A fond farewell to a feline friend

As we near the end of 2018, it feels right to share that earlier this year we said goodbye to our beloved Sullivan, feline extraordinaire.

I have tended to be quite hesitant to share publicly when my animal companions pass away, because they are so very dear to me and their passing feels, in some ways, exquisitely private.

But Sullivan was known to many of my coaching clients, and also to folks from the various communities of which I am a part.

Chances are, if we worked together on the phone, Sullivan was curled in my lap while we talked, or maybe you heard him purring wildly (which he did when he was in “lovey-dovey” mode —  it was so loud people would tell me they could practically feel the vibration of his purr as we talked). Or, if we did a Skype or Zoom session, you may have seen Sullivan pop up on your screen, or climbing the shelves or chairs in the background.

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I adopted Sullivan back in 2005, as a companion for Slinky (who died of lymphoma in 2010). Sullivan was by far the skinniest cat in the shelter, but his spirit radiated joy. Even into his very last weeks, he maintained his “puppy-like” personality — he’s the only cat I’ve ever had who would trot happily over to me when I called his name. (When he felt like it, of course! He was, after all, a cat.)

Sharing a box with Slinky, around 2008 (Sullivan is on the right)

Sullivan was, in fact, so skinny when I adopted him that he looked rather like Dobby the House Elf — all ears. In those early days, people who met him were shocked at his thinness. Fast-forward to 2012, and he tipped the scales at nearly 13 pounds. (“He probably shouldn’t gain any more weight,” our wonderful vet, Dr. Brancel of Prairie State Animal Hospital, said with a laugh. I took this as a win!)

When Slinky left us in 2010, I was concerned Sullivan would be in deep grief, but he simply accepted her death and went on with life. I’d sensed as Slinky worsened that Sullivan “got it” — while he’d once demanded daily attention from her, and loved to ambush her on the couch or in a box where she was sleeping, he started to leave her alone, stopping when he passed to gently groom her now and then.

Ever the shelf sitter, in 2016

As far as we know, Sullivan was probably eighteen, or close to it, when he left us. Even into his last month or so of life, he remained a climber — he loved the top of the refrigerator, the highest shelf in the living room. We noticed, though, that he didn’t look out the windows as much in his last several months, and his favorite toy — a yellow “tiger tail” filled with catnip, was going untouched more and more.

It’s hard to imagine a sweeter soul than Sullivan, and as he aged, I reassured myself (or maybe chose the path of denial) by reminding myself that I’ve had cats for thirty-plus years, and that I was by now a seasoned veteran of cat loss, and I’d be able to “accept it” when Sullivan’s time came.

But you know what? I wasn’t even remotely ready. The loss has been extremely difficult for me, and for my partner, who first met Sullivan in 2011 and loved him almost as much as I did (though Sullivan remained, for the most part, a mama’s boy).

Sporting his Day of the Dead collar in 2015

Pets come into our lives for a relatively short time. When I adopted Sullivan in 2005, I was in a different place in my life, and I was a “youngish” person, while now, there’s no way around the fact that I am — a-hem — “middle-aged.” Sullivan made that passage with me, and it’s a period of my life that I’ll always cherish.

When the time came (and you never truly know when it’s “time”), we used this service for in-home euthanasia. A truly sensitive and compassionate vet, Megan Carolyn of Chicago, came to our home and we let Sullivan go.

When I started my life coaching practice in early 2011, Sullivan became my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation. His presence was a constant reminder to me that I didn’t have to push so hard all the time, and that just being curious about the goings-on within me would take me a very long way.

We miss and will continue to miss you, beloved friend.

***

By the way, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet, I was helped immensely after Sullivan died by the blog of Joy Davy (who also has a book on pet loss).

And please know, this is tough stuff and there is nothing wrong or weird about feeling intense grief over the loss of an animal companion. Pets, probably more than people for many of us, are so integrated into our homes, our daily lives, that they can leave a truly massive void.

Pets also provide us with the benefits of oxytocin — the “love hormone” that is released when we touch them. This hormone is in part related to mother-infant bonding, and it is said to have anti-inflammatory benefits. When that’s taken away, it hurts. (Research also shows that the frequency of a cat’s purr has healing properties.) No wonder so many of us feel better with animal in our lives.

(And yes, we do have a new feline companion named Genevieve, a.k.a. Little G, a.k.a. The QUOTH — Queen of the House. I’ll introduce Genevieve in a future post.)

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14 thoughts on “A fond farewell to a feline friend

  1. Love and hugs to you, Jill. I’ve lost cats too and never bawled so hard or been so incapacitated. It took me a year before I was ready to re-adopt when my devilcat passed, but I’ve now had Lucia for over a year (currently curled on my lap). XO

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ellen, thank you — I always appreciated your posts about your dear devilcat and I know you miss her. Yes, I was definitely incapacitated just before and after (it took me ages to write this post because it just felt too raw!). It helps that you get it — and so glad you are enjoying life with Lucia! Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill, I am so, so sorry for your loss. Sullivan was a beautiful little soul, and you gave him a beautiful, loving home. I wish you nothing but love, and support, and comfort in this time. You are a wonderful, wonderful kitty mama, and you were both blessed in heart and soul to have each other. I look forward to meeting your new little love, Genevieve, in future posts. Love, Kathryn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn, thank you so much for your kind words — they truly warm my heart. Sullivan was definitely my “soul cat”, and I appreciate you picking up on that. 🙂 It’s amazing to me that we can go into an animal shelter and bring home so much joy, and I’m grateful to have had so many years with him.

      It’s always wonderful to hear from you, and I wish you a most beautiful holiday season. (And yes, I’ll be sharing about Queen Genevieve soon!)

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  3. Oh Jill, I’m so sorry for your loss. For me losing a furry companion is so difficult. They give us unconditional love and help when ever we need their special fixes … sweet purring when you most need love. The yipping, howling, and kisses I get when I return home after only an hour or two away. Both my dog, Max and Lilli, my crazy cat are my best friends.

    Blessings to you for happy holidays and a new year filled with sweet love and purring from Genevieve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, dear Joan! Our fur friends are so wonderful, aren’t they? I know these losses have been difficult for you, too. So glad to hear that Max and Lilli bring you so much joy. I agree, it’s wonderful to return home and have them greet you. 🙂

      Wishing you a beautiful holiday season and more joy in the New Year! ❤

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Joy. They mean a lot to me since your writing was so helpful to me as I moved through that raw space right after Sullivan died. Yes, pets really are pure love! We’re so blessed to have them for the relatively short time we do.

      Thanks for the great work you do helping people work through pet loss — and Happy New Year! ❤

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  4. I have been saving this blog post to read when I felt strong enough. We love our pets so unconditionally and they love us so unconditionally back and the loss of them can feel unbearable for a very long time. Now with the knowledge that both my husband and my beloved dog, Pepper, don’t have much longer, I wonder how I will be able to handle the loss of them both. But I will. We do. We grieve. We slowly heal. We never forget and the memories save us. Thank you for a beautiful, tender, compassionate post. I am saving it for when I need to read it again. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will be too soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment, dear Mary. It means a lot to me that you read the post. I am holding space for you as you go through all that where you are brings for you now. You are so right that the unconditional love we receive from and give to our pets makes it a very particular type of loss. What’s interesting is that, in a strange way, Sullivan still feels very much “here.” We just never truly lose what they give us. 🙂

      It really does seem true that we handle loss one day, one moment, at a time. We don’t have to face it all at once, and that is a kindness. As you said so well, we grieve and we slowly heal. Thinking of you with lots of love. ❤

      Like

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