September 17 marks an anniversary for me from 1996.
Sharing our lives with pets, whose own lives are shorter than ours, we may be presented with unexpected situations with their illnesses and loss. We generally consider a loss and its resulting grief as a singular event where we can resolve that grief over time. But with two or more pets, with rescue, with a household of pets growing older, it’s not uncommon to care for one pet with a serious or end stage condition when another is also diagnosed with such conditions, or several pets at once. It’s also not uncommon for pets to pass very near to each other in time, whether they are so closely bonded they couldn’t live without each other or it was simply the time for each of them.
Grief is difficult enough without compounding the effects with more than one loss, and it’s even easier than usual to find fault with yourself for any list of reasons.
In 1996 my heart cat Kublai, the one who rescued me in college, was declining from an unknown illness over the course of a year and it was clear he couldn’t suffer too much more. On September 17 my orange boy, Allegro, with no prior symptoms at all, was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma, inoperable at that time and only treatable with prednisone. On September 19, Kublai died while I was at work, likely right after I’d left in the morning. Allegro died two weeks later, to the day. Needless to say, I was devastated.
I had been watching my beloved Kublai simply fade away in the grip of some undiagnosed autoimmune disease while I took a crash course in caring for a pet with a chronic illness along with learning about homeopathic and naturopathic options from flower essences to homeopathic remedies to raw feeding. He’d taught me an important lesson in communication with him and while I felt helpless that I couldn’t heal him, just having that constant thread of non-verbal communication between us made me feel very deeply connected to him each moment. He and I experienced his end stages with awareness, and this was a great comfort to me as I had approached my first feline loss with no awareness whatsoever.
I noticed during a meal that my orange boy, Allegro, was eager to eat but did not. My veterinarian explained a number of things it could be, most likely a tooth infection, and I felt along his jaw and found a fairly large lump but nothing in his mouth. Suspecting a possible infection in a salivary gland, she instructed me to begin antibiotics and we made an appointment for the following week if there was no improvement.
He began eating a little but the lump stayed. My veterinarian is a house call veterinarian and so when she arrived to see Allegro she could also see Kublai, who was at that point down from 12 pounds to about 5 and we knew he couldn’t continue like this for much longer.
So Tuesday, September 17, she came to see Allegro and diagnosed him with lymphoma so advanced there was no possible treatment except doses of prednisone given as injections along with subcutaneous fluids—I was already giving them to Kublai—and that only for some degree of comfort until he was ready to go.
Cats do hide things well, but I had been so focused on Kublai I hadn’t even noticed other possible symptoms. Poor innocent Allegro, I had felt so confident that at least I was keeping Kublai comfortable, but at the cost of my orange boy it felt selfish and I felt like a failure.
Two mornings later, Thursday, September 19, I knew Kublai was in distress but he told me in that way he’d taught me to listen that I should go to work. I left and came back a few minutes later, unable to leave him. Though it seemed he had already faded a bit and had a hard time lifting his head, he let me know it was okay and urged me to go. I left him curled on his blanket in the spare bedroom. I oddly felt my spirits lift as I drove to work. When I came home at the end of the day I immediately felt he wasn’t in the house and wondered how he might have gotten out—he was famous for escaping. But I found him upstairs nearly where I’d left him, and apparently he had died soon after I left the house, probably when I felt the lifting of my own spirit, connected to his, as his spirit left his body behind. No wonder he had urged me to go—for some reason he didn’t want me present, and he was eager to let go and be free.
Trying to grieve Kublai, I turned to Allegro, and while he improved somewhat he was eating less and less and even I could feel the growths in his abdomen. He and I enjoyed warm autumn days outdoors as I planted the daffodils I still see each spring and he hunted little voles in my flower beds. Our time was compressed but entirely sweet.
Exactly two weeks later, October 3, Allegro was weak and dazed-looking when I came home from work. I called my veterinarian and explained the symptoms, and after noticing his pale gums and paw pads she said he was bleeding internally and she would get there as soon as she could. He passed just before she arrived.
I remember all the issues that arose during and after that time—the care for Kublai alone when I lived alone and had no help, worked a day job and freelanced when I wasn’t at work was enough to make my head spin and I felt completely overwhelmed when Allegro was diagnosed. I remember the unfairness of losing both, resentment at Allegro for getting in the way of saying goodbye and grieving Kublai, having to put Kublai’s grieving aside for Allegro’s last two weeks, all the what ifs and what did I miss and I didn’t do anything right and I’m a bad person and getting stuck a lot of times in not feeling anything at all except confusion. I still had seven other cats and had to care for them too but they constantly reminded me of the ones who were gone.
Lucky for me, autumn was beautiful and I spent time in my garden and also discovered painting en plein air when I decided I would take my weekends to go stand in a field and paint the landscape. I’ve written about the period of time in an article called “The Splendor of Autumn”.
Perhaps that prepared me for 11 years later when I lost four senior cats in 12 months following supportive and palliative care for each of them, and then lost a kitten a few months after that.
Sometimes we look for reasons why these painful things have happened, and often blame ourselves for it practically and spiritually when really we forget the love and care we’ve given all the time that animal has shared its life with us. Very little of it is actually in our hands, and the best we can do is act with love and compassion and awareness so that we are present for our animal companions until their last moment has passed. They love us unconcitionally.
Also read my essays and articles on Pet Loss.
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I’d always wanted to paint this photo of my orange boy, Allegro. I took the photo in 1993 or 1994, and it’s been on my mind all this time. I wanted not so much to paint a portrait of Allegro as I wanted to capture that moment that was so much Allegro in his quiet, understated self, having wandered around and found a warm spot in the sun, decided to drop everything and enjoy the sun while it lasted. He sat down between the window and the plant on a cold late winter afternoon and had a nap. I worked it loosely with lots of extra colors to capture the feeling of streaming sunlight. I initially cropped it much tighter, focusing on him, but then I lost the light, the reflections on the window, the sun on the plant, and all the things in addition to Allegro that I loved about the scene.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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