baby hank

At approximately 4 PM on July 28th, my cat Hank was put to sleep.  Over the next two days, I was at a wedding with two ceremonies.  The first was a ritualized Hindu wedding for the groom’s family and the second was the traditional American white wedding for the bride’s family.  To go from death to a wedding so quickly was jarring.

Hank’s life had been interwoven with mine for over 14 years.  He greeted me at the door when I came home, insisted on drinking running water out of faucets, and loved to ride on my right shoulder only, among a myriad of other things.  I went shopping for him thoughtfully, deciding which types and flavors of cat food would please him.  The last few months of his life, I got up about 4 times a night to feed him, because he was sick and I was willing to do whatever he needed. There were a zillion different ways and moments that we interacted over the years. There are countless memories and thoughts of him that are moving through me.

The Hindu wedding was long and steeped in tradition with the recognition of marriage as a threshold into a new world – the entrance of a new person into a family, and the understanding that this was a significant event. I wasn’t raised with ritual: just the regular birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. But these were not given the weight of markers of a new and changed world.

Birth, death, marriage, divorce and children leaving home are all markers of big transitions.  Life isn’t the same or may be radically different after these occurrences.  Our moment-to-moment reality is forever altered.  Someone who was part of the fabric of our life is no longer there, leaving big open gaps, or someone new steps in causing our life to reorganize.

I grew up in a family without the recognitions of this.  I do not believe that a true understanding of relationship – the sacredness of the meeting of two souls, was recognized or honored. Events came and went, pets came and went.  Transitions occurred with no reverence of the significance of them.  My family was simply not tuned into the bigger cycles of life.  We lived in a small day-to-day world of survival and getting the tasks of the day done. The significance of what it really meant to be connected to someone else, to share our life with others in a holy way was not part our consciousness.  I believe that our family missed the significance of the spirituality of connection and love.  Not until my father died in 1998 was there any real recognition of this due to the impact this event had on all of us in my family.

I cannot explain my connection with Hank; I was simply closer to him than to any other being on the planet.  I think of the specialness of our relationship and the many moments that can never be again.  I think of the beauty of his soft grey striped fur and his speckled belly. I believe that my relationship with Hank is a metaphor for all of our relationships with each other.  They are each unique and whether they are filled with a big love (as with Hank), compassion, irritation, resentment, or something else, they take up a specific time and place.  They fill the space of our psyche and are the threads of the fabric of our lives.

Our lives are embedded in relationship – relationships that come and go, as our lives come and go.  Who will know the story of Hank when I am gone?  Our story will be in the rustling of the dry autumn leaves, part of the echo of the universe, a beautiful note among many other notes.

For me, relationships reveal an awesome responsibility; the responsibility to truly see another and grapple with what that connection means to us and does to us – the feelings it triggers in us, whether grief or anger, resentment or guilt, love or adoration – and how we choose to deal with these experiences and feelings. Because this process actually is our life.   And the opportunities and experiences of today, will not necessarily be here tomorrow.

8 replies
  1. Jo
    Jo says:

    I just wanted to pass on my condolences in your loss of Hank. I have had many pets over my lifetime and it’s never easy when they are no longer with us. They are truly family members who want nothing more than to be loved fed and walked (well I am a dog person I guess it’s a bit different with Cats) but you get my drift. They give unconditional love. they are so special and they don’t talk back.

    Lots of hugs,


  2. Marie Drape
    Marie Drape says:

    I too would like to send my condolences. Unconditional love, often sought but rarely found, Hank was a fortunate critter who had a kind and loving human to take care of him, until the end. May the pain lessen as the days and months pass. Hank will live on in your memory.


  3. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Truly. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your love and loss in your newsletter. Your words are healing and inspirational for me as I continue to try to live in my relationships in a healthy space. Sending you thoughts of warmth and love during this time of sadness.

  4. leslie hoffman
    leslie hoffman says:

    My dog, Sami, and I were both reading this today. I can imagine he feels the loss too, as animals have that special ability to know things in their own ‘animal’ way. I gave him a special mommy hug and told him that if he goes first, he’ll be in a lot of trouble! We both send paw and arm-loads of good wishes to you, and of course to Hank.

  5. Fran aka redondowriter
    Fran aka redondowriter says:

    So sorry to hear about Hank but I know you will carry him in your heart until the end of your life. You write so beautifully of the parallels of love.

  6. Michele Khoury
    Michele Khoury says:

    Dear Jennifer, My heart goes out to you over Hank’s transition. My pets are my children; each one is special and unique in their own way. Each little spirit brought (brings) me joy and received (s) my love unconditionally. I understand your sadness and when I suggest give yourself permission to fully grieve, I know I’m speaking to the choir. And don’t be surprised if you hear Hank’s meow–many of my animals communicated–some for a few days and some for several weeks after their physical bodies had stopped working. After I told them how much I loved them and it was okay for them ‘to leave’ — their voices slowly subsided. What a blessing Hank was. Love, Michele

  7. Brian Buckley
    Brian Buckley says:

    So sorry to hear about your loss. Our pets are definitely part of our family. Peace, Brian

  8. Kristina Effron
    Kristina Effron says:

    I am deeply sorry for your loss. My 2 cats mean the world to me and I will never forget the loss of our family cat when i was 22- we had rescued her when i was 6; devastating. I also just lost my grandmother 2 weeks ago. She was a true matriarch and it was an enormously emotional event for our large family. Thank you for sharing a bit of Hank with us; i know he misses you as much as you do him. Your heart will hold him forever. Wishing you strength and support in your healing. With love, stina

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