cat_restfulAn excerpt adapted from Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time

MANY OF US WHO ENJOY amazing relationships with our companion animals also appreciate them for the incredible teachers they are. I’m no different. From my cats, I’ve learned I am capable of unconditional love.

Certainly, our animal companions give us unconditional love. We know this; we become used to it; we take it for granted.

But for me to realize I was capable of unconditional love was a revelation.

When I faced the illness and inevitable death of my animal companion for the first time, it felt as if I was falling into an uncharted void. All of existence ripped open in front of me. That’s as close as I can come to describing it. The deep grief of what I faced put me in a strange new place. Uncharted territory, indeed.

Tigger, the first cat who shared 10 years with me, was diagnosed with cancer. After the initial shock and grief — how could my beautiful cat have horrible, ugly cancer? — I threw myself into service.

Perhaps this is something parents will relate to. I have no children and this was a first. I would do, and did do, everything I could for Tigger. And I did it with purity and without expectation — and without trying. I simply gave and gave. Unconditionally.

I monitored her constantly. Took charge of meds and food. Put her comfort above all else. Waited for a sign — if there was to be one — that the time had come if she needed assistance. Lost sleep. Cried. Loved. Laughed. Treasured every moment. Stroked her beautiful fur, seared her face and eyes and personality into my memory.

Death — our own, or that of a loved one we are caring for — is a twisty path. We don’t know how it will play out and we don’t know what’s around the corner. We don’t know how it will end. All we can say for sure is that it will eventually come.

My time in caring for Tigger at the end of life, and other cats who have followed, has taught me a great deal. Never in my life have I felt as spiritual — or pure– as when I gave this service to my animal companions. I would have done anything for Tigger. And I realized as I was going through these times that I had never been in this place before — the place of unconditional love. Giving without restraint. Giving without expectation or attachment to outcome.

May I always be open to the rich lessons my animal companions have for me, and may I have the awareness to integrate these lessons.

Catherine Holm is the author of Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time (a memoir of life, love, and the human/animal-companion bond) and My Heart is a Mountain (a short story collection of land, people, and place). As Ann Catanzaro, she writes cat fantasy fiction. Holm is a writer, life coach and yoga instructor who lives with her husband and and several cats and a dog in northern Minnesota. Visit her website.

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