Have you ever been somewhere – maybe a room in your house, a store, a public place, or at an event – and you became aware of something in your presence, but long after you arrived there? You thought you could sense (see, feel, know, touch, or taste) all that was in front of you. You were certain you were sensing everything that there was to sense, but then, either someone, something, or you brought your attention to something.
In an instant you saw, felt, or sensed something that you were unaware of.
You had no idea that person or object was there until it came into your awareness. You were so sure that it was not there before! It could not have been! You were so confident that you were aware of everything around you! But there it is. There it was. Right there beside you all along. It was there, but somehow out of your awareness.
This is where our beloveds are.
The ones that passed away. The ones who left without a trace. The ones who left suddenly, tragically, or peacefully. The ones who “left us behind.” The ones who we loved more than anything. The ones who we will always love. The ones who we miss. The ones to whom we said our last goodbye. The ones who love us unconditionally.
They are here with us, just out of our awareness.
Our beloveds have never really left us. And they certainly didn’t leave us behind. For who they are, and who we are can never really be separated from one another. Who they are is spirit eternal. They are Life in the truest sense of the word. Eternally connected to us in life, and after their body’s death. Eternal Light. Always and forever with us.
Do you know that song from the goddess Jill Scott? It’s really good. I first saw Jill at Jazz Fest in New Orleans nearly a decade ago with a soul sister and she blew my mind; such powerful positive energy! I shared the lyrics to her song “Golden” because that is how someone I love very much lived his life, and it’s also how others have,too. But before we go there, I would like to ask you some questions.
Who came into your life unexpectedly?
Who holds a key to your heart?
Who has made an impact on your life in ways you never expected?
Who has given you gifts that you can never repay?
Who has taught you some of your greatest life lessons?
Who would you do anything for?
For me, one soul that fits all of these is the focus of this post’s discussion. His name is King Albert the Grey.
I wish you knew him. In fact, I wish the world knew him the way I do. He is a king. A badass. A warrior. He is a friend to few, a lover of fewer, and a Great Love of mine.
Please allow me to share why he is the King of our wee kingdom.
Note: Below is an excerpt (and a very abbreviated version) of a chapter from my book about caring for senior cats. This is one of my longer posts, so get comfy with your critters and settle in. Oh, and you might need a tissue, too.
During the spring of 2005 a rather intimidating stray cat the size of a bobcat began sneaking into our house, via the cat window that my zookeeper boyfriend had designed. Our cats Mr. Beaux (a melanistic Siamese, and Samantha, a semi-feral cat) were free-roaming cats at the time; oh how things have changed!
My roommate, the head Sea Lion trainer at work, would come home nearly every evening and find one of the neighborhood strays in our house. As soon as she opened the front door this huge cat would come hauling butt out of our house! We named this brute “Big Fat Grey Cat” (BFGC) because he was big, fat, and grey. Not a clever name, I know. But we didn’t care. We just wanted him gone. This shamelessly bold stray cat had a habit of creeping into our home, eating the cats’ food, playing with their toys, and pooping in their litter boxes! I was livid. And our cats were really starting to freak out. So, one day I decided to put an end to the shenanigans. I was going to catch this creepy cat in the act.
On my next day off I pretended to go take a nap on my bed, right next to the cat window where we assumed he was entering. My plan was to scare the crap out of this cat so he would never come back. As I laid there on my bed, I soon heard the chair below the cat window on the porch move (I knew he had hopped into the chair at this point). I laid as still as a could with one eye open. Within moments a huge grey head peaked through the rubber window flaps. His long grey whiskers and ears were pushed forward fearlessly. His bright yellow eyes were as wide as saucers, scanning the room. I quickly closed mine, pretending to be asleep. At this point, the only way this cat could enter the house was to literally walk over my legs. That’s when I would pounce like a panther, forcing him to retreat and never come back!
I waited for him to step over my legs. My heart was racing. His must have been too. I laid there for what seemed like forever, waiting for him to step between my legs. To my utter shock and surprise this ballsy stray cat carefully began to lay himself down on my bed just inches away from my feet.
“What in the world was happening here?!?!”, I thought to myself.
Both appalled and amazed, I opened my eyes and looked right at him, thinking my direct stare would surely scare him off. As he continued to gingerly settle into the bed, he slowly glanced at me, gave me a slow blink, then turned his head slightly away from me, still maintaining his posture of confidence, but keeping his full awareness on me.
“This cat had some nerve!”, I thought. “Who the hell does he think he is?!?”
He knew who he was. He was a King. And he had just claimed my bed.
And clearly this house.
Something came over me. The plan of executing an angry attack on this creepy cat had changed. I had gone from a human hunter waiting for her prey, to a curious cat lover wanting to understand what was happening in my home. I took the bait.
I looked at him. He looked right at me, but with a gentle energy. His eyes were softer. He truly felt as if he was politely asking permission to just be there, on my bed with me, in our loving home. I could feel and sense that he had no malice or ill intent. He was asking for my permission to stay. So, I took a deep breath, opened my heart to him, and said, “Well hello there.”
For nearly six months after that, Big Fat Grey Cat stayed near our home. It was all still very odd and a bit unsettling to me. He was, as everyone knew, the neighborhood bully. He was a brutal fighter and killer. He literally captured and killed every prey animal he came across and consumed it in plain sight. He fought every dog he saw, and every cat that was careless enough to come close to him.
I vividly remember one examples of his fearless ferocity. One afternoon while cleaning dishes, I looked out the kitchen window to discover BFGC standing in our driveway with a huge snake in his mouth! I hollered at him, pounding on the window, hoping he would drop it (I am a HUGE lover of snakes!). BFGC barely glanced over at me, intent on keeping his prey secure in his mouth. I raced outside to rescue the snake from the jaws of death. Big Fat Grey Cat stood his ground with the snake wrapped around his neck and head …
The rest of that story will be shared at a later date. The point is, being a fearless hunter, an endless explorer, and an unapologetic badass was in Big Fat Grey Cat’s DNA. Do you remember the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction at the end, with “the wallet”? (you only need to watch it until 1:05 to get the point.) If this cat carried a wallet, that’s the kind that King Albert the Grey would have had. It’s who he was. He had no fear. None. Not for the 17 years of life that I knew him. He lived for a thrill. He took risks. He never stopped exploring. He was a badass.
But here’s what really captured my heart: He followed sensitive, scaredy pants Mr. Beaux everywhere (which really freaked Beaux out), but he was always kind to Beaux; he never raised a paw and he let him lead. He gave Samantha the extra space she required, and he knew when to keep his distance from our guests. And he never came back inside through the cat window; he always asked to come in through the front door. He even welcomed me home when my truck pulled into the driveway.
He adopted us as his family.
But I still wanted to know where he came from, and why he chose us, so I did some investigating. It turned out, his owner was an elderly man that had become too weak to care for him and his brother, so BFGC and his sibling were left homeless. He was truly looking for a new home, and he chose us. I also know now that my grandmother In Spirit sent him our way (more on that later). Eventually we embraced him fully into our family but that came much later, during and after Hurricane Katrina, and our evacuation adventures together. I talk all about this much more in the book. All you need to know now is that he was discarded onto the streets and became king of the streets. He was once unwelcome, but we welcomed him. He once intimidated us but we learned to see his softer side.
He ruled the streets with a grey iron paw, but wanted a loving home with us. He was a ruthless hunter, but had a heart of gold for his companions. He ruled his world with confidence, bravery, determination, focus, and strength. He was unapologetic in every decision he made. He understood the importance of healthy boundaries. He was respected by all who encountered him. He was both feared and admired, yet he could care less of what others thought of him. He was loved by those who knew him, yet he loved only a few. He was choosy with affection, in charge of his kingdom, and capable of attaining anything we wanted. He truly was a great king.
This beloved King left our home for a new kingdom on the night of March 31, 2017.
There are souls who come into this world to be the catalyst for change, healing, and growth. And even fewer who can be fully understood for what they offer, what they embody, and who they truly Are. King Albert the Grey was all of this and more to me. He was my friend, my muse, my feline companion, my teacher, and my guide.
And he still is.
The death of his body has not caused any of that to change. He is still all of this and more. Those subjects will be shared in much greater detail at a later date. For now, I want to focus on the manner in which he lived his life, instead of how his physical life ended.
My intent today is to focus on how he chose to live before he became the king of our household; back in the distant days when he had the freedom to choose absolutely anything. King Albert’s former feline life played a key role in what occurred in the days, weeks, and months before he left our world for a new one. After 17 years, King Albert The Grey’s feline life came full circle.
My intent is to share why it’s important to recognize the life he once lived. How he lived his life as King of New Orleans’ streets (prior to becoming an indoor house cat) affected how King Albert was invited to live his life before he left this world.
This is what I offered him in his last life chapter.
He didn’t want, or ask for our pity, our worry, or our sadness for his health challenges and complications. He never did in his youth, and he certainly didn’t as he aged. He saw and felt beyond all of that. He wanted to FEEL ALIVE, no matter the age. He wanted to experience all that he could, despite his age. He wanted the kind of life challenges he had in his youth.
Albert lived with vigor and fearlessness in his younger years. Challenging himself and trying new things set his feline soul on fire. King Albert was most alive when he could choose to go, be, and do, anything! But even as his body began to fail him, he never let go of his love for life. Albert embraced this vigor, well into his geriatric years. I was in awe of him every day. Truly in awe. No matter what was going on in his body, he was at peace in his mind and his heart. He didn’t let discomfort bring him down. He was always ready for more. Even on days when he could barely get up, he got up.
He never gave up.
And I never gave up on him. Not for one moment. Albert overlooked the body. He taught me how to do this. I learned to see beyond his aging, struggling body to the young, vibrant soul who was within. I learned to trust him. I let go of trying to control everything. I learned to let him lead me.
Look at your animal companions right now. How would you describe their Love for Life? What makes their heart sing? What makes their soul soar? Who were they in their younger years? Who, what, when, and where did they enjoy most? Do you have images of them from back then? Find them. Look at them with your animal companion and your family. Find and SEE that young spirit that is alive within them now. Ask your beloved what they want. How would they want to spend their last days, weeks, months, or years? What would their Golden Years become if they could choose? What would they want to have, be, see, or do if you would allow it? Who are they at heart?? Can you see their vibrant soul within their aging body??
It’s still there.
This is some of what Albert taught me when his body began to fail. Recognizing his vibrant youth within a geriatric body and constantly seeing beyond his body was one of the greatest gifts I could give him every moment of our days together. Recognizing his innate feline needs, acknowledging his heart’s desires, and how much he LOVED life was what I needed to see, feel, and know. Once I finally recognized these, I was able to give him what he needed.
I gave him a life that was golden.
I knew who King Albert was and what he wanted in his golden years. I knew because I knew him back in his youth. All of those adventures and escapades he had never left him; he still wanted to have those even as he aged. He still wanted to try new things. He wanted to live bravely and fiercely, even at 17+ years of age. Albert wanted to be able to relish everything that life had to offer him. The scents on the breeze; The grass, soil, and sand between his paw pads; The Earth’s healing energy under his body; The warm sun on his face; The wind in his whiskers. These were some of his favorite things. These are what Albert wanted every day of his life.
This is what I gave to him during his last days on Earth.
Below is a short film that I created as a tribute to our King Albert The Grey. I hope it inspires you to give your aging animal companion a life that’s Golden.
My husband and I are both Make A Wish Granters; we have been serving in this role since 2009. This role has been life changing for me. The incredible and unique wishes that are granted to children and their families during their most challenging times change all of their lives forever. What we gave to our King Albert during his life threatening illness is very similar to what families of children with life threatening illnesses are able to experience through The Make A Wish Foundation. When these amazing children are faced with constant medical procedures, daily/hourly medical care, and the stress of illness, they need a release from the emotional and physical discomfort! So Make A Wish gives them their One True Wish. Not only is the child able to participate in their deepest heart’s desire, and receive a reprieve from the medical monotony, but so does their family. The child, parents, and siblings are One throughout the entire process; everyone needs a break, and a chance to celebrate life together!
This is very similar to what people go through with their pets when they are going through a life-threatening illness, or when they are living their last days on Earth. Round the clock medical care at home can be mentally and physically exhausting for everyone in the home. Both people and all the animals need a break from the constant focus of sickness; we need a time of celebration. We need to let them Live Their Life, even in the midst of sickness.
We have the power to grant our beloved their One True Wish.
“ I’ve learned to heed the call of the heart. I’ve learned that the safest path is not always the best path. I’ve learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.” ― Steve Goodier
Think about this. When your dearest friend or family member is leaving for a better opportunity, or the time has come for them to move on because of life circumstances, do you beg, cry, and plead for them to stay? Or do you celebrate the time you had together and the time you still have left, by relishing every moment, every smile, every laugh? Do you celebrate where they are headed?
Celebration and support is what our aging animal companions need from us.
Consider what you could create together when it’s time for your beloved to move on. Rather than putting your energy and emotions into defeat, consider putting your energy into creating a celebration of the last days you have together! What adventures and memories you will have! What a gift you will give them!
Please know that I am not being flippant about death by any means. For goodness sake, I am an Empath; animals are my life and the emotions that come with them are not for the faint of heart. Animals are my best friends and my family. They are my heart. But I have been in the depths of depression too many times to count when I had to suddenly say goodbye to my beloved in the past.
I finally know better.
Now I put all of my energy into loving and celebrating every moment with them. Now I am focused on creating love and joy with them, instead of drowning in sorrow. And I can promise you this: If you saw, felt, and knew where they were headed, you would throw one helluva party every damn day with them. Wherever you are in this process, there is no time to waste while they are still with us.
Celebrate their life while they are still here!
Not only did I give Albert every adventure he asked for near the end, I also gave him my unconditional love, endless support, and patience. This love came in many forms. From Hospice care at home, including force-free medical care multiple times a day (voluntary injections, fluids, and oral medicine). And not once was he forced to participate; we were a team from the get-go. This love also came in the form of finding the best holistic vet, to working in collaboration with the best feline medical hospital and their amazing team who let Albert set the pace. This love came in the form of alternative, holistic medicines and energy healing. This love came in the form of me consciously managing my energy, removing my fears, and learning to let go of control and trust him. This love came in the form of creating a deeper connection and soulful communication with him every day. This love and patience came in the form of allowing him to choose in every circumstance.
This love led us together into our best last days together. This love allowed him to live his golden years with grace and ease. We gave it our all with love. We never gave up on each other. Love led us to each other, and Love helped us all to lead him Home.
This love lead him Home to The Light.
Although it has been just over a week since he left his kingdom here for his new Kingdom in the heavens, the grieving process is still occurring. I am remembering to be gentle with myself, to be conscious of managing my energy, who I interact with, what I allow into my awareness, and the manner in which I continue to fully accept this hand of fate. Although I have not written here in a few months, I felt it was important to share this with you now, especially while I am still processing his passing and honoring his incredible, full life and the lessons he taught me.
These lessons are now being shared with you.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with an aging animal companion, take heart. Do not forget for one moment that you and your beloved are connected in heart and mind. When we are faced with the certain (or uncertain) fate of our beloved animal companion we have two choices. Listen well, and remember this. We can choose to fall into fear, or we can choose to lift ourselves and our beloveds in Love.
In every moment, we have a choice.
No one else can make this choice for us. It is ours and ours alone. We can cry over the circumstances or we can embrace them fearlessly. We can choose to stay angry and resentful about what’s in front of us or we can choose to celebrate their last days on Earth with them. We can find creative solutions, or we can give up. We can choose to accept defeat, or we can choose to proceed ahead together with an open heart of acceptance. We can sink into the swamps of sadness that steal our joy, or we can stand tall, walk with our beloved joyfully, and celebrate every breath together. We can choose to stare into the face of their declining mental and physical health and become burdened with despair, or we can keep searching for solutions. We can choose to see sickness and death, or we can choose to see beyond their body; we can see, feel, sense, and know their vibrant soul within. We can give up or we can give them a life that’s Golden.
We get to choose.
When we choose to let go of fear (anger, sadness, control, etc.) we let them (and fearless Love) lead. When we find peace, we give them permission to live their last days in peace. When we see beyond their body we are giving them the greatest gift; we are recognizing and remembering who they really are. When we learn to listen to their needs, their requests, and their wishes, we are honoring them and respecting them. When we honor and love ourselves through these challenges we are also honoring them, for We Are One.
Ea Nigada Qusdi Idadadvhn
(Cherokee for “All my relations in creation”)
One of the promises I made to King Albert the Grey before and during his transition was to live my life the way he did: To be brave and fearless, to set clear and firm boundaries, to love unconditionally, to embrace each day, to never waste a moment in sadness, to remember our True Home, to love and appreciate family, to never put things off for later; to seize the day, and to relish every moment, to be focused and determined, to collect memories not things, and to celebrate the gift of life. One of his clearest messages is to never put off what I can give to myself and others today and to have amazing adventures every damn day!!! This is what I have been doing every day since he left this world.
It has already begun to change my life.
The all-too-familiar soul crushing sadness has not been my constant companion, like it has been countless times in the past. Depression, stagnation, and sadness have been replaced with gratitude, celebration, and joy! I feel unconditional love when I see him in The Light. I feel gratitude when I celebrate his new Home in his new Kingdom. I find joy when I remember where he is and what he gave to our family. I feel overwhelmed with humble appreciation when I recognize that he is now myconstant guardian. And I feel alive, as Albert did, when I get up every morning and seize the day.
“We must be able to look forward in old age to the next day and to look forward to the great adventure that is ahead.” -Dr. Carl Jung
I love you, King Albert. You ruled our kingdom with strength, grace, and dignity through your very last breath here on Earth. I know you are doing this now, in your new world. When your fierce and brave Spirit was released from your body you were in my arms at home. It was an honor, but it broke my heart. The grief was almost to much to bear again. But then my heart began to heal when I remembered: Who you are cannot die.
You are now in a state of grace forever. You are now a warrior of Light. And every moment that I honor you and the Truth of who you Are, all of our hearts and minds are healed.
Be well, brother. May you never stop expanding, and may your adventures never end!
There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. -J. Nehru
This post is only one aspect of our journey together before he transitioned. I will share more about these pieces in the future. These topics include:
• Cat Harness Training – safe walks without fear and frustration for everyone
• Getting Real Consent (force-free medicine, medical procedures, and end of life choices)
• Hospice for Animal Companions
• Natural Death – Assisting with Their Transition at Home
• Utilizing Soul Speak for Life’s Challenges
• Death – The Great Divide or Daring Adventure?
All of these topics will be included in detail in the book, but I will do my best to share them here as time allows.
The picture gallery below is a beautiful reminder that we have the power to create miracles and magic during trying times. We CAN give our animal companions a Golden Life, no matter where they are on their journey. An aging body and life-threatening illness doesn’t have to be the end of their days. These circumstances can be the beginning!
We can grant their One True Wish (and a hundred more)!
The animals pictured in this gallery have passed on (some very recently), but but the grief of their passing is surpassed by the love and adventures their people gave them during their last days on Earth. The gifts these souls were given will remain in their hearts and minds for all time. Their people knew what they needed, wanted, and wished for; they gave it to their beloved animal companion. During their last days on Earth they all lived a Golden Life.
Marley loved the beach as a young pup, so her people invited her to experience nature near the waterfront just before she passed. She was so at peace. Marley spent her last days abroad in France with her beloved family; what she valued most. As she took her last breath she was at home surrounded by their love.
Bailey loved being with family. He spent his last earthly days invited on short walks, beach strolls, and being with the people he loved.
Guinness loved being with his people and going for adventurous swims in his pond. He was able to do this one last time just before he passed.
April loved being with her people and enjoying the scents on the breeze on her lake in her backyard. April spent her last day just sitting in the yard with me enjoying the outdoors.
Oakley LOVED to check the yard perimeter! Up until his last days he was able to be his people’s First Line of Defense at the fence 😉 He also enjoyed caramel popcorn as his reward for being so brave.
Maggie spent her last days adventuring with friends at Mardi Gras and being the quiet, faithful shadow to her most favorite person. She enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the levee on her last night with her person.
Bailey came to his family as a severely neglected dog who was found on their property. He spent his last days enjoying ample cuddles and eating delicious soft foods with the people he loved most.
Since Henri went blind in his last days AND he never lost his appetite, he was constantly either in my arms or sitting right next to me with all his favorites: bully sticks, peanut butter, and porterhouse steak dinners!
Chicory was blind at the time of her passing, but that didn’t stop her from running, chasing, and exploring nature! She spent her last days in such JOY!
Annie’s Oakley was named after his canine mother, Annie. And his human mom loved her Annie Oakley BB gun as a child, so it made sense that Oakley was always up for a wild adventure! Car rides weren’t a horse, but they sure made him happy in his last days!
File` (Feelay) enjoyed the last of her days getting to see parades and get biscuits from people.
Big April loved swimming in the lake and being outside-also barking a lot 😉 Always the protector. She was Penny’s big sister! Even though she was younger. Pretty Penny always liked being in charge and making sure no one messed with her mama! Penny had mini strokes but just kept on going and being fiesty! Go Penny!
Click on the images to read how these super souls spent their last days on Earth.
If you would like to share how you gave your beloved a Golden Life before they passed on, you are welcome to contact me. I will be adding more pictures as the stories of love and celebration come in, so feel free to share their story.
Be well, friends. Love each other. Appreciate and celebrate every moment with your beloveds. Don’t waste a moment. Create adventures and memories now. These will be part of the love they bring with them into their next life! The time for celebration is NOW!
Regardless of why it moved me, I would like to share it with you.
Normally I wait until the end of the week, for my Soulful Sunday posts, but I couldn’t wait. It’s too amazing. Please take a moment to turn inward, and set aside all of life’s distractions to watch something truly beautiful. You’ll be glad you did.
This is a filmmaker’s tribute to his beloved and loyal canine companion. The video, Denali, is told from the point of view of the dog. – quite hilariously at times. It’s so well done. And other artists have recognized it’s brilliance:The film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice, and was an official selection at Telluride Mountainfilm.
This short film is a gorgeous and poignant expression of friendship, gratitude, honoring a beloved companion, and unconditional love.
This film is a celebration of life.
It’s a celebration of real friendship.
It’s a glimpse into how powerful a bond can become between a person and their beloved animal companion.
It’s something that I hope you can experience one day.
As I have written about before, friendships come in all shapes and sizes. And this film shows us just that; an illumination of the resilience we can create together with the help of true friends. But as many of you know, these friendships have to end sometimes. That’s just the crappy part of this life.
And as Ben shows us in his deeply moving film …
There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a friend, especially when they’ve supported you through your darkest times.
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Whatever we were to each, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be the household word it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was;
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near just around the corner…
All is well. Nothing is past, nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before,
Only better and infinitely happier,
And forever we will be one together.
~ Henry Scott Holland
Love Transcends Time and Space.
All of the souls you loved are never lost. They are merely a thought away.
Have you ever lost an animal companion so suddenly and unexpectedly that you struggled to come to terms with it for weeks, months, or even years? If you follow this blog, chances are you view your pets as part of the family, just like I do. I’d like to tell you about my experience of healing by writing about the loss of Henri.
Early in 2013, my beloved Bichon, Henri, started showing signs of illness. He was gaining weight rapidly and he had strange skin issues, like a rash that wouldn’t go away and cyst-like sores. I was no stranger to a Bichon’s allergies and the vet didn’t think it was too big a deal. He was more concerned that Henri was getting fat and we both figured he was just eating too much and not getting enough exercise.
More problems kept popping up—the skin rash was a staph infection and he had fungus growing between his little toes. The vet ran tests and amped up the meds. Then, Henri went blind. It was horrible, but I was prepared to do anything for that little dog. I researched how to care for a blind dog, started a blind dog blog, and of course gave him plenty of bully sticks and games to play with. Henri is wicked smart and could solve puzzles in a snap, blind or not.
Then, his hearing started to go. Trips to specialists were almost daily, because his sores wouldn’t heal and he kept getting more. He hated the constant poking and probing as much as anyone would! He was on so much medication I didn’t know how his little body could handle it. I had to wear gloves to give him one of the pills. I had to put eye drops in his poor blind eyes twice a day and it was obvious this scared him. One consolation was that, since he was blind, I had to carry him everywhere, so at least he was getting lots of snuggling and so was I.
Gradually, we were starting to realize that Henri was not going to get better; he was only going to get worse. Before long, he didn’t want to be petted and comforted any longer. He didn’t want to sleep. He barked all the time, confused.
We made the hardest decision a pet owner could make, and on his last night with us we gave him a steak dinner. He couldn’t even smell the steak in front of his face. But once he had a lick, he devoured every bite.
I was so grief stricken after he died that I was inconsolable for days. Understand, I didn’t want to admit that Henri’s condition was fatal until about a week before he died. Maybe that’s what the vet was telling me, but since they couldn’t even name the disease—it seemed like some kind of multi-system, cascading thing of mysterious origin—I denied that he couldn’t be fixed until the very end. His breed should have a life expectancy of at least fifteen years. Henri was only seven-years-old when he passed.
My friend Amy Martin encouraged me to celebrate his life (and that’s something I tried so hard to embrace), but I wasn’t ready to stop mourning. I wanted to hold onto him somehow.
That’s when I decided to make Henri a character in the book I was writing at the time. We come into the story as a new character is introduced, driving into the small town of Shirley…
Driving into Shirley from the east always shocked Aaron Walsh after he had been away for a while. He’d be driving through the gentle rise and fall of the highway, traversing mostly highlands between the taller peaks, for miles. Then, he’d round the last summit, Widow-maker Point, and then bang!—the valley plunged, a deep crevice in the countryside below the granite cliffs. The transition was breath-taking. He usually felt contented by the vision, flooded with memories of a happy childhood spent rampaging through the forests with friends, siblings and cousins. But not that day.
That day, the scene made him feel homesick and sorry for himself. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in a cozy lounger and watch a Mystery Science Theater marathon under blankets. He turned up the volume on a melancholy country song and let his mood settle in. Aaron reached up to squeeze Henri’s collar. He hung it from his rearview mirror after the vet had returned the collar, empty, along with other personal items. The grain of the fabric was worn and soft, slightly oily from years of use.
Henri had started out as his wife Chloë’s, dog years before, but the dog had taken to Aaron. Aaron loved to give Henri bacon treats and dinner handouts under the table. Chloë bought him for a show dog. He was a Bichon Frisee with Champion lineage—his sire was actually named Champion, no kidding—but Aaron had spoiled her chances in a matter of months. He smiled, thinking about how mad his wife was when Henri got too fat. He remembered that glorious, flowing-white tail that Henri would wrap around his wrist while he petted him. Aaron had grown up with hounds and mutts, and he never would’ve imagined a fluffy white dog would or could steal his heart, but he had.
Then, Henri started showing signs of mysterious health problems. A pure bred dog after all, Aaron had tried to reason that inbreeding often caused strange issues. He took him to dozens of specialists and spent thousands of dollars on testing and treatments. Finally, he had to accept it. Henri was dying. Once Aaron decided to have him put to sleep, he made the commitment to be there with him when he passed away. He cried like a baby for days leading up to it and for days after it was done, but he was able to stroke his fur and whisper thanks in his ear, for being such a good dog. As difficult as it was, he was grateful to have been able to tell him good-bye.
Chloë was sympathetic and patient at first. But after several days of Aaron’s prolonged mourning, his moping around the house uselessly, she started to lose patience. He lashed out at her for not seeing Henri’s worth as a show dog (which was ridiculous; Henri would have hated that prissy crap), and Chloë suggested a week in the mountains might help.
She was right, of course. Camping always helped heal the soul. Aaron couldn’t wait to get out there, among the elements. He’d spent too much time indoors the last few years. City life did that to you. He figured he’d stop in and say hello to Dad before he headed south, into the most secluded wilderness along Red Ridge.
When I read that now, two years later, I know that what I was doing was witnessing Henri’s life and death. I felt so guilty about his illness, because I didn’t realize for so long how ill he was. I wondered if I had treated him kindly enough when he was probably feeling worse than I understood. Henri never complained.
Any pet owner who has had to make the decision to euthanize a beloved friend knows how hard it is; even when all professional opinion tells you you’re doing the right thing, the “right thing” is excruciating.
But also, I was sharing Henri with the world, making him eternal in literature. That helped the healing process begin. As Aaron Walsh finds peace in the book, so was I in writing about it. The sunrise that he watches, and the peace he feels afterward, was my way to describe what I hoped was in store for myself.
I’m not the camper he is, but I can imagine it…
Right on time, an American Robin broke into her, “Cheer up, cheer up, cheerily,” whistle not a hundred yards away, and Aaron decided to quit his tent for an early start.
He unzipped the door flaps and ducked out into the fresh morning air, then reached back inside for his coat, shocked at the drop in temperature. Feeling the yawn in his abdomen, he considered breakfast, but since the sun wasn’t completely up, it would be a hassle in the dark. Instead, he sat down on the blanket of fallen pine leaves outside his front door, tugged on his boots, and decided to sit out the sunrise with a better vantage point closer to the river. He inspected his jeep as he passed for any signs of ransacking, but seeing nothing amiss, he ambled toward the rim of the bluff.
The stroll was easy through towering pine trees, their high plumes of needles overhead floating over the forest floor like thunderheads. He could barely see the stars, much less the blossoming horizon to the east, but he knew the giant trees would stand aside for maples, dogwoods and holly bushes along the edge of the pinewoods. The heavens would open up for a gorgeous sunrise over the southern canyon. He heard the rapid, stuttering trill and then low, buzzing tones of a warbler in the distance, announcing the dawn. Aaron picked up his pace. Near the edge of the forest, he slowed down to navigate a thicket of mountain laurel and rhododendron. He heard more birdsongs announcing survival of the night and warning enemies of nests still protected, and Aaron worried he might miss the sunrise.
But the canopy above cleared abruptly, and he was kissed by the fresh air of the open ravine, with an earthy smell of fast moving water churning up the riverbed below. He could just discern a delicate lavender wash seeping across the sky into the western blackness, the stars beginning to wink out with the advance of light. Aaron collapsed to the ground, leaned back in relief and dangled his boots over the side of the bluff, his palms damp on the cool, crusty granite. He thought about the healing power of a new day—of every new day—and admitted that he was starting to accept his friend Henry’s death.
“Bye, little buddy.”
The burst of sunfire was spectacular, perfect for Henry’s requiem. Bright pinks and oranges flared and rippled amongst feathers of clouds. Aaron’s face warmed as the sun rose and the pageant faded and the sky gradually fused back together in a cool, peaceful blue. It was morning, fair and full of promise.
I am happy to report that I’m now able to truly celebrate Henri’s life. When I shed tears for him, they are tears of joy and gratitude. Recently, Amy Martin introduced me to Denise Mange, a certified animal communicator who helped me contact Henri. It was an amazing experience and one that I will share in my next post. Stay tuned! If you’d like to learn more about animal communicators, ask Amy or visit Denise’s site: www.denisenyctraining.com.
Sarah Wathen is an artist, an author, and the founder of the independent publishing house, LayerCake Productions, specializing in the fun part of creative writing—original artwork, video trailers, and musical soundtracks. She was trained in Classical Painting at the University of Central Florida, and received her Master’s in Fine Art from Parsons School of Design in New York City. If Florida was where she discovered her passion, New York was the place she found her voice. “Writing a book was my obvious next step, once I realized I’d been trying to tell stories with pictures for years,” Sarah says about transitioning from visual artist to novelist. “Painting with words is even more fun than painting with oil.”
Sarah lives in Florida with her husband, son, and at least a dozen imaginary friends from her two novels, a paranormal mystery called The Tramp, and a young adult coming of age story, Catchpenny. A painter at heart, her novels incorporate art judicially, both in narrative content and supporting materials. Her characters are derived from the people and places that have influenced her own life—at least one beloved pet makes it into every book—but the stories they live will take you places you have never imagined and won’t want to leave.
No matter what you are celebrating and honoring, I hope this finds you and your family having a stress-free week! I giggled as I wrote that, because the reality (that we all know too well) is that this week can be incredibly hectic. From family vacations, trips to relatives’ houses, relatives visiting your home, 101 to-dos, last minute shopping, to endless check-lists, these past few weeks can be overwhelming to say the least! And not to mention the strain that it can put on our finances! We shop for relatives, we shop for friends, we shop for family members, and sometimes the pets get a few gifts sprinkled in there as well.
But what about giving a gift to our loved ones that honors our pets?
This year I decided to create something for the loved ones in my life that just happen to love our animal companions almost as much as I do. And at the same time, I found a way to save money, while honoring the foot prints that our pets have placed upon our hearts.
I decided to create my first DIY (Do It Yourself) Paw Print Ornament.
Ok, so it’s not the fanciest ornament, by any means. Clearly you can see that this is my first attempt at this! But that’s what makes it so fun! It doesn’t have to be perfect! It can be messy, with flaws and all!
What I love most about this gift idea is that it’s not about perfection. It’s about creating something from your heart, with your hands. It’s about putting effort and love into a gift. And it’s really fun.
If you have a dog, cat, pig, parrot, ferret, iguana, or rat, you can do this too!
If you would like to make these, this is what you need:
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup baking soda
1. Mix both into a saucepan.
2. Slowly add in 3/4 cup of water.
Note: Continue stirring mixture as you add the water. It will start to turn into a hard, concrete mixture; keep stirring! It will blend together in a few minutes.
3. Place saucepan on stove top and cook at medium. Stir constantly for several minutes.
Note: Be sure to stir all the way to the bottom of the pot. The mixture begins to harden at the bottom first.
4. Keep Stirring! — It will very quickly (and almost suddenly) become a doughy ball.
5. Remove saucepan from heat. (Let the dough sit until you can safely remove it from the saucepan).
6. Place the dough on a smooth cutting board and allow it to cool a bit more.
7. Knead it for a minute or so, until it is soft and pliable.
8. Section dough into as many pieces as you will need. (make various sizes based on the animals’ feet sizes.)
9. Roll dough into balls. Press flat.
10. Make a hole big enough for your string of choice to go through the top of the ornament. (I used a thick toothpick.)
11. While the dough is smooth and moist (before it begins to dry and crack), gently press your pet’s paw into the dough. Be gentle, but apply even pressure.
11. Reward your pet with treats for allowing you to do this 😉 Never force your pet to participate.
12. Place parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet. Place dough on sheet.
13. Bake the paw print dough at 250 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes. (thicker slices will take longer to bake.)
14. Let baked dough cool for a few minutes.
15. Decorate as your heart desires!
Tips for enhancing your creation:
Keep the color white!
Change the color to red, blue, or whatever color speaks to you!
Use twine instead of ribbon for a more rustic look!
Paint the ornament after it bakes!
Write the name and year on the back.
Write a short poem or saying on the back.
(Just google “DIY Paw Print Ornament and you will find a ton of ideas.)
These are just a few reasons why I wanted to share this with you all:
It works for folks on a tight budget!
It works for a last minute gift idea!
It works for kids that love to create things as gifts!