Note: This story was adapted from Gathering My Life Into Feathers. Following my last blog I was feeling nostalgic (perhaps because of a comment on the essay), and decided to share the story of my cat’s passing and my subsequent shamanic experience with that event. The sequence of events created a synchronistic event — the purring of winter.
Our cat Chiya had feline urology syndrome, which basically meant his urethra got plugged with crystals from time to time. He ate a special diet to help prevent re-occurrence. But what got him in the end was kidney failure. The vet did a sort of kitty dialysis (in the winter of 1999), but it wasn’t working and we decided to discontinue treatment and allow Chiya to die at home in an environment that was safe and loving. Even though he may have sensed he was dying, Chiya was greatly relieved to be away from the vet and back home. We were told he had only a few days to live, but that he wouldn’t experience a lot of pain.
I could see the life slowly flowing out of him, but at his core there remained a strong love for us. It seemed to me that he was hanging on beyond his comfort and time. I began to worry his death would be unnecessarily difficult for him. It was Sunday. I decided if he were still alive on Monday, I would take him to the vet to be euthanized. Naomi was having some difficulty with Chiya’s increasing discomfort, and she decided to leave for the evening. I left Chiya in the bedroom, resting on the bed, while I read and listened to music in the living room. About every five minutes I’d go back to check on him, pet him and support him through his distress. A half-hour after Naomi left, I walked back to check on him again. At first, I thought he looked okay, resting peacefully on the bed. I said, “Chiya, I don’t know when I come back here if you’ll be alive or dead.” Then I looked closer. He wasn’t moving. The light in his eyes was simply a reflection. He was dead. I sobbed.
Then I drummed. I lay down on the bed and listened to the drum, listening for the shifts that indicated shamanic perception. When I could feel the shift, I put on a CD of shamanic drumming. In a shamanic journey, I visited the places of Chiya’s choosing. Perhaps it was a partial review of his life. Or maybe he was securing areas he might decide to re-visit.
Power told me that to witness a natural death could be a privilege. The world changes in death, a door opens and closes. I thanked Chiya for his life with me. Power said that when I was ready, I should put the body in a plastic bag outside. It was winter, and the body would freeze. Power said it made no difference to Chiya how I disposed of the body. The outdoor trash container would do. But it would make a difference to me. I was shown a place in the woods where I could put the body. Eventually, some animal would eat it. But I would have a different picture in my mind to carry forward.
As I finished that portion of the journey, I could feel Chiya jump up onto the bed, walk up to my head, and nuzzle close to my ear. I could feel him licking my ear with his course tongue, and chomping on my hair the way he used to do. It felt very real, like he was actually there. Amazed by the reality of the experience, I took that opportunity to thank him for the gift of his love, for his being my animal companion on all those lonely stress filled evenings when Naomi was at her night job, nights when I was so tired and alone. This experience of actually being with Chiya, experiencing his love and sensuality, went on for an undefined amount of time. Then something shifted. The shamanic journey had ended. Chiya was gone. I opened my eyes and was reminded of the dead body on the bed only a foot away from me. I got up and went downstairs to use the sauna, the place of 10,000 sweats.
I drummed, as I usually do in the sweat, inviting Chiya’s spirit to roam our house and yard as it chose. Power told me that Chiya’s spirit would revisit his favorite haunts before pooling with the spirit of Cat. I wailed and sang Power songs to the crack in the universe through which Chiya was returning. Then I went back upstairs.
I decided it was time to put Chiya outdoors into the winter night. I put him in a plastic bag, and then into a cooler. Coming back indoors, I sat on the sofa. I figured it was done, that it was time to engage in a different activity. I picked up a compact disk that I’d purchased only the day before: SONIC SEASONINGS by Wendy Carlos. While I hadn’t played the CD yet, I had heard the record version that was recorded many years prior. The CD version had additional music, and I was drawn to play an out-take from “Winter” that I’d never heard. I put on my headphones and began to listen.
Purring, I could hear a cat purring! The sound of a purring cat was coming through my headphones. By God, Chiya was speaking to me at that precise moment from Winter’s cradle. I picked up the CD to read the composer’s notes. “About the out-take: Winter went through a few more revisions than the other movements. Originally I pictured a scene in a cozy cabin somewhere up north, with a roaring fireplace, a comfortable old rocking chair, and a friendly purring kitty.” I looked up at the fire I’d made in my fireplace. What grand synchronicity. What a wonderful way for Chiya to communicate his love.
I “buried” Chiya in the woods, placing him on top of the snow at the base of an old oak tree. While I know he was eventually eaten, a giveaway to some hungry animal, that picture of him all curled up and “sleeping” is still fresh in my mind. It’s the picture I conjure if I want to revisit his death; the purring of Winter.
Update: I felt no need to shamanically assist Chiya with his transition — nature often takes care of its own. I occasionally saw Chiya with shaman’s mind after his death, but less so as time went on. When my dog Haiku was sick, and I was preparing to take her to the veterinarian, I was surprised to see a cat that looked just like Chiya head across the street into my yard, into his favorite bushes. The image and behavior were highly resonant. I knew it was an omen. Then, at the vets, I again saw a cat that looked exactly like Chiya. The omen seemed to be preparing me for another death. And in fact, Haiku had advanced, almost bizarre cancer. That’s another story.