Our animal companions have many lessons to teach us humans, and they know the most difficult for us to learn is to recognize, understand and accept when they tell us they are ready to leave this life, they will always watch over us, and will be there to welcome us when it’s our time to leave.
While Deb Barnes, author of The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey and publisher of the award-winning blog and website Zee & Zoey’s Chronicle Connection, cared for her Ragdoll cat Mr. Jazz as he came to the end of his life, a story began to form. She noted her own feelings and actions in response to his health and need for care, the changes in his body and his activities, and wondered what he might be feeling about his own situation. As it became clear he was slowly deteriorating and needed more and more care, that inner conversation became critical in truly evaluating how Mr. Jazz felt, if he was in pain and discomfort, what to do for him each day, and if he was compensating for his health for her sake or just being with his condition until he was ready to leave. Ultimately, of course, she approached the question all pet owners face at one point or another in their relationship with their animal companion, the question we essentially ask them: “Is it time?” How do we really know? If so, what do we, as compassionate caretakers, do for these loving living beings who depend on us?
We ask ourselves, “Do I make the choice to end their lives with humane euthanasia?” Or probably in more common words, “Should I have him put to sleep?” Often we doubt our decision, whether we’re not sure it was the right time, or we’re not sure it was right at all.
In August 2013, Deb and her husband Dan decided that was indeed the most loving thing they could do for Mr. Jazz, but what seemed like an ending was only a transition. Deb could not release the inner conversation, and Mr. Jazz appeared to her several times in different ways, real enough that she knew he was giving her a critical message, one that she needed to understand fully, even introducing them to a cat they immediately knew they had to adopt. That understanding grew each time he appeared and became this book, the story of Jazz’s life and death which Deb knew she had to tell, not from her perspective but from Jazz’s, to convey her understanding that Jazz was grateful for her decision and thanked her for the release.
And that story would tell us, as others who share our lives with animals, that giving our animal companions this release is just one more loving decision we make for their care and well-being, and it would be told in Mr. Jazz’s own words.
Putting words in the mouth of an animal and characterizing their thoughts is a tricky business. The risk is that we have the animal speak for us, and the dialogue can sound fake and contrived without any genuine relation to the animal. Deb’s deft characterization of Mr. Jazz’s quiet personality and gentle humor carries us in his own voice from his mother’s first lessons through 15 years to his final transition from body to spirit and afterward as we watch him mature into this understanding and wordlessly share it with his human family. He never steps out of character, he never sounds like a human talking. Nor do the other animals in the house with whom he communicates, and through those conversations we learn even more about how animals may experience loss and understand and accept their own death.
The book ends with a memoriam that was unexpected when the book was planned, as was the unexpected sudden loss itself of its subject Harley, another of Deb’s cats, only ten months after the loss of Jazz. Even here, Jazz made an appearance intended to bring love and relief to the pain of loss and a message from Harley that she was comfortable and content in the spiritual realm. After this Deb also gives some tips on coping with the loss of a pet.
Deb’s is another multi-cat household and much of Jazz’s everyday journey involves his interactions with the cats who came before and after him, and the lessons he learned from each. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations among the animal household members which also included dogs and usually numbering seven or eight…or so…cats, and currently including a family of mother, father and kittens who still live together as adults reminding me of my own mixed household of rescued cats through the years when the most senior passed the secrets along to the next generation in my feline family and the conversations they might have.
Yes, it’s a tear-jerker. It’s about loss and grief and very deep pain, self-doubt and suffering. But these feelings are only an after-effect of a lifetime of love shared with the lost companion, with the understanding that though they may leave us in body, the love we shared is always with us and the pain will pass. Books like this are also painful for the author to write, but Deb has given us far more love than pain, and a lesson we who love animals will indeed share and take comfort in is the knowledge that our animal companions know we act from that love in the decisions we make.
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The author provided a copy of this book to me to write a testimonial prior to publishing and to review. This did not influence my decision to review or the review itself. I received no compensation for this review.
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This was shared in Book Nook on Create With Joy
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