my cat salsa

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My Cat Salsa

This week I learned that Salsa, my 16-year-old cat has a malignant tumor. I suspected that something was not right when her swollen lip was not healing. Salsa has lived a long and healthy life. She has traveled more widely than many people, having lived in four homes in the Bay Area, one in Santa Barbara and two homes in Ohio.

She has been a wonderful companion despite her contributions to my sleep deprivation as she wakes me up between 4 and 6 am to be fed. Mind you, most days she has food in her bowl but likes me to add to it or shake it up. When she was younger, she also wanted us to let her outside even when we installed a cat door. I know what some of you are thinking. And I agree. Maybe I will figure out how to get this right when I get my next cat.

When Salsa was younger and I was working in a very fast-paced job, I would come home from work tired and wired. She would insist that I immediately give her lap time. In doing so, she helped me to stop, relax, and take 15 minutes of down time. This proved to be a wonderful transition time for me and attention for her.

Sometimes I think about what it will be like after Salsa dies, and I feel sad. I have been trying to catch myself when I do this and bring myself back to the present. So now if these thoughts come up, I get up and pet her. I turn the sadness into love. For I believe that it is Salsa who taught me how to truly give and receive love. I don’t think it is an accident that I met the man who would become my husband not long after I adopted Salsa.

In the last few years, not only has my mom died, but so also has my mother-in-law and the mothers and fathers of several close friends and clients. What I notice in myself and in others is that we are using this time to look more closely at our own lives. What have we learned from our parents? What is important to us in our lives now? What is next? How can I make a difference?

I also am noticing that it is important to stop and give ourselves time to reflect, time to feel sadness and joy or whatever emotions come up. This allows us all to grieve in our own time frames and in our own ways.

While I hope that Salsa will die in her sleep, I suspect that the time will come when I will have to choose whether and when to have her put to sleep. While I am not looking forward to that day, I also know that we all die. She has taught me many lessons and given me so much joy. And I thank her for that.

(Postscript: Salsa died on September 27, 2008)

Resources on Grief

Four Tasks of Grief

I have found J. William Worden's model helpful:

  • Task One: To accept the reality of the loss.
  • Task Two: To work through the pain of grief.
  • Task Three: To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is no longer present.
  • Task Four: To relocate the dead person within one’s emotional life and find ways to memorialize the person. (To transform the love/relationship you have for the deceased and carry it in a new way.)

Rick Carson writes in Taming Your Gremlin:

“A loving soul is a loving soul, whether it’s housed in a predominately hairless body with two arms and two legs, or in one with four legs and fur. If you’ve had a loving relationship with another soul and that soul makes his or her leap to the other side, you’ll have some healing to do. If someone you love dies, mourn. Don’t be shy about crying or reticent to sing his or her praises. Actively warm yourself with good memories, cringe at bad ones, and curse at regrets. Strong emotions after a loss are natural. Give yourself the time and space to experience them fully. Express your feelings verbally and in writing. Review the past, but don’t try to redo it. Do so with a clear intention to heal yourself.”

(Excerpted from a chapter on sadness, pgs. 52-53)

Ideas for Writing

You may find it helpful to clarify your thoughts about your loved one by recording your feelings in the form of a letter.

Write a letter to the person who died, expressing your thoughts and feelings about the following:

  • A special memory that I have about you
  • What I miss the most about our relationship
  • What I wish I had said or hadn’t said
  • What I’d like to ask you
  • What I wish we’d done or hadn’t done
  • What I’ve had the hardest time dealing with
  • Ways in which you will continue to live on in me
  • Special ways I have for keeping my memories of you alive

These topics may serve to help you come up with your own ideas specific to your situation and relationship.

The above Ideas for Writing was excerpted from Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, Grief Notes, Volume 2.

© Sue Schleifer, August, 2008

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