11 August 2012

Yoga & Loss

As many folks know, my husband and I recently lost Ferris, our feline friend. In this blog post, I discuss some of the challenges of the situation from both a personal and yogic perspective.

Ferris' Story
I found Ferris at my then veterinarian near Hartford, Connecticut, back in 1999. I'll never forget the first time I saw him--a 6 month old in a cage with his "brother"--both of them looking up at me with the sweetest eyes you ever saw. Ferris' given name was Preston, and his brother's given name was Avery. I remember my face wrinkling at the thought of these two going through life with those names, and immediately adopted both.

Rattrap & Ferris as Kittens
My best friend Frank helped me rename both kitties. Rattrap came from a Transformers cartoon series; Ferris, perhaps obviously, from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (It could have been worse--I remember trying to stick with the Transformers theme and wanting to name Ferris "Megatron"!) In retrospect, neither of these names really captured his personality, so he often ended up being called "boo-bah".

Ferris was terribly shy when I first brought him home. I remember starting both kittens out in my bathroom, sitting on the floor with my back leaned up against the wall, playing with Rattrap. I could feel Ferris hiding behind me. When they first started to roam my apartment, Ferris found a spot under my bed, and wouldn't come out. I remember wondering what happened to the poor fellow that made him so timid, and decided to reassure and love him all the more.

Apparently a few years of my care worked. Ferris not only became a "lap cat", but he was essentially a pose-able ball of fur. You could pick him up anytime (you'd always want to put him down before he'd want you to), you could turn him upside down, flip him over, blow on his tummy, and so on. I remember one phase where I wore him around my neck like a scarf and another where I stuffed him into the front of my overalls like a baby (yes, I had a pair) while I tooled around my condo. He was insatiable when it came to cuddles.

Around 2001, when I worked exclusively from a home office, I heard Ferris growling in the other room. Thinking he and his new buddy were about to get into another scuff (Rattrap suffered from congenital heart failure and after his third stroke, died just before his second birthday), I ignored it. But when Ferris arrived at my chair with a little red puff toy in his mouth, I sat in amazement. He dropped it at my feet; I tossed it out of the room, and he brought it back. Although we never played "fetch" like that again, Ferris often carried around his red puff, growling at the same time. I wish I had gotten a photo or video!

Ferris' other funny skill was detecting stretches. I could be in a completely different room, but the minute I got on the floor to stretch or do some yoga, Ferris could just sense it. He would find me and lay down next to me, stretching his body out long as well, or putting his head into my face. The other very unique thing about Ferris was his meow. It was of a lower tone than any other cat I'd ever heard.

Me and Ferris

Ferris was also a very finicky eater. Although he weighed 13 pounds for a lot of his life, he occasionally went on "hunger strikes"--we originally thought this was because of the ongoing struggles for dominance he still occasionally had with our other cat.

Eventually though, we though we'd discovered a non-behavioral reason for Ferris' eating issues. He was diagnosed with kidney disease in December 2009, soon after I returned from a trip to Chile and Argentina with a friend. I felt guilty, as if my going away somehow prompted his condition. From that point on, I (or my husband eventually) would administer subcutaneous fluids to Ferris every evening, and give him a pill every morning. Ferris was generally good about this--in fact, the most he'd complain was just before we put the needle in. About a year later, when his blood work was redone, we (our vet included) were all thrilled that Ferris actually seemed to have improved from the fluids. We'd given him another chance at life.

The Difficult Choice
In 2012, it became more difficult to manage Ferris' condition. He would go on hunger strikes more often, and started losing weight. Putting him on an appetite stimulant at one point sent him into an allergic reaction, warranting a trip to the kitty ER. Finding him pawing at a bloody mouth sent us back another time, only to find a rotten, half dislodged tooth as the culprit. And then the urinating started. Outside the box. First occasionally, then almost daily. When I came back from my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training in June, my husband was at his wits end trying to manage everything. We knew Ferris was starting to decline.

A few months later, we started having conversations about the ultimate question: "when is the right time to put Ferris down?" We hated asking the question at all. Apart from the issues I mentioned, Ferris was still active and friendly--he didn't seem to be in any pain. So, we waited. Sure enough, over the next few months, the urinating got worse, Ferris got skinnier, our other cat got more neglected, and we got more stressed. We could no longer let Ferris freely roam the house while we were gone, as we'd never know where he'd urinate. When we were around and he roamed, he'd meow a lot, and sit uncomfortably on the window sill. Soon after, he seemed to start having trouble with his mouth again. When we last weighed him, he was about 7 1/2 pounds. "Stabbing" him with the fluids every night made us sad--he was all skin and bones.

After several appointments made and cancelled, we decided that Tuesday, July 31st was the day. He'd made it to his 13th birthday on the 20th, it was the end of the month, our wonderful vet at Westin Vet Clinic could do it, and we had nothing going on after work so we could process the situation afterwards.

From a yogic perspective I struggled with this. What was ahimsa here? Who gave us the right to decide when to take Ferris' life? Or was it more harming to keep him alive, hurting both of us and our other cat? And then I pondered, "who gave us the right to prolong Ferris' life with fluids when he was first diagnosed?" I'd always felt that Ferris was a human in another life--he just had that kind of soul. This made finding "the right time" all that more difficult. It wasn't the first time yoga and death had been on my mind.

Facing a Fear for Love
About a month prior to getting Ferris, I had been surprised by a diagnosis of lymphoma in my 18 year old Ivory, who had essentially grew up with me, and who I had taken with me all the way to college. When the vet told me he needed to be put down, I was in the midst of a breakup with my then fiance as well. I just couldn't handle it. I said goodbye but insisted that nothing be done until I was gone. Even once I was in the car with my fiance, I remember urging him to "just drive" so we could get out of there. So I could remember Ivory alive and well.

Unfortunately with years gone by, I ended up deeply regretting that decision. In retrospect I felt like I had completely abandoned my loving companion and childhood friend. I was determined not to have that happen this time, and I was acutely aware of how "being with my feelings" was not something I was good at. I decided to use this opportunity Ferris provided me to grow spiritually.

After preparing me with information about how it would go and what my happen, Dr. Mike left me alone with Ferris for a few moments. In that time, I whispered many things to him. I told him I loved him, that he was a good companion. I told him that I believed he was before, and that he would be again. And that he's be safe, free. Then while petting him, I chanted: "Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya" over and over. It seemed to have an effect: Ferris put his head down on his catnip mouse, purred, and relaxed.

Inner Knowing
Coming home that evening was difficult, but in the days that followed, I felt very content with our decision and completely at peace with it. That's how I knew it was the right thing to do. That's how I know it was in line with ahimsa. And then, a few days later, as I lay in shavasana (corpse pose) at the end of a gentle, yin yoga practice, I saw a vision of Ferris. It was likely inspired from a photo I looked at a few days earlier; he was stretched out long, front paws reaching toward me, floating up into the sky. He looked healthy, and it felt like he was saying goodbye, letting me know he'd be just fine. At the time I felt comforted--today the image brings tears to my eyes but I'm still certain that everything is OK, just as it is.

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