Note from Rose: I consider it an honor to be asked to serve and support clients with end-of-life issues for their animal companions. I feel incredibly blessed to have witnessed the loving connections between Joel, Brad, Astro and Luna, and am grateful that they agreed to share their deeply beautiful and personal journey with us all. In living, and in dying, the animals are incredible teachers.
by Guest Blogger Joel Benjamin
As many of our friends and family know, our one year-old girl kitty Luna was diagnosed with a fatal virus a month ago.
Luna, and her shelter brother Astro, came to us from a local cat rescue last June. Luna was curled up in a cage all by herself. We were told she had been brought to the shelter by someone who found her (at two months old) living in the parking lot of a local supermarket. As soon as we picked her up she started purring and she made it very clear that she was coming home with us.
At first Luna wanted nothing to do with Astro. All he wanted was a playmate, but every time he approached her she would growl at him. The sound she made was very much like the sound Marge Simpson makes when she disapproves of something—we almost named her Marge because of this. But Astro persisted, and after about a week she accepted him as something to chase and wrestle to the ground, then she allowed him to groom her, and finally they began to snuggle and sleep together. And her disapproving growl evolved into the sweetest little peep. Thereafter, her nickname around our house became “Miss Peep.”
Having been abandoned in a parking lot, Luna had a little more life experience in the real world than Astro did (he spent his formative weeks with his mom and siblings in a foster care home), so she taught him some very important lessons. Between the two of them, she was always the trailblazer. She was fearless and was always the first to jump up on high places to get a better view. She was the one to greet new people who came to visit, and always the first to explore new things, like the joys of empty shopping bags, and the challenge of catching flies. Astro learned from her and loved her. Wherever she was in the house, all she had to do was peep and he would come running to be by her side. He would constantly shower her with kisses, which she usually tolerated for a little while, and then when she had had enough she would gently push him away with her paw. She was his queen, and he loved being her devoted subject.
In addition to being a companion to Astro, Luna was my meditation partner every morning. As soon as she heard the chime on my meditation timer, wherever she was in the house, she would come and lay by my side. She would lay so close that sometimes I could feel her soft fur against the back of my hand. And when the final chime would ring, signaling the end of a session, I would open my eyes and there she would be looking up at me. Those times are what I will miss most.
I contacted Dr. Lena McCullough when Luna was first diagnosed with the virus. She was the acupuncturist who had treated our previous cat, George, when he began to decline from the kidney failure of old age. Dr. Lena immediately instilled in us a sense of hope, and we began treatments. This hope created a happy, healthy home environment for Luna (and us). I think when we feel we are going to lose someone we love we naturally tend to want to avoid them because it is simply too painful to interact with them knowing they will soon be gone. But when there is hope—when you hold in your heart the possibility of a miracle—you actually seek out interaction because you want to encourage and support what is so precious to you. This hope was good for Luna to feel, and it was good for Brad and I because it allowed us to sleep at night and get through our days.
Because of the virus, many things in our house changed very quickly. Luna’s appetite completely disappeared. The only way she would eat would be if we hand fed her—literally one kibble at a time. Over the course of a day it would take about two hours to get enough food into her for her to maintain her weight. At first we didn’t know how we were going to be able to devote this amount of time to sitting with her to hand feed her, but we quickly adapted, and came to realize how much time we actually spend each day in wasteful pursuits. Over the course of the month of her illness, Brad and I both dropped many of the social media and television distractions we had grown so accustomed to, and suddenly found we had much more time in the day to focus on what was truly important.
The news of Luna’s illness shocked us, and I think a great deal of our suffering came from the expectation we all have that things in the material world are going to last—be it a relationship with a friend, a family member, a partner, or a pet. If we enjoy the relationship we create this expectation that it will simply go on indefinitely. Or in the case of a kitten at least 12-15 years—the normal life span of most cats. We quickly realized that by holding onto this expectation, we were contributing to our own suffering. And by letting it go, we were much more able to appreciate the time we had already had with Luna (and whatever time we had left) in a much deeper, more meaningful way.
During the last month we treated Luna with many different modalities of healing—Western Medicine, Acupuncture, Reiki, herbs—and toward the very end we brought in animal shaman Rose De Dan. We brought in Rose to get an idea of what Luna was going through, and where she was at emotionally and spiritually in the process. When we brought in Rose, Luna had not eaten for almost three days, was very weak and could no longer go up or down the stairs in our house—the same stairs that only weeks before she would zoom up and down in a flash.
There was agreement among all of her doctors and caregivers that Luna was not suffering, so before she did, we made an appointment for a home euthanasia. We had scheduled it for a Monday at 2:30pm. The previous day, Luna had enjoyed a beautiful sunny afternoon where she spent the whole day on her favorite perch bathing in the sun and feeling the cool breeze from the open window in her fur. Three hours before we were scheduled to help Luna transition, she had her meeting with Rose.
When Rose began to communicate with Luna to prepare her for what was to happen, she said that Luna immediately shut the conversation down, she said it was like a door slamming in her face. [Rose: After Luna slammed the door, I told Joel and Brad that Luna might be cute and fluffy on the outside, but on the inside she had a will of steel].
At one point during the session Luna told Rose, “I want to fight this.”
The next image Rose saw was Luna near the edge of a cliff. [Rose: When I ask to be shown how close the animal the animal is to transitioning I usually see them on a cliff facing a beautiful sunlit valley. The valley represents the realm of Spirit, and how close my client is to the edge of the cliff signifies how near they may be to transition.] Rose told us that Luna was still about four feet from the edge, and then she described something that surprised us all. Rose said that Luna was not facing the edge—she had her back to it and the valley below was dark. Instead Luna’s face was turned toward the sun and her back was in shadow. Brad and I interpreted this to mean that Luna was still fighting for her life and we decided to cancel the home euthanasia and—at least as long as she was not suffering—allow things to progress on their own. [Rose: During the session (with Luna’s consent), she also received energetic support for her highest good whether for healing or assistance with crossing into spirit.]
Rose told Luna that if she was still going to fight she had to start eating again. So we were hoping that she would. But after another full day, it became apparent that she was not interested in eating. And it also became apparent to us that when she told Rose she was still fighting it wasn’t for her life, but for a conscious death. She didn’t want to be euthanized. And the image of her facing the sun instead of the dark valley beyond the edge of the cliff was her turning away from the darkness of ignorance from fear of death toward the light that can come from a conscious, natural death.
At this point we were under no illusion that she would be cured, but we needed to support Luna in this process and not cut it off prematurely. As long as she was not suffering we wanted to give Luna what she wanted. It is said that some of our most important lessons are learned in the days/moments as death approaches. And for a being that only had a year of living this time around, every moment was a valuable and important part of the evolution of her consciousness. Brad and I didn’t want to deny her these precious moments because of our own natural discomfort and fear of the dying process.
For Luna, this process began in earnest a day and half later, on Wednesday night at about 9pm. At this point she could no longer walk, so when her breathing became very rapid, we carried her upstairs to a spot she had chosen several days before. Brad and I and Astro were with her through the night. At about 2:30am I began to whisper the Gayatri mantra to her. This is the mantra I end all of my meditation sessions with, so she was familiar with it from our many sessions together. It is also the mantra I would chant to her in the car on our way back from each vet appointment to let her know we were going home. The Gayatri is the mantra of light and it seemed to calm her down and slow her breathing. At 5am, Luna stopped breathing and was still. She never suffered. She passed with a whispered sigh.
Brad and I sat with her body for an hour. Astro came to see what was happening and literally stepped right over her body, like she wasn’t there, like he didn’t see her.
We wrapped her in a cloth and then in the same tapestry we had wrapped George in three years before. Then we placed her on top of her favorite perch where she would remain for the rest of the day. It is very important when a being dies that the body remain in place for a period of time so as not to confuse the now disembodied soul. Astro immediately jumped up onto his perch right next to hers, where they had spent many hours lying together in the sun. We watched with amazement as Astro began to focus on the air about three feet above Luna’s body. Then he began to paw at the air above her body, like he was reaching for something only he was seeing. This went on for over a minute. Had Brad and I not seen it for ourselves I’m not sure we would have believed it.
Later that day, we brought Luna’s body to the vet to be cremated. Since then we have cried through many half-eaten dinners. But as time has gone by it has gotten easier to think about her and not be filled with emotions of loss and grief. Astro seems to be doing ok. He is a little more needy for playtime these days, and wakes us up in the middle of the night for company. We’ve told him he is just going to have to get used to being held and hugged even more than usual—both for his sake, and for our own.
Throughout Luna’s decline I would kiss her three times on the top of her head and repeat the mantra, “You are strong, brave, and wise.” I would do this countless times each day. It seemed to comfort her and she would lean into my kisses and the gentle mantra I offered with them. Thursday was the first morning since we adopted Luna and Astro that she was not next to me when I sat down to meditate. Her favorite toy was a small stuffed raccoon that she would carry around the house in her mouth and drop at our feet as a gift, or leave on the bedroom floor for us to find in the morning as a sign she had visited us during the night. I placed her raccoon on my altar alongside other objects that represented other loved ones that had passed: my father’s glasses, my grandmother’s rhinestone pin, my grandfather’s bow tie, a small trio of bells owned by my aunt and uncle, and George’s wicker ball.
I set the meditation timer for 45 minutes, and began my session. I went through my regular sequence of practices; following the breath, repeating an affirmation, humming, chanting the Gayatri, then sitting in silence to finish. At some point near the end, while my mind was wandering, I was suddenly brought back into the present moment by a flurry of what felt like three kisses on the top of my head. It was so surprising that I opened my eyes and looked around before I realized what had just happened. Immediately after these three quick kisses the timer chimed signifying the end of the session. As I sat there in a state of awe I got the very real sense of Luna zooming away—the same way she used to zoom up the stairs in our house. And then it felt like she was gone.
Luna was only here in this beautiful little body for a year, so we feel very fortunate that she chose to share this brief time with us. She was a fierce, sweet, wise old spirit, and we will always cherish having been blessed with the opportunity to love her.
Luna passed on May 10th—our 28th anniversary for Brad and I. Since Luna’s “soul” purpose this time around seemed to be to learn how to love and how to be be loved, we will be forever grateful for this important reminder as each future anniversary rolls around.
The day Luna passed was also the day when her namesake was full. And it was a special moon which the Native Americans call the Full Flower Moon, signifying the time to plant spring seeds for new growth and new life.
Joel Benjamin and his partner Brad have lived in Seattle for over 20 years. Joel has been practicing yoga since 2000, and is the director of Yogasmith, a community built yoga space located in Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood. Their mission is to create an environment that is so supportive and life enriching that even after the final om, you won’t want to leave.
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A WILD WAY TO HEAL
Rose De Dan, Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC, is an animal communicator, Reiki Master Teacher, shamanic energy healer, and author. Her classes, sessions and ceremonial work are inspired by wild and domestic animals who have issued a call to action for personal and global healing.
Her book Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism features heartwarming stories about animals and their role in her evolution as an energy worker and shamanic healer.