Remembering Khymer

 

“What breed is he?” People often asked when they saw Khymer out with my mother and me on Takapuna beach. Suggestions included blue heeler, collie, German Shepherd, Staffordshire terrier, and even Dutch barge dog. But we never knew the details of his ancestry, exactly how old he was, or how he got his name. A member of our New Zealand family had rescued him from an abusive situation when he was young. He grew up into a fine dog; friendly, strong and handsome.

I had the privilege of walking Khymer almost every week since I met him nine years ago. He loved these walks, whatever the weather. He would bark at the top of his voice when I arrived to pick him up, pull me along the road at top speed until we got to the beach, then bark again until I started throwing the ball for him to retrieve. His favourite trick was swimming out to sea, dropping the ball, and waiting for me to wade in waist-deep and get it, so I had to wear special clothing when going out with Khymer.

 

We had many adventures in our early years together, but he gradually became more sedate. His eyesight and hearing were not so good, and he developed arthritis. He stopped swimming in the sea. But he loved his walks as much as always, even up to last week when I had to bring him home early because he seemed so tired. As if suspecting what was to come, I took a photo of him before I left.

 

A few days later I got the message – he had been bleeding from the bowel, was weak and in pain, and the decision to euthanise him that morning had been made. Given his age – at least sixteen, maybe more – everyone agreed that it would be pointless and unkind to do anything else. I arrived at the house just in time to join the tearful family gathered round his bed. When he saw me he barked and wagged his tail. I did not go with him to the vet, but have been told that his last minutes were very peaceful. Though thankful that his suffering is over, I shall miss our weekly walks so much. This is how I will remember Khymer:

khymer-catching-ball

 

Bach flowers in bereavement

My dear cat Felix died last month. On the blog which I created in his memory there is a post about ways of coping with the loss of a pet, which includes a brief mention of the Bach flower remedies. The remedies are equally relevant to human bereavement, and I thought I would expand on the subject here.

The process of grief does not conform to a particular timescale or sequence of stages, but is different for each individual, depending on many factors: the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person’s attitudes and emotions, the quality of their relationship with the deceased, and whether they believe in an afterlife. There can be a complex and apparently conflicting mixture of feelings, for example sadness over the death might be combined with relief that the strain of a long illness is over, which in turn might be a source of self-reproach.

As always with Bach flower treatment, it is best to choose flowers according to the emotions which are uppermost at the present time, without trying to analyse them too deeply. But one flower which might almost always be suitable is Star of Bethlehem. In the words of Dr Bach:

For those in great distress under conditions which for a time produce great unhappiness. The shock of serious news, the loss of someone dear, the fright following an accident, and suchlike. For those who for a time refuse to be consoled, this remedy brings comfort.

Many other flowers might also be relevant. Here are some examples, which are listed alphabetically because they do not belong in any particular sequence.

Agrimony: when grief is denied or suppressed, perhaps with the aid of drugs or alcohol

Gorse: when everything seems hopeless

Holly: for negative feelings towards others

Honeysuckle: for holding on to memories from the past

Olive: for mental or physical exhaustion

Pine: for feelings of guilt or self-blame

Sweet Chestnut: for unbearable anguish and despair

Some of these remedies are also relevant in cases of “anticipatory grief” when a loved one has a terminal illness but has not yet died. Other flowers to consider in this situation could include Red Chestnut for anxiety on behalf of the sick person, and Mimulus for fear about how the survivor is going to cope with the death when it does occur. Lastly, there is Rescue Remedy for use in acute situations such as news of a sudden death.

Nothing can take away the pain of losing a beloved person or pet, but the Bach flowers are among the remedies which can bring some comfort, especially when grief seems unduly severe, complicated or prolonged.

 

Do cats go to heaven?

The Rainbow Bridge is the name of an anonymous poem, probably written in the 1980s but based on a much older myth. It describes a beautiful meadow for pets whose earthly life is over, where they play happily until their owners come to join them and they cross the bridge into heaven together. I don’t think I had read this poem when I had a dream about one of my other cats, Floella, a few years ago. In my dream she was flying over a deep valley before coming to rest in a beautiful meadow full of flowers, sitting upright and looking content. Remembering this was a great comfort when she died a few months later.

The following story was told to me by a trusted friend, so I can vouch that it is genuine. Here is a shortened version of the letter she sent me:

My cat was snow white, aristocratic, a prince among cats, fairly haughty. You had to deserve his respect and he was never cuddly. I loved his independence and obvious self-esteem. The only time he jumped into my lap and put his paws on my shoulders was when I was sitting in my kitchen, being deeply unhappy and at a loss what to do. He sensed it. At other times he didn’t allow anybody to pick him up.

Unfortunately he suffered from a genetic weakness which snow white cats sometimes have – he developed a terrible eczema all over his back. Our local vet was a saintly animal lover who did all he could to help, but nothing worked and my cat obviously suffered. Eventually it got so bad that the vet suggested euthanasia. I felt terrible, having to play God, but eventually, with enormous heartache, I agreed.

I then cried for a week. A friend suggested that I visit a deeply spiritual clairvoyant, to find some solace. So I went to see this lady and as I entered her beautiful drawing room, she said “Hello – that’s a beautiful white cat that came in with you!”

 So I cried some more. Yet at the same time I also felt comforted.

Companion animals sometimes feature in the personal accounts from survivors of near death experiences which can be found on the internet.

I continually picture Felix still around: patrolling the garden, sunning himself on the grass, curled up on a chair, purring when I pick him up. I think these images are wishful products of my own mind rather than of spiritual origin, but who can tell the difference? I do believe in metaphysical forces, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that, of the several hundred songs in my iTunes library, the first two which came up on the Shuffle function while I was thinking about Felix were Don’t Fear the Reaper and Time to Say Goodbye.