Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What We Fall In Love With

When Meryl Streep’s public interview with a veteran journalist in Toronto was announced last year, I was one of the first people in line to get a ticket. Even if I were 10 rows away from her with a shoddy view, I had to be in the same room as her; to bask in her radiant presence. I was not disappointed. Though she was dressed casually with her hair back in a pony tail, she glowed – just as she always does. I was intoxicated.

I remember many comments she made that night, but one that stands out for me now is this: what we fall in love with in people is the light that surrounds them, comes from them. That’s the thing we fall in love with. This resonated with me quite strongly, but until just a couple of days ago, I never experienced this truth so directly; so powerfully.

On Monday night, after many sleepless days and nights, my beloved cat passed away – on the same day as what would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. She was the love of my life, and I have never dealt with death before in such an intimate way. The experience of her passing; of the hours just before her death and the actually process of dying itself, was bittersweet – brutal, poignant and beautiful. As I cradled her in my arms and felt her spirit leave her body, anguish filled my heart and soul. For two hours I held her, rocked her, sang to her; and when rigor mortis began to set in, I curled her up onto her favorite blanket and gently kissed her precious, golden body.

In the hours that followed, I would continue to return to this ritual: on my knees, bending down to kiss her, my tears dropping down on her fur, soft as silk. But I was surprised by something – a profound revelation I had not seen coming that brought both disappointment and awe. And that is, she was not her body. This kissing her was not the same. I stroked her body but she was not there. The spirit, heart and life force that I loved so madly was gone.

Okay, so this is what death is. Of course this wasn’t her, I told myself. This is the body she inhabited. But to understand this intellectually and experience it firsthand were two different things. The comfort and sheer pleasure I found in kissing her before could no longer be found with this body, however beautiful it might be to look at. This wasn’t her. It was time to open up to a different way of experiencing her; to a new way of perceiving, and feeling, her presence.

But back to my point. As Meryl Streep so wisely pointed out, what I fell in love with was the light that emanated from her being; what I communicated with was this vitality; this force of life – the spirit that danced in her body. And though I can’t quite articulate yet why this realization is so astounding for me, I can say this: if humanity in general were more attuned to this truth, we would be much more accepting of death as a natural part of life, and we would be far less hung up about growing older.


The Bookworm said...

This article was put together so well, I felt I was in the room with you when your cat died and we mourned together. It made me resolve to spend better quality time with my little dog; lover her just a little more.

I know that wasn't the message you were conveying, but I'm going to go with it.

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you, Liz, for this kind feedback.

Hospice care for animals is hard to come by -- mostly because it is a new field. Luckily, there are two organizations in the States I can highly recommend. One is called -- Gail Pope, the founder, and her husband take in elderly, chronically-ill or disabled animals and care for them in their later years, through their natural death. They are a shining light (a cat of their's recently died at the age of 36, if you can believe it). They offer consultations to people looking for hospice care.

The other organization I can recommend is called Spirits In Transition, a volunteer team of two women (a holistic vet and her assistant) who offer free support to people and their animal friends. You definitely want to look them up at


amy said...

how absolutely perfect. i have witnessed the same thing, and felt the same thing, and you said it with such beauty and perfection.
thank you.
thank you!
you are such a brilliant writer & amazing woman.

Jesse Mendes said...

Amy you know I love you. You inspire me so much, I hope people will look up your blog as well:


Jo said...

Just catching up and yes, I felt the same thing when my beautiful girl cat died, at 13, in 2003. I too sat and held her for hours, crying and singing to her. Then we sat in the sun together in the bright corner where her body still lies. It took hours for me to be ready to put her in the earth even though by then she was far from (yet close to)her physical body.
Casey is 18 now and I cannot even begin to think of losing him even though I know he'll move onto to something else and it's as much a part of life as anything. I am heartened to see a cat can live to be 36. I have new ambition for him!

Lise said...

Oh Jesse, your kitty died 3 days b4 my old Doobie Cat who was 20. Had to have him put down as he had had enough of life and wasn't well. I was prepared as much as I could be and whilst it devastated me when they gave him the needle it was so quick and painless. I have dreams about him now weekly. He's like my totem and like your little darling and I loved the way you talked about stroking her when she was gone and it was not her anymore. We celebrated Doobie's life with champagne and we kept his little body close for a few hours talking about him and then sending him off by burying him under a beautiful gardenia bush. I feel him around a lot. Thank you so much for sharing this....hugs xxx

Jesse Mendes said...

Dear Jo and Lise,

Your stories touch me deeply. Thank you for sharing them, my heart goes out to you for your losses. But what I love about letters like these is that they remind me that good people exist in this world, people who adore (and care for, and respect) animals the way that they deserve.

My love to you and your Doobie Cat, Lise. What a cool name!

And Jo, *don't hesitate* to contact me if you need any kind of support around your beloved Casey. I can offer moral support, or tips, or just be there if you need a friend when the end of his days come (be it next month, or 5 years, or whatever). Send me a DM on Twitter (I am @SeptemberMay) and I will forward my contact info.

You should also look up Bright Haven -- an organization in California dedicated to the welfare of dying, sick, injured or chronically ill animals. They are a hospice retreat centre, but they also have an *excellent* book on what kinds of things to expect when your animal is dying (physical signs, how to care for them, etc, etc). And cheap -- she can send it to you over email for only $6. Look up or contact -- mention I referred you if you could. Jesse

caroline_hagood said...

Exactly--we fall in love with something that comes out of people.

jmedvm said...

Thank you Jesse for your beautiful story and raising awareness for animal hospice. I attended Dr. Ella Bittel's Spirits In Transition seminar only six months before my dear Sparky died at twenty three outside in the sun after hospice care at home. It was an incredibly moving experience and I too, felt the "him" leave his body. I am still in love with him and feel him near me!
Thank you
Jaime Glasser DVM

Jesse Mendes said...

Jaime how good of you to write, offer feedback and share your experience. Yes, Spirits in Transition is a fantastic organization and Bunny works for free offering telephone consultations, I encourage folks to look them up at

Also we have discussed Brighthaven -- a hospice retreat and care facility dedicated to elderly, disabled and chronically ill animals, I hope folks will visit their web site and view the short video it is very inspiring:

Lastly, I encourage folks to visit your blog -- another resource for folks interested in the love and care for animals later in life. They can follow you on Twitter at


Or your blog, which I highly recommend:

Take good care Jaime and stay in touch.


Christine Young said...

I loved all my pets (I still have two cats), but I was especially close to Ali. She died in September of 2009 and I was there, as I was with Mushie and Benji, when she took her last breath. When I would come home from work everyday I greeted each cat with love and affection, but Ali greeted me in a way the others did not. She waited for me to sit on the bed and would jump up behind me. I would feel the softness of her little paw touch my shoulder as if to say, "mommy, pay attention to me now." Oh, and I did. Ali was constantly with me. She sat on my lap when I had coffee in the morning; she sat on my lap when my husband and I watched TV at night, and she slept on my shoulder. After she was gone I cried for days. The night time was the worst because that is when I missed her the most. I cannot put it into words like you can. I read both your posts All Life Comes from Death and What We Fall in Love With and cried like a baby. But they were good, healthy tears.

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you for sharing this, Christine. I adore hearing stories about the beautiful, eccentric characters of cats. I am so glad to hear I helped you to remember them. You might read my post Grief As Skill, since it touches on the ideas of a palliative care worker I think you might hold dear.

Again, my gratitude for your sincere, heartfelt words.