She’s breaking my heart. I wrote a few weeks ago about our cat, Mocha, and how she’s dying of bone cancer. The vet told me that she wouldn’t last the month but doctors so rarely are able to accurately predict the future so… she’s still here. And I’ve been left with the decision of how long to allow her to be here. Or not here. Can I let Nature to take its course and allow her to die in her own way according to her own timetable?
Every day I ask myself if it’s time to “put her down” (I really don’t like that phrase; yet another euphemism for death – but how else to say it?) There are times when she looks – and smells – like death warmed over. Because the tumor under her tongue continues to grow, she can’t shut her mouth anymore. Her tongue hangs out at an awkward angle and after she eats long, six inch strands of wet fishy blood-tinged drool hangs out of her mouth. She swats at her mouth trying to remove the tumor as if it’s a thorn stuck in there, thus spreading the aforementioned drool all over her paws and face where it dries into a sticky, smelly mass. Sometimes my son laughs about how disgusting it is, and we laugh along with him, but the truth is that she’s breaking our hearts. If you took a snapshot of her in this state, you would surely say it’s time for her to go.
But herein lies the problem with snapshots; it’s only part of the picture. After we give her a bath and remove the dried stench, towel dry her and fluff her up, she looks like her old self again. And come nighttime, she’s following all of her old rituals: jumping up on the bed for story time, rubbing up against my hand affectionately, eating her entire bowl of food. If I’m downstairs too long in the evenings, she comes to fetch me like the good nana cat that she is. Every night I’m 100% sure that we’ve made the right decision. But come morning, when the drool and swatting and what appears to be a state of misery start over again, I question myself and think, “Perhaps today’s the day.”
A conversation I had last week with my very wise soul-sister Carrie keeps replaying in my mind:
“I wish she would just die on her own,” I said.
“Why can’t she? If she was in nature she would die on her own.”
“I guess she can. But everyone keeps telling me that I shouldn’t let her suffer. And I don’t want her to suffer.”
“Suffering is part of life.”
So much of my work is centered around the (very Buddhist and psychological) idea that suffering is a part of life and that the more we avoid suffering, the stronger it becomes. I’ve talked and written incessantly about the idea that there is great value in suffering, by which I mean embracing the grief, confusion, anger, and fear that naturally accompany transitions. The suffering is no longer experienced as suffering when we embrace it without resistance; we breathe into the feelings and, with time, they’re transformed into ease and joy.
All of this is easy to say when you’re not the one in pain, especially physical pain. When my body hurts I will usually do whatever it takes to make the pain stop. There have been exceptions to that, however. The two that jump immediately to mind are the births of my sons. Because I felt so strongly that I wanted to have an unmedicated birth both for my babies’ and my physical health, I chose to birth at home. I also knew that, if possible, I wanted to experience the psychological and emotional transition into motherhood without any barriers, including drugs, doctors, hospitals, etc. I knew that the rite of passage of childbirth was one of the primary tests that would initiate me into motherhood, and I wanted to experience it as directly as possible. That meant a level of suffering the memory of which still causes me to shudder.
Do I think that Mocha is growing through her suffering? No. But I do believe that a certain amount of suffering is part of life, and as long as her joy and connection outweigh the suffering, we’ll care for her as best we can and cherish her life a bit longer.
Tonight, as I lay with my son while he fell asleep, Mocha sat beside me, as she always does, and stared into my eyes. I’ve asked her a hundred times to please tell me when she’s ready to go. I’ve told her that I’ll be okay and that I want what’s best for her. I wondered if that’s what she was trying to communicate when she was staring at me tonight. But then she stepped onto my pillow and nuzzled her nose into my ear so I could hear her purring loud and clear. If that isn’t a cat’s way of saying I love you, I don’t know what is.
I don’t have the answer. Like so many times in my life – and what I’ve said to hundreds of clients – I practice sitting in the unknown without anything definite to grasp onto. Perhaps it’s time for her to go. Perhaps not. I really don’t know and for now I surrender into the not knowing. And I trust that when the time is right, the cloudy state of uncertainty will transform into knowing and the answer will become clear.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998 she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.