(Written 8-17-09) By Ana Larramendi
Yesterday I did a memorial ceremony for my cat Purr-Muffin who died on the Equinox this spring.
I found her, as an abandoned kitten, at Cherokee Marsh August 16, 1994. Probably dumped off on moving day by someome who couldn’t bring a cat into a new apartment. Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary and I finally buried her ashes. In the exact spot where I found her.
Purr-Muffin was an extraordinary animal and our bond was unlike any pet I have ever had. I think rescued animals have a special level of gratitude for their owners. She was part Siamese with the most incredible turquoise blue eyes I have ever seen. I called her the guardian of my soul, because I felt that she watched over me when I went through some particularly gut-wrenching times in my life. If I was crying she would climb up on my lap, look into my tearful eyes and reach up with her paw and touch my face. If said to her, “I love you” she would instantly start to purr…She purred a lot, always…which is how she got her name.
She had always been very healthy and playful, but last year in the summer something started to seem wrong. She started to lose weight, and became very anxious. She was diagnosed with hyper thyroid, and initially medication seemed to stabilize her. But it is common for cats that have hyper thyroid to develop renal failure–which is a slowly degrading untreatable fatal disease. And this is what began to happen to her. As the kidneys begin to atrophy, the animal’s body starts a slow decline of becoming poisoned by the toxins the kidneys can’t filter out. My vet said that at least they believe the animal is not in pain, they just become more lethargic and disoriented as the disease advances.
Her progressing illness was hard on me on many levels. Most of the workshops I teach or sponsor are out of town, and finding someone to care for her while I was gone was becoming more and more of a burden because of the medications and care she needed…I also knew my remaining days with her were becoming fewer and fewer…so I hated being away.
She became so skinny. Her once full body kept dropping weight till she was emaciated no matter what I fed her. I petted her and cried because I could feel every rib and vertebrae on her bony back.
And then that week came. I was sponsoring an internationally known shaman for a 5-day workshop in Dodgeville. The morning Betsy was flying in, Purr-Muffin started vomiting bile and couldn’t stand up…
I picked up Betsy at the airport, took her to my house, dropped her off and rushed Purr-Muffin to the vet. After 2 hours of fluids and tests she got stabilized, but my vet said he was concerned that she wasn’t going to last too much longer…and I was leaving town the next day to assist with the 5-day class.
I brought Purr-Muffin home. Betsy did some healing work (Reiki) on her and she really seemed to perk up. I felt a little hopeful. But again that night Purr-Muffin’s health began to tank. I was leaving town around noon and I had hired a professional pet sitter to care for the cats (I have 2). But now I didn’t think I could leave her without medical supervision. I took her to the vet for observation until (and if) she stabilized enough to come home. Then Betsy and I drove to Dodgeville.
It was a big class. People had flown in from all over the country ( two from England) to attend. I tried to stay present, but I was really numb with anxiety. For the next 3 days I got regular messages and updates from my vet. Muffin seemed to be rebounding and the vet thought she might be able to come home and be cared for by the pet sitter. I was thrilled, but my gut told me to wait one more day…
The next day, March 19th, during the middle of a class field trip I got the call from the vet. Overnight Purr-Muffin had begun to collapse…the vet didn’t think she would last more than one- maybe two days…what did I want to do? I said I would think about it and call right back.
I was lucky. Some of my best friends were taking that workshop so I had a lot of emotional support, and I had an extra assistant to cover for me if I had to leave. I chose to leave the class and come home so I could spend the remaining hours of Purr-Muffin’s life holding her. I called the vet and said I was coming to take her home. I scheduled him to come to my home and euthanize Muffin the next day so her suffering wouldn’t be prolonged.
When the class returned from the field trip, I got in my car and rushed to Madison to the vet. I got there just before they closed. I picked up Purr-Muffin in her carrier…she was crying and so was I. It was horrid.
When I got her home she was so happy to be out of the vet’s office. She rushed out of her carrier, but she couldn’t walk very well and stumbled. Isha, my other kitty, sniffed Purr-Muffin, noticeably winced and looked away. Animals can smell when death is coming. Isha knew her buddy was not well.
At this stage Purr-Muffin could not climb stairs or move around very well. So I decided to set a small litter box in my healing room and open up a floor pad so I could sleep right on the ground since my bed upstairs would be impossible for Muffin to get up or off of. I set out bedding and soft blankets, got into some worn sweatpants and a fuzzy top and cradled Purr-Muffin in my arms.
I knew this was the time of good-byes. When you tell your loved ones how much you have appreciated them, how much you love them, how precious their life has been to you…and that it is okay to go.
Although the disease had been merciful up to this time, it was now obvious that Muffin was in pain. It was agonizing to watch her suffering. I told her that the vet would come tomorrow afternoon and take the pain away, but that she had the choice to leave on her own and I would honor what ever way she preferred to go. She tucked her face in my shoulder; she was too weak to purr. I was starting to wonder if I should call the vet and beg him to come sooner…she was in so much pain. I just kept cradling her and saying, “It’s okay to go, it’s okay to go…I love you so much, but you don’t need to stay for me.”
The night wore on…I was exhausted emotionally and physically. I laid down on the pad holding Muffin, every time I started to fall asleep she would cry, as though she was saying, “Mom, I’m scared! Don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t sleep! I need you here!”…and I would wake, and promise her that I would stay present.
She could not find a comfortable position. She would get up, crawl several feet and collapse, keep shifting and stumbling. I would pick her up and cuddle her, try to console her obvious discomfort.
As a shaman I have been trained to do death rites–the ritual that disengages the spirit body from the physical body at death. I had done death rites on dead humans and animals. I have also done them as practice on classmates during a training. I had never done death rites on a sentient being who was in the process of dying.
I kept asking my guides…”Is it time yet?” and they would answer, “Not yet, wait a little longer”
The mat on the floor was not very comfortable to lie on. I knew Purr-Muffin loved cuddling in my bed with me, but I was reluctant to take her to bed because I knew in her condition at this stage, she had little control over her bodily functions. At one point she got up and made it all the way to the kitchen as though she wanted to go upstairs to bed, but she collapsed in the middle of the kitchen floor and vomited all over herself copious amounts of water. I picked her up from her mess and toweled her dry, wiped the floor. She was shivering and could not hold body heat.
I decided to take the risk and bring her to my soft warm bed. I suspected she had by this time emptied herself enough to minimize the chance of another “accident”. So I carried her upstairs and Isha followed, as though she was staying beside us holding vigil through the process.
I tucked Muffin in bed with me under the covers to keep her warm. Her eyes were wide and she looked scared. I cried and tried to keep reassuring her that I didn’t want her to suffer anymore. I told her how peaceful she would feel when she left, that the light was waiting, and that I would be okay without her…Isha would stay and watch over me. I told her she could always help from the other side.
Her breathing became labored…and my guides spoke, “Now is the time.”
I began the death rites. Like so many times I had seen and done before…I began to disengage the chakras; spinning them counter-clockwise, loosening the connection of the energy body to the physical body, lifting the spirit up.
Within 2 minutes of starting the process, Purr-Muffin took her last breath, and then she was gone. The house became totally quiet. Her death had come exactly as all my teachers had shown me. Indeed, Purr-Muffin’s death and the teachings it gave me were her last gift to me.
I looked at the clock. It was 3:31am. Friday, March 20, 2009. Just a little over 3 hours shy of the Vernal Equinox. If her little body had been able to hold out, I bet she would have tried to go right at the time of the Equinox at 6:44am. I decided I would go outside at the time of the Equinox and offer her body to the rising sun. I fell into a fitful sleep holding Muffin’s dead body in my arms with Isha bookending me on the other side.
A couple of hours later I woke. I got up and wrapped Muffin’s body in a white sheet, wrapped myself in a thick blanket and went out on the porch to watch the sunrise. I stroked her soft fur as I watched the sky lighten, seeing the warm glow forming on the horizon just above where the sun would come up.
The Vernal Equinox is about new beginnings, new life. I knew Muffin chose to go on this day; she was giving me a sign that her leaving was not an ending, but a new beginning in my life. To honor her, I had to honor and give thanks for her gifts and the new doors that would open up in my life after her departure. As the sun crested the horizon, I held up her soft body and cried in gratitude for all she had taught me and given me, and prayed for the gentle and sweet journey of her soul.
As though this wasn’t enough medicine…yet another amazing synchronicity followed.
After the sun had risen I went inside and set up a sort of waiting room for Purr-Muffin’s body.
I put extra decorations on the altar of my healing room and gently laid Muffin’s body on a sheet near the altar. I left the door to the room open. I wanted to give Isha and myself an opportunity to come and go from the room and visit Muffin as we needed.
I made myself eat something-which was difficult since my stomach was in knots. I sent an email to my friends letting them know of Muffin’s passing. A couple of hours later I returned to the waiting room. I realized I had to start thinking about what to do with the body. Should I cremate her or bury her? I decided to pull out a book on my shelf called, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, to read about the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of death. I chose to just split the book open and read what Spirit divined for me.
…I was stunned. I opened to the page that described the process of death as the “dissolution of the elements–Earth, Water, Fire, Air–from the body.” As I read this, I realized that Purr-Muffin’s dying process had followed the dissolution of the elements exactly. The whole process had just unfolded right before my eyes. I looked down at Muffin’s body and stroked her fur. “Thank you for all you have taught me.” I whispered.
The book had been sitting on my shelf for years, and I had never read it entirely. I saw a yellowed receipt sticking out of the top and wondered when I had purchased it. I lifted out the receipt and read it. I had purchased the book in Sebastopol, California…when I had flown there to organize and attend the memorial service of my Spiritual teacher, Sedonia Cahill, who had been killed in a car accident overseas.
I looked at the date on the receipt and my jaw dropped; March 20, 2000. Exactly 9 years before to the day! I sat frozen staring at the piece of paper. There are no accidents. I was being shown how everything is connected…even the things we would never expect.
Purr-Muffin’s death was a destiny day. She had completed her job description of what her soul needed to do with that body in this lifetime. She had been a dear friend, companion and teacher, and she wanted to make it absolutely clear to me that her death was medicine, not loss.
Today, as I write this story I have cried again. But I look at the emotional space I am in around her death and I know that even though I still feel grief, the grief is fleeting and doesn’t grip me because I was able to see the big picture of her life and my journey.