I’ll begin with an apology for the massive hiatus in my blog posts. My darling Pixiecat has been my priority for a number of months now, as you may know if you’re connected with me on my Instagram, Twitter or Facebook pages where I’ve been able to provide little updates here and there. When I write a blog, I like to take a bit more time and usually have a whole lot more to say than one little tweet or post can convey. Thank you for bearing with me.
If you regularly read my blogs, you’ll be aware that Pixie was diagnosed with bone cancer which, despite every avenue being explored, was only treatable with palliative care. We made sure she had the best possible care at home with us and that her final months were the most peaceful, happy and loving that any being could wish for. Sadly, the time I was dreading came and the worst decision I’ve ever had to make was staring me in the face. Pixie peacefully passed on the 27th of August.
My heart is full of gratitude for having had 13 years of Pixiecat magic filling our home and our lives with a very special kind of love. I’m also forever grateful that we at least, had time to come to terms with what was ahead. As heart-breaking as it was, I think it would have been a million times harder to have lost her suddenly, without any warning. I was able to take some time off work to spend more precious moments with her, researched thoroughly about what to expect and, importantly for me, make plans for her to take her final sleep at home where she is now laid to rest.
Over the past few months so many of you have shared your own stories, each one just as unique as every one of our animal companions. I’ve shed more than a few tears for you as well for my own situation. Many have not had the luxury of time or a peaceful passing for their beloved little friends. My heart breaks for you. I’m gently placing a virtual arm around your shoulders and having a cry with you. I wish you healing, through time and memories of all that made your heart aglow with love for them.
As an ambassador for The Good Grief Trust charity, and having suffered losses of friends and family members, I am no stranger to grief. Sadly, it’s the one certainty we all share. It will, inevitably, touch our lives at some point. Thankfully, through awareness, we are all starting to allow ourselves to acknowledge and talk about our grief. For me, this is very important. Not to stay stuck in the past but to find a way to work through the grief so that we are able to make some peace with it. To move forward in way which honours those we had to say our goodbyes to and allows us to adjust to life without them.
When I found out Pixie only had a short time left, months at best, I began to plan and prepare myself. I wanted to ensure I was doing everything I could during her life but also at the very end of it. I watched quite a few videos of people saying their final goodbyes to their furry friends. We are all different but, for me, this was the right thing to do. I have mentioned previously that, though pets had died when I was a child, I had never had to be the one to either make the decision for their life to come to an end or been with them at the moment they left. I was very thankful that people had filmed that very intimate moment because I felt the need to know what to expect. I had prepared myself and my two adult children for the possibility of some upsetting but natural eventualities which sometimes occur. Fortunately, to all of our relief, Pixie’s was the most gentle, peaceful passing. I’d go so far as to say it was as beautiful as something of this nature could be.
Seeing as I felt gratitude to those who had shared what they had been through when saying goodbye to their pets I thought I’d share some things with you regarding our own goodbyes. Perhaps it may be of some help to you or someone you know who may be going through something similar.
Pixie was a remarkably zen cat who remained unfazed and resilient throughout her life. She was a sweet girl but would defend her territory when the need arose. If a strange cat strayed into our garden whilst she and her sister, Popsiecat, were inside she would rush to the patio doors and try to see them off with screeching and limbs flailing! Popsie, conversely, would retreat to safety behind a sofa or chair and simply hiss intermittently despite being the slightly more sturdily built of the two. A few years ago, Pixie and another local cat got into a really nasty fight. Pix came strutting into the house without a complaint and I thought she’d got off lightly until I saw a rip in her leg several inches long! Thankfully our vets are amazing and managed to stitch her up, but she didn’t even wince. Nothing seemed to bother her. Any pain she ever suffered she took in her stride.
During Pixie’s last few weeks I noticed she seemed to be in some discomfort at times when her painkillers were wearing off, but she was still playful on some days right up until a few days prior to her passing. People had been telling me that you just know when the time comes, and the suffering needs to come to an end. I wasn’t sure, though. She became a little slower and didn’t seem to be able to see so well out of her eye on the side of the tumour so misjudged a couple of jumps to the sofa, but she still seemed happy and was eating plenty.
The time of ‘knowing’ people had spoken about came a couple of days prior to her final day with us. She moved very little and when she did get up, she was looking uncomfortable. It was taking time for her to rearrange herself and she did so very gingerly. My wonderful vets and I had the necessary discussion to ascertain or, really, I suppose, confirm what I suspected. It was time.
I had confirmed with them a while before that, when the time came, they would come to the garden and that it would be OK for me to keep her body for home burial rather than have her be taken away. We all must choose what is right for us and our families. For me, I just felt I couldn’t bear to be parted from her even in death, so I explored the possibilities in advance. They said she would be OK for the next couple of days on an increased dose of her medication until the appointment.
The night before ‘the day’ my daughter came home from Bristol with her boyfriend, Harry, so she could say goodbye, too. Pixie had been her friend for half of Chrissie’s life, after all. Harry has also known and loved our cats for several years. Though I’d been bringing Pixie into my bedroom to sleep for the last few weeks of her life in case she needed me, I decided to place her in her bed (incidentally from Silentnight at QVC and their favourite beds of all I ever tried with them) next to her sister for her last night with us. When my son, Tom, Chrissie and I got up it appeared neither of them had moved all night.
My wonderful partner, Jamie, stayed in bed a little longer, as did Harry, whilst the ‘three musketeers’, as I’d often called my children and I, spent some time with Pix and Pops. It was a lovely little time afforded to us five who had spent so many years together. We drank coffee, chatted and took it in turns to give Pixie some love and cuddles. Chrissie had recently written a new song which Tom and I asked her to play for us. It was beautiful. A very calm song with some poignant words which were pertinent to our situation. It’s called Ladybird and it’s about the inevitability of time, growing older and acceptance. A few lyrics particularly stood out to me, but this was the one I’ll always remember about that morning; “don’t be scared, I’ll meet you there”. It could have been me saying it to her, but I think it was more of a metaphor, which could have been from Pixie to us. I like to think of her waiting at the end of that famed rainbow bridge people speak of, until we meet again. If there’s some truth in it, Pix, you can count on us meeting you there, my love.
Jamie and Harry joined us a little later. All safely distanced, I might add. We had some food and then prepared the little wicker casket I’d bought some weeks earlier. It had four handles on the outside, which we decorated with rainbow ribbons for lowering into her final resting place when the time came. The day before I had visited my favourite florist and chosen flowers especially for Pixie. I chose beautiful bright, celebratory colours which reflected the happiness and vibrancy she had brought to our lives. These were to surround her in her forever bed once she’d passed. Popsie absolutely adores flowers and always sits next to them when I have them. As you can see, these special blooms got her approval.
Over the past few months Pixie had taken to sleeping on a special pillow. It was a brand new one I’d bought for myself from QVC but once it was unwrapped, she decided it was hers. I would carry her, like the little Pixie Princess she was, from room to room on it. She’d even sleep in the bathroom on it while I had my baths. I chose this happy, familiar pillow for her to rest upon when the time for goodbye was to come. On top of it I placed one of my daughter’s childhood blankets.
When the vet and his nurse came, we gathered in the garden, safely. I carefully lifted Pixie so she was laying over my shoulder, a favourite little cuddling position, and carried her outside. I sat down in a chair and placed her on the pillow on my lap. Popsie usually runs and hides when strangers come to the house, but she was contentedly weaving her way around the vet and assistant’s feet. Jamie, Tom, Chrissie and Harry assembled standing in a kind of socially distanced semi-circle facing us.
Our vet is the best. All the staff are so kind and really care for their patients and their families. Andy, our vet, looked at Pixie and confirmed how much bigger the tumour had become in only a matter of days and that this was the right time. He and his nurse arranged their equipment on the table next to us whilst I stroked Pixie and told her how much we all loved her. She was so tired and didn’t even move when Andy gave her an injection with sedation. It’s possible she may not have even needed it, but I chose for her to be sedated so she’d have that peaceful feeling and wouldn’t have to feel any stress. I could see her little shoulders relax as she seemed to sink further into the pillow, tension leaving her tired little body. After about ten minutes or so Andy prepared the site for the injection which would end her suffering forever. Even this was a very gentle and kind act of snipping away some fur with scissors and placing it onto the table rather than a noisy electric clipper. I put the clipped fur into my pocket. I’m not really sure why.
I turned her toward me to look into her eyes. I could see her poorly eye looking much clearer than it had in weeks and her pupils were dilating but she was still with us, the strong little trooper that she was. Andy said he’d like to give her one more injection as her little heart was still beating and she was breathing. This time I knew the ‘rainbow express had arrived, and she was boarding that train to the rainbow bridge’. Andy waited some time and checked her heart and other signs before looking up at me and, tenderly, saying the words I’ll never forget, “she’s gone”.
They packed up their things as we thanked them for their kindness and they quietly left us with our dear angel. When I was ready, I stood and carried my darling girl back into the house on her pillow and placed her on the floor. It was important to me that Popsie could say goodbye. I had researched plenty about remaining pets grieving and was determined Pops wouldn’t be left wondering where she had gone by ensuring she sniffed Pixie. They seem to know and, apparently, this can help them with the loss of their companion by acknowledging the finality of the situation.
I placed Pixie into her little casket and then we lay flowers all around her. She looked so beautiful. We also put a tuft of Popsiecat’s fur in with her (and we saved the little clipping of Pixie’s for the, hopefully far away in the future, time when Popsie has her final farewell) along with a funny little sign saying ‘Pixie, PhD’ which my son made years earlier. We left the lid off and all took time to stroke her and arrange the flowers.
I went to get changed out of what I had been wearing and soon started to realise I was stalling for time. The moment I’d dreaded the most was placing her in the grave we had, thankfully, dug weeks prior to the day. It had taken two of us half a day. I ended up stalling for about two hours. I carried her basket over to the breakfast bar with me and chatted to her as I put a wash on and did some dishes. Even at the time I felt slightly bonkers, but I guess it’s a self-preservation mechanism which went into autopilot mode for a while.
Finally, I decided the time had come. Chrissie’s boyfriend had to attend video meetings for work, so it was just Jamie, Tom, Chrissie and myself. I chose not to have Pops outside with us just in case she hadn’t fully understood and might be wondering what was going on. We said a final goodbye before placing and securing the lid and then we lowered her into the grave and placed more flowers on top after we had sung silly songs which we’d made up for her and her sister over the years as we ‘laugh-cried’. It started to rain as we refilled the hole. Finally, as a temporary measure, we placed two paving stones on top to deter any other animal visitors from digging. On top of one of these I placed a sleeping cat ornament which the children’s father had gifted me when we moved in to this house. Next to this, another handful of pretty flowers.
I felt so proud of everyone. I felt enormous relief that Pixie had passed so gently, too. It was a day etched, indelibly, into my memory. Sad, yes, but as beautiful as it could have been. Dignified, caring, loving, gentle and fitting for such a soul.
Popsie misses her sister, I’m sure. She’s been spending time sitting on her grave. She seems to be getting a little closer to us. As I type, she is sitting next to me, looking up at me with her sweet, lovely eyes. The little sleeping cat ornament is a placeholder, whilst I wait for a sculpture I’ve commissioned to be made as a happy little tribute and marker of Pixie’s resting place. Seeing as I’ve written such a lengthy blog this week, perhaps I’ll tell you more about that next time. Oh, and I must tell you about the butterflies, too.
Grief is like a rollercoaster. One day, I’m coasting along just fine and enjoying the ride of life, the next I am hurtling out of control with my heart in my mouth. I’d actually liken it to labour contractions. Just fine and then all of a sudden, it’s like you are caught in a vice-like grip of intense pain that leaves you breathless and exhausted. I keep finding myself saying over and over in my head and aloud, ‘I just can’t believe she’s gone’. Despite that, I will always feel her with me, and I am honoured to have shared her life right until the very end. A love like that won’t ever die.
Something I cannot even begin to express is the gratitude for all of your comments, sentiments, advice, gifts, books, cards and love. I’ve been moved beyond words. Thank you, a million times over wouldn’t be overstating it. I hope all good karma is returned tenfold to you.
Here’s to all of our animal companions and all that they teach us and give us during their lifetimes and beyond. My deepest love to you all.
Finally… Pixie, you will always be one of the brightest stars in my sky. I’ll never forget you. I’ll always love you. Thank you for gracing our lives with the wonderful being of you.
Love, Catherine xx