that he loves you as much as you love him.

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