Not for the faint of heart….the passing of my dear cat, Kiki.

by | Feb 5, 2013 | Health & News | 8 comments

She had this incredibly loud purr.  It was like a tremor, emanating from deep inside her body and reverberating sounds of true joy and complete contentment.   Every morning while stroking her neck and back, I was gifted with this resounding orchestra of delight.  This was my morning dose of “feline fortitude” which propelled me to face the daily challenges.

calico-cat_4155150We had our morning ritual.  Both she and my other cat, Kona, would scuffle for the best place in the sink.  Then they would place their tongues underneath the bathroom faucet and lap up the tap water.  Though somewhat confined, they still seemed to consume enough water, licking each other’s faces as the water brushed across them. Then they would follow me downstairs, with Kona waiting on the fourth step, to see if he could scare her.  Once in the kitchen, she’d rub against my leg, teasing me to give her treats.   Similarly, we had our evening ritual.  When she heard my house key open the front door, she would be right there – right by the door to greet me with her playful swagger, her tremulous purr and her rhinestone collar beaming at me.  These are but a few of the fond memories I hold deep in my heart for my beloved cat, Kiki.

It was only about a week ago that I noticed her staying in the bedroom and not following me downstairs.  She didn’t fawn over me for her treats and seemed lethargic.  No longer was she meeting me at the door when I arrived home from work.  I knew that something was definitely wrong.

I summoned up my courage to take her into the vet for evaluation and tried to convince myself that maybe it was just a feline virus or some other definitely treatable condition.   But in my gut, I knew it was worse.   As I sat in the cold, white exam room waiting for the vet to show me her chest x-rays, I thought of her wonderful purr and for a few seconds I breathed peacefully.  This proved fleeting as the vet entered the room and slapped the dark x-rays on the viewing board.  My heart sank.  The chest x-ray showed a massive amount of fluid in both lungs and a tumor in her left lung.  This was causing her heart to work harder and limiting the amount of oxygen to her organs.

I couldn’t stop what happened next.  My eyes flooded with tears and I started sobbing.   Yes, right there in front of the vet, in the middle of the exam room – I totally lost all composure.  Flashbacks of my decision not to apply for vet school filled my head.  As a child I collected articles from the Pet Section of the LA Times and pasted them to make booklets.  I absolutely loved animals and knew someday that I wanted to care for these incredible creatures.  But, over my childhood years with the loss of many beloved pets, I knew my heart couldn’t withstand their suffering and pain.    They were so innocent and vulnerable.


So instead of putting my application to vet school, I decided to pursue medical school and enter into a “happy” specialty – Ob/Gyn.  Delivering babies and taking care of women through the various wonderful stages of life suited me far better.

My thoughts soon returned to the cold, white walls of the exam room.  How could this be happening?  She seemed so happy and healthy just days ago.  The follow up ultrasound showed what we already had anticipated.  A large tumor had grown in her abdomen and then metastasized to her lungs, causing fluid to build up.

Words like chemotherapy, radiation, and “draining the fluid” filled the room.   In my heart, I knew the prognosis was very poor and Kiki deserved a dignified, peaceful death.   They brought her to me – her abdomen shaved from the abdominal ultrasound and slightly wet.  Her breathing was labored and I could tell from the look in her eyes that there wasn’t much time left.

Fortunately, we made it home safe and sound.  I then gently laid her on the floor near my bed – this was one of her favorite places.  Her breaths became more shallow, stopping for 5- 7 seconds, then taking a gasp.  She did this three consecutive times, convulsing and letting out a shriek as my hand lay by her.   One last breath and she was gone.  All was still and calm.  No more shrieks, no more labored breathing.  I started sobbing – grieving the loss of this precious being that had so filled my life with joy each and every day.  My dear friend Ellen, a true animal lover herself, came to my house and consoled me as we sat peacefully beside Kiki.

The next day, we brought her to Ellen’s back yard where many other pets had been laid to rest.  It was a peaceful, serene place where I knew she would be safe.  I gave her one last kiss as we wrapped a towel around her in her bed, and gently placed her in the grave.  As I shoveled the dirt into this sacred space, I thanked Kiki for all the joy and happiness she had brought to my life.   She had lived a very loving life and I never denied her of her beloved treats, even in those last days.

Some say that losing a pet can hurt as much as losing a relative.   They give us unconditional love and are ultimately loyal until their dying day.  How we deal with the loss of a loving pet can vary greatly, both in duration and severity.   According to Sandra Barker, the director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, the grieving process can be filled with a sense of surprise and even shame – many times clients may grieve more for our pets than for a sibling or a parent.

She further states, “But when they realize that the difference is the pet gave them constant companionship, and there was total dependency, then they start to realize that’s why they’re grieving so intensely.”

Yes, our pets are more than just four legged animals- they are part of our family.  Their endless love and constant affection, given without judgment or expectation, are true gifts in our lives. They wag their tails, sit on our laps and purr with complete contentment.

From my readings on grieving, I found some helpful tips which have aided me over the past few days.  Perhaps someday, they may be of help to you, too.

7 Ways to Cope with the Death of a Pet

  1. Allow yourself to grieve.  We all grieve in different ways and for different periods of time.  Whether it is for a few days or years, it is a completely personal experience which may even require taking some time off work or spending time alone.
  2. Express your grief openly. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings or memories.
  3. Spend time with your surviving pet.  Spend time with your surviving pet.  This can help ease the pain and deal with deep emotions.  Be aware that your surviving pet may also are affected by the loss.   Create a positive emotional state within the home.
  4. Do something in your pet’s memory.  This can mean spending time at places where you used to be together, volunteering at an animal shelter or making a donation in your pet’s memory.  These moments can help turn a painful situation into a positive one.
  5. Keep a journal. Keeping a journal helps to record your feelings, thoughts and memories.  By writing, you can work through the grief and make sense of things happening around you.
  6. Memorialize your pet.  By doing so, you can help overcome the loss and remember the good times you had together.
  7. Seek support.  This is a very healthy way to cope with the death of a pet.  This support could come from friends or family, or from pet-loss support hotlines, pet bereavement counseling services and online support groups.

These 7 tips have helped me process through the grief over the past days, realizing that my grief is genuinely deserving of time and attention.  Close friends have comforted me and we have shared fond memories of Kiki.  Every night, I make a point of sitting with Kona on the couch, petting him and giving him some special attention.    Writing, especially this blog, has helped me – knowing that many of you may have experienced such a loss and the sense of a caring community warms my soul.  Kiki’s rhinestone collar sits in my kitchen counter next to her treats.  When I make my cup of coffee in the morning, I see the shiny crystals studded on her red collar.  My heart fills with both sadness and joy, yet the sense of gratitude overwhelms both.   I know that her spirit lives within me and her incredible purr – yes – that beloved purr – will forever resonate in my soul.

purring cat

Below is a poem which I would like to share with all of you.

A poem for the grieving…

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there, I did not die…

–        Anonymous

Please feel free to share any comments regarding your own experiences.  I welcome them and believe this to be a healing (and healthy!) community.



Dr. Diana