Yes, he’s really in the sink! I’m so pleased with this pose.
When I work with a customer for a portrait, I ask them what comes to mind when they think about their animal companion. I advise them to choose a pose and setting as close to that visual as we can devise, using my own portraits as examples. It’s nice to have a formal setting where we can see every stripe and spot and whisker and sometimes this is entirely appropriate depending on the subject’s personality, but if they had a cute or quirky habit that can be illustrated into a portrait, we should do it!
Madison’s person is the person I grew up next door to, but haven’t seen in years after she moved away for employment and then my mother moved out of her house and I sold it. We reconnected and managed to get our mothers together for one last visit before each fell too deep into dementia to travel around.
She had also told me she would bring photos of Madison and that she’s like to have me do his portrait. How wonderful to find out she’s just as much an “animal person” as me.
I always let my customer make the decisions for the portrait, but if I see a good photo I’ll put in my vote without hesitation. He looked so natural in the sink and I loved his expression. “Oh, he was always in that sink!” she remarked. So here he is.
She lost Madison, who was her first cat, to diabetes at only eight years old. She didn’t have too many photos, but this pose was definitely a winner! Not just because he’s cute in the sink, although he is, but also because it will make her laugh when she looks at it, and what better healing for the grief of loss than to remember with a smile. I’m so glad to know that another person, a special friend, has a portrait that shows their animal companion as they want to remember them.
Animal fur is different from human skin, and because of texture and pattern it looks different in every photo you’ll see. In each of Madison’s photos, the details of his face were lighter or darker, the area on his chest had a collar and tag in one photo and not in another. These are common things to work around, and from both experience and real life I can fill in the details. It just so happens that I am fostering a big tabby cat who looks so much like Madison and has been a great model, and who came in just as I was finishing, that it must have been meant to be!
What I always do in building a subject, especially one I never met, is to work from the photos until I feel that I know my subject and the photos start to get in the way. Then I put them away and work with nothing but what I see with my creative eye. That’s when the essence of the personality is instilled in the portrait, and every time I’m amazed at what’s taken life on the paper. And I know by the reaction of the person who’s come to look at the work.
I never delude myself to think that a portrait can take the place of a real live animal, but it can certainly help with grief. Through the years, many customers have contacted me to let me know how much it means to have the portrait in their home, that they greet the portrait or talk to it, or visit it when they are feeling overwhelmed with loss, even that other cats have reacted to it.
The portraits work for me. I have several of my own to visit.
But on a lighter note, here is a detail shot of the faucet. All that illustration experience really paid off.
Take a look at other portraits and read other stories
Read articles here on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.
Read about how I create commissioned portraits.
|Commissioned Cat Portraits||Commissioned Dog Portraits|
Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.
I first posted this article a year ago as I summed up the loss of little Peaches and how her process had clearly prepared me for the loss of my mother, and how my cats often guide me through many important life events.
It is especially touching as I now work with Cookie.
A slightly edited version of this article in the Cat Writers’ Association newsletter Meow won a Muse Medallion as an “Opinion Piece, Essay, or Editorial” in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association annual Communications Contest.
January 30, 2010—I know I risk losing a lot of readers with a title like that, but this is really not a sad article unless you are working with current loss of your own.
I’ve been remembering my Peaches in a very strong way lately, feeling her little spirit walk across my desk and help awaken me in the morning. I had planned an article about remembrance in the aftermath of loss, but somehow it just wouldn’t come together, though I knew in the back of my mind both why I was remembering her so strongly and why I couldn’t focus on writing.
I recently lost my mother at age 85 after so many levels of illness in her life: decades of chronic conditions and surgeries, the lung cancer ten years ago that weakened and eventually put her in personal care, the beginnings of dementia two years ago, the move to skilled nursing a year ago, the weight loss and greater need for care all leading to the last few months of decline.
I would not compare the loss of my Peaches or any of my cats to the loss of my mother because the relationship is entirely different, but I can say that Peaches’ recent progress toward death and her quiet passing, and that of many before her, were what prepared me for understanding and accepting the progress of my mother’s passing, and this is the reason I write this on The Creative Cat.
I have been lucky not to have lost too many people in my adult life. My parents were older and their parents older yet, so I lost my grandparents when I was really too young to have had a relationship with or remember them. My father died 20 years ago in the same nursing home as my mother after a recurrence of cancer and the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. I have lost a few dear aunts and uncles, but I was not part of their everyday life.
When I lost my father I was barely aware of the process of death. Twenty years later I have learned so much more, all in the daily ebb and flow of life with my cats, and I was prepared, not only for my mother’s loss but for the months-long process that led to it, and I’m anticipating the aftermath.
In any living being, living is an act of will, because without it a being does not thrive and eventually dies. But death is not the lack of that will to live, rather it is part of the same will as a being accepts that this physical body can no longer sustain and the body and spirit must part, but living does not necessarily end there. I make no conjectures about what happens after the body and spirit part, but for those of us who’ve felt the touch of a loved one no longer present, however brief or peripheral, I find it hard to believe that living is only accomplished in a physical body.
Especially in age and chronic or terminal illness, the process of death is the same in any being; at some point the person or animal realizes that the body has lost its potential for renewal, for self-support and will eventually stop functioning. Referencing Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, each individual goes through the same process though with different means and at different rates, but eventually arrives at acceptance.
Even though animals can’t speak in human words, the depth of our relationship understands communication beyond, or perhaps even before, the use of spoken language, and we perceive and understand many things sometimes without consciously realizing.
From late last summer I’ve been having an increasingly difficult time staying organized, focusing on anything for as long as I am accustomed, also feeling restless and distracted, sometimes fearful or angry, without any obvious reason for it. I may have a reputation as being a scattered and abstracted creative person, but I’m actually organized and efficient or I’d never be able to run my business and take care of my home and cats and affairs for my mother and brother, so this wandering lack of focus was not at all like me, and it was also very distressing because I really need to stay focused to support myself and make sure all is done correctly for two disabled people.
Years ago when I was walking my 25-year-old Stanley through his final months I experienced this same distracted period, these flashes of fear and helplessness that didn’t seem to originate with me, and I realized I was actually perceiving what he was feeling as he accepted his own passing in addition to my own process—and no doubt he was sharing my process. I remember looking into his big green eyes as we both understood this and felt relieved that we weren’t experiencing it alone anymore, and though the distractedness continued, I understood. I have experienced this same wandering focus, periods of fear or anger with each of my losses since—and likely before as well—but now I am prepared and understand that, when this begins, they understand they are in the final part of their process and their passing won’t be long in coming.
I knew that a part of what I was feeling this past autumn was my process with Peaches as she gracefully accepted the slow deterioration of her body’s functions through renal failure and simply age. As September passed she needed her sub-cutaneous fluids more often and supplements in addition to her food as her appetite began to wane. One Saturday in mid-October she refused food and supplements and told me she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and she was okay with that. I gave her fluids and little sips of milk and bits of supplements, but she let her body follow its will and gently went into her end stages the following Tuesday night. I sat with her all night long as she slowly faded until morning when she showed some signs of pain and I called my veterinarian (read “Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye”).
After Peaches passed, though, I still felt the pull of another loved one, the distractedness and restlessness. In November our quarterly meeting at the nursing home discussed my mother’s lack of appetite, weight loss and increasing frailty and difficulty swallowing and feeding herself, though she was not withdrawn. After a hospital stay in November we decided to implant a feeding tube in case the issue was that she just didn’t like her pureed food and thickened drinks (she really hated them) and just couldn’t nourish herself enough, hoping she’d gain weight and strength. In the same case at home, I might have tried a few force-feedings of one of my cats just in case they simply weren’t strong enough to eat and sustain themselves, hoping their appetite would take over, but stopping the feedings if it didn’t.
By December there was no difference in my mother, and I knew that nothing we did would change her now. My mother was accepting her end, in the same way Peaches had looked at me and let me know she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and it was what was meant to be. I have no doubt that Peaches showed me her process in preparation for what would come with my mother; I took daily care of Peaches and was intimately aware of what was happening with her, but my mother’s care was in others’ hands and it was a little more difficult to determine what was happening even through visiting.
If I was distracted and restless before, I was about as non-functional as I’ve ever been in January, sleeping odd hours, sitting and looking out the window for minutes at a time without realizing, nearly incapable of visualizing a complete design idea along with more and more odd behavior, and every time the phone would ring I jumped and grabbed it. I let this continue, knowing there wasn’t much I could do. The nursing home called early January 20 saying my mother needed to go to the hospital, and while she seemed to be stabilizing she had a crisis Monday morning and we decided on comfort measures rather than life support because she would not have survived the condition, remaining on life support indefinitely. My sister, brother, two great-granddaughters and I took turns sitting in her room for her last two days.
Even though I knew that Peaches and my other cats had gone into some painful distress in their last few hours even after gently fading, I had no means of alleviating that distress or any other pain other than calling my veterinarian for a painless euthanasia. Humans, though, have a morphine drip and any other means the hospital can provide to assure the end is as painless as possible so I wouldn’t have to fear helplessly watching a painful end with my mother.
And now after the processes of planning, meeting, greeting and thanking, I am remembering my mother, still accepting her passing as I will be for some time to come. I am grateful for the gentle guidance of the felines who’ve entered my life to teach me life lessons in addition to living their own agendas. I understood my own months of inner turmoil as normal and I was more prepared for her passing than I would have been otherwise. I won’t fuss and fret when I encounter a photo or a passing memory of my mother months from now and have a little cry, I’ll know that’s a natural part of my process of accepting her passing.
And I think little Peaches has been wandering about to comfort me in a way she could not have in life with our concern and treatment in her geriatric condition, and also to bring me quiet comfort in the way no other being could. After all, she lost her first human mom before she came to me, so she had an extra special lesson to teach me.
Here are the four of us about ten years ago, my mother, my sister, me and my brother. This photo was from my film camera, and I just couldn’t get to the box of prints to scan it again; I scanned it from a print I had made, which is rather faded, but it still gets the point across.
I hosted a poetry reading last week, just two days after my mother died. I decided to go through with it since all my immediate family could be there and it was a wonderful opportunity to share my mother with other people. I wrote a poem the night she died, and I’ve also posted that on “Today”.
I will write soon about Peaches, and many other things, now that I can focus and time is not so compressed.
All images and text used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.
When we lose one of our precious animal companions, our own aftercare is very important. I am comforted to know that Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation is there for me, that she will lovingly and respectfully receive the body of each of my cats, knowing that they will be handled and cremated with dignity, and that the cremains I receive will indeed be theirs.
February marks the annual Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers program sponsored by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. Any person who is having trouble coming to terms with the loss of a pet, regardless of when the loss occurred, is welcome to attend. There is no charge for participating.
The session addresses the needs of families who are experiencing the loss of a precious companion. The afternoon will involve both education and remembrance to provide grieving families with help and resources to work through the trauma of losing a beloved companion.
- Grief Information
- Grief Resources
Please bring a friend to support you or who also might benefit from attending.
The one-afternoon session is free and will include a speaker to provide grieving families with help and resources to work through the trauma of losing a beloved companion. You will be in the company of other families who know the gut-wrenching feeling of losing a pet. Families grieving the loss of their pet are welcome whether or not they have worked with Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation.
Where and When
The session will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 26, 2012 at LaBella Bean Café in Bridgeville. Labella Bean is located at 609 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017, just two blocks away from Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. LaBella Bean will be closed to the public during this session.
So that we may properly prepare and also contact you in the event of bad weather, please RSVP if you are planning to attend by calling 412-220-7800.
For any updates about Healing Hearts you can either check sign up to receive blog posts from Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation or friend them on Facebook using the links at left to automatically receive notices.
And please visit our website at www.ccpc.ws to read about our services and other pet-related resources we offer.
All images and text used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.
Pet Memorial Sunday 2011
The rain moved all around us but never fell on our tent as nearly 50 people found a place to share their grief and joy, remembering their pets.
Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation and host of the event for the seventh year, opened with a welcome, and a moment of silence in recognition of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.
She continued with a thank you to those who attended the pet memorial on this special day. “And this being Pittsburgh,” she continued, “I want to thank you for choosing to attend this ceremony while the Steelers are playing the first game of the season,” eliciting a murmur of chuckles as attendees smiled at each other and relaxed.
“Let’s hope the rain holds off for us,” she said explaining where we would go if we needed to take shelter other than the tent, “but if it does rain, it will just be like our tears. This is a safe place to cry.”
Those attending are usually families of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation who have lost a pet in the past year, or even in years past. Families gather and are encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to place on the table and display board at the front of the tent during the ceremony.
The program includes two speakers, a reading of brief tributes sent by the families in attendance, the release of doves and then a final speaker.
Our Last Moments Together
The first speaker was Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic who spoke about “Our Last Moments Together” with our pet.
“I’m sorry you even have a reason to be here,” he began, and then went on to discuss being with your pet before or during its death, and the decision of euthanasia.
“If anyone here has any doubts, regrets or guilt about that decision, put them aside,” Dr. Brad said. “Think about this—when we get together and talk about how we’d prefer to die, what do we say? We’d like to go in our sleep. And isn’t this what we’ve done for our beloved pets? If you made that decision, you’ve given a gift,” he continued.
He then presented a framed, hand-lettered verse entitled, “The Veterinarian’s Prayer”.
“A client gave me this in thanks, and it pretty much sums up how I feel about what I do,” he said, then read the text to us.
A VETERINARIAN’S PRAYER
Heavenly Father, I offer myself as an instrument of kindness and shelter
to the wondrous animals that You’ve entrusted to my care.
I ask you to enlighten and strengthen me
and to keep me as gentle as Thou would be.
O Lord, may you always hear this prayer–
Please be with me and be my helping hand
and when it seems I sometimes fail,
please help me to understand.
For even though You’ve given us our animals
for pleasure and to serve,
we thank You for Your gift to us through
the care they richly deserve.
Heavenly Father, please be merciful
to the animals who are in pain and to those who are ill
and hear my pledge as a veterinarian to serve and
always obey Your will.
©92 Patty Temple
Our Initial Grief Response
The next speaker was Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, who also moderates the “Healing Hearts” pet loss session CCPC holds every February and also numbers among CCPC families, spoke about “Our Initial Grief Response”.
“If you’re feeling awful right now, you can’t sleep, you don’t want to eat, you don’t want to talk to anyone, all you want to do is cry, then you’re in a pretty normal state for grief,” she said.
“Grief is a normal, healthy response to the life-altering loss you’ve suffered,” she said, and went on to remind us that our loss has touched every part of our life physically and emotionally and so we feel grief just as much physically in energy, sleep habits and appetite, as emotionally, in our tears and simply in our thought processes.
“Grief can be frightening in its intensity, and it seems to go on and on, as if it will never end,” Elizabeth continued. “We tend to try to hide it, and our society wants us to feel better right away so we don’t have to see that grief,” she said, “but that’s often the worst thing you can do. You have to let it run its course, in a way that is right for you.”
She reviewed what to expect as we mourn a loss, that we may relive the loss again at anniversaries and we may find ourselves wanting to perform or repeat activities that make no sense, but are part of a normal response.
“If you find yourself wanting to put down the food bowl at mealtimes, even though your pet is gone, just go ahead and do it, let yourself go through that ritual for a few days afterward,” Elizabeth said. “You’ve done that every day for how long? And it was a happy part of your day? And you expect yourself to stop wanting to do that? It’s okay, you need to do that,” she continued.
Allow your feelings to happen, she advised, and do whatever feels right for yourself within reason, and give yourself a break from grieving now and then so that you don’t exhaust yourself. Let your grief unfold in its own way and for as long as you need, and both seek the company of others who “get it” and avoid those who don’t. Lower your expectations of yourself for a while, she continued, and take good care of yourself.
But grief is a process and does eventually come to an end. If you feel that your grieving process is getting out of your control, or if a person you love and trust tells you they feel you may not be healing from your grief, then this has become “complicated grief” and it’s perfectly appropriate to seek help.
Deb encourages families to compose tributes of up to 50 words for their pets to be read aloud as part of the ceremony and includes guidelines and samples on her website. These were read alternately by Deb and Bernadette Kazmarski, another speaker, turning the rain stick between each one.
A sample tribute: “Lindy, Calvin and Hobbes, you were some of my best friends in this life and I am forever a better person for the years I spent with each of you. Thank you for all you gave, for all you made possible, and for the countless memories that will always make me smile. You were – each of you in your own unique way – the very best. –Elizabeth”
The Dove Release
Everyone stepped outside the tent for the release of doves, symbolizing the ability to let go of cherished pets and let them fly free while still loving them, watching the graceful white birds wheel and swirl among the trees, disappearing into the sky, listening to Celine Dion’s “Fly”.
The Joy of Pets
Then there was me to speak about the joy of pets, and loving another pet after a loss.
“I am one of Deb’s families, several times over,” she began, “and I am so glad I found her.”
I paint commissioned portraits of pets, and often they are commissioned around a pet’s loss so I work with grieving families as part of my artwork, hoping to help ease their grief with a portrait that commemorates what they loved about their pet or family of pets.
I have also rescued and fostered cats for about 25 years, and in that time have had my own share of losses, 13 to be exact, and while it’s never easy I do have an idea what to expect and use that to help others.
“But I’ve weaseled out of adopting again by simply letting nature bring me more fosters and never making the choice because I never felt comfortable in choosing,” I said, and began a story of my own “loss and redemption”.
I related the story of the loss of my four oldest cats all within one year, then the loss of Lucy to FIP, a kitten I’d fostered during that year who ended up staying with me.
“My heart was broken,” I said, “I was beyond pain, simply numb. My house, usually full of cats, felt empty with only the four still with me, all seniors, one with a serious heart condition, and in my state of mind they simply looked like sources of more pain,” I continued. “I had to do something serious to keep myself from going down that path.”
Lucy’s mother lived across the street, ready to deliver another litter of kittens and appeared in my yard and I decided I should take her in, so I asked my veterinarian how safe that would be, asked the neighbor for the cat and prepared a room.
Cuddling, kissing and loving that litter of newborns and their mother was the perfect healing for the pain of all that loss. “I picked up all four of them in one big handful and kissed them all repeatedly, several times a day, every day, and forgot all about FIP and illness and loss, and just loved them, and their patient little mom understood,” I explained.
I told the audience, “As deeply as you loved, so do you grieve, but after the grief wears away it leaves the only love, shining like a diamond. Look back through your photos and see your lifetime of pets, and what do you remember? Not the grief, only the love,” I finished.
The photos and tributes gathered during the ceremony will be produced into a slideshow with musical accompaniment, “Tribute Scroll 2011”. This will be found on the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website, www.ccpc.ws along with the 2010 Tribute Scroll from last year’s Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony.
Another story about this time in my household:
Other articles about Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four:
Other articles about Pet Memorial Sunday:
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.
Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, decorations are put away and the pace of our lives is nearly back to normal we’ll often suddenly notice that empty spot in our lives left by a precious animal companion in the past year. The sense of loss and grief can come flooding back over again, though the loss may have been months or even years before.
I know that I’ve been thinking of my Peach lately, and I’ll be writing about her soon. Her decline was so gradual and her passing so quiet, leading into the holiday season that only now do I fully feel how much my household of cats has rearranged itself, and sense that empty spot left by Peaches’ sweet persistent love. Add to that my mother’s loss last month and I find my mind wandering in remembrance.
Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers
Any person who is having trouble coming to terms with the loss of a pet, regardless of when the loss occurred, is welcome to attend the annual Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers program sponsored by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation.
The afternoon will address the needs of families who are experiencing the loss of a precious companion and will include both education and remembrance to provide grieving families with help and resources to work through the trauma of losing a beloved companion.
The session will begin at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at LaBella Bean Café in Bridgeville. There is no charge for participating.
A Special Offer
You may want to hold the essence of your pet near your heart. In recognition of Valentine’s Day, CCPC has made special arrangements with jewelry artist Pam Meltzer to offer a 50% discount on the Sterling Silver Memory Paw for people who place their order at Healing Hearts. Call for more details.
Labella Bean is located at 609 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017, just two blocks away from Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. LaBella Bean will be closed to the public during this session.
So that we may properly prepare, please RSVP if you are planning to attend by calling 412-220-7800.
Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation is owned and operated by Deb Chebatoris for the comfort and consolation of Pittsburgh pet’s families, and is located at 442 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017. For more information on CCPC or on the event, please visit www.ccpc.ws.
Last year author Karen Litzinger turned her grief at the loss of her two dogs into an award-winning CD and network of resources.
Now, after completing a specialized training course through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) in May, Karen, already a Licensed Professional Counselor, also offers a unique counseling service specifically for pet bereavement through Heal from Pet Loss.
“I’m excited to move in this direction following producing the Heal Your Heart CD,” Karen says. “In addition to helping people with the depth of their loss at a delicate time, it will help me continue to help others by hearing stories of pet loss grief.”
She completed an internship with the APLB as an online chat room counselor supervised by a psychologist in order to renew her certification with the American Academy of Bereavement as a Certified Bereavement Facilitator. The APLB is the leading major organization in the United States that offers multiple opportunities for pet owners to seek support, like the chat room service founded in 1998.
Karen is the only pet loss counselor in the Western Pennsylvania region to complete the specialized instruction and receive the APLB Certificate of Training and is one of only four counselors in Pennsylvania with this training. The APLB, founded in 1997, is the only major organization in the United States that offers a pet loss and bereavement training program operated by a clinical psychologist.
A widening circle of people are finding their pets are increasingly important to family life, and are no longer viewed as “just the dog or cat”, but rather as a member of the family. This makes pet loss more difficult, but the associated grief more accepted. Still, many people don’t understand the depth of grief, and support can be hard to come by. Karen’s pet bereavement counseling practice aims to help the healing process for individuals and families.
Karen started her career over 20 years ago, and founded Litzinger Career Consulting in 2002. She decided to expand her practice following the production of her recently released Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet, a CD and accompanying booklet insert designed to guide pet owners through the process of grieving their deceased pet.
Heal Your Heart wins two book awards
In addition, Heal Your Heart recently won the 2010 Pinnacle Award for Best Book in the Category of Animals and Pets in April, as well as the 2010 National Indie Excellence Award for Audio Book Non-Fiction in May.
Following the death of her two dogs within four months of each other, Karen was inspired to create the CD to assist others on the pet loss journey through healing affirmations and practical strategies. She has initiated a non-denominational animal blessing service for a local church and has conducted memorial services as well as working with local shelters in organizing events, such as Pet Parents’ Day for WPHS. Karen has also been a guest on local and national pet-oriented radio talk shows.
More information on counseling services and the CD including reviews and excerpts as well as further resources for healing from pet loss can be found at www.HealFromPetLoss.com.
In addition, I had the honor and opportunity to illustrate the Heal Your Heart CD and Karen and I became friends through this project. I listened to the CD repeatedly in order to adequately illustrate its content, and I can attest to its effectiveness as I was losing my Namir at that time.
I’ve written about Karen and her CD numerous times on The Creative Cat, so please browse these articles:
Seventh and last in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”
I simply have the observation that every time I’ve lost a cat, I’ve gained something in my life. I’ve made decisions about my career, began working in a new medium and found new friends, all around the time of a loss.
Perhaps the trauma of the loss caused me to see things from a new perspective, or to break an old habit and begin reorganizing my life, or just gave me a new perspective on myself so my same old life felt new again. I really think it was a gift from them so I might be distracted from my grief.
It began with love
I have a degree in English and wanted to be a writer and go on to study linguistics and comparative arts. Life took a different turn and presented other possibilities, and where I had neglected my interest in art before I suddenly had the time to practice.
A few years out of college, at night after work, I chose to pick up a pencil and paper and put them together because I felt the need to start expressing myself in images.
At the same time, inspired by my love for Kublai who had rescued me, I had been rescuing and fostering cats and, of those I picked up from streets and midwifed into the spare bedroom, a rag tag bunch of six had come together to share my life. Because of my experience with Bootsie I was busy learning as much as I could about feline health, diets, history and allopathic and naturopathic medicine so that I could give them the best care possible and not miss a single symptom of anything.
And while they may have looked like common garden variety cats to everyone else, I thought they were the most beautiful beings to ever walk the earth. I had always loved cats because of their quiet grace and independent nature, but the opportunity to know these cats had rendered it from the general to the specific.
Images of my cats kept appearing in my thoughts as pencil drawings and paintings and I decided to draw what I was envisioning. The need to express and the subject matter came together at just the right time and I began producing images I could never have imagined I was capable of rendering, moving from pencil, the only medium in which I had any skill, to ink to pastel because I could leave them every day and return the next night without worrying about drying time or too much set up or clean up.
I worked faithfully on learning my technique and sharpening my inner vision as I spent years painting my cats. Learning each new medium, technique or style has been based on a vision of one of my household residents before I moved off to another subject, flowers or landscapes, usually. With their guidance, I’ve mastered pencil, ink, chalk pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, oil, collage, mixed media and photography.
It continued with loss
I realized with my first loss after beginning to sketch and paint the power of a portrait, and while they had started out as expressions of love, they became also expressions of remembrance, and as I lost that original family of muses that this was the greatest gift of all, giving them a sort of immortality.
Through the years my cats have been the subjects of dozens of works, and others, seeing these works, want a similar piece with their own animal companion as a subject. I have had the pleasure of creating more than 100 commissioned portraits of cats, dogs, cats and dogs, and cats and dogs and people. They are gifts for loved ones, memorials to cherished companions who’ve gone before us, and lovely pieces of artwork featuring an animal a person loved. You can find out more about my animal portraits in the “Custom Pet Portraits” page on this blog or by visiting my website where I have a demonstration and images of cat and dog portraits.
Now Stanley watches over my studio in “After Dinner Nap,” Kublai forever rolls on the floor like a goof in “Are You Looking at Me?”, Fawn peeks out from under the dust ruffle waiting for me to walk by in “Waiting for Mom,” and there is also Moses and Sally and Sophie and Namir whose portraits I can smile and look at. I have two new portraits planned, of Allegro and Nikka that I intend to work on this spring, now that I’ve found the best reference photos.
The animal sympathy cards
But there was one other project that had been waiting in the wings all these years, and with the loss of Namir I felt as if I had finally, somehow, come full circle and arrived at the point where I could put my grief in images and design the animal sympathy cards I had always planned to do, but kept putting off until the time was right. I think I wanted to make sure that I had enough experience and perspective so I wouldn’t design something I’d turn my back on later, thinking it was incomplete or immature. Of all cats, Namir doesn’t appear here except for his pawprints in “I’ll always walk beside you”. But I wanted to make sure I memorialized Lucy, the little black kitty you see twice below, who I lost at 15 months to FIP, right after I had lost my four oldest friends.
While I am a fine artist, I have actually worked as a graphic designer for more years than I want to tell. Designing everything from letterhead to websites every day, the task of designing these cards was second nature to me. I was glad, for once, to use my commercial art skills to create something for my offering of animal art, especially since my poor neglected cats could just expire all over my desk before I took my eyes off the computer.
I’ve found, to my surprise, that these cards are sometimes purchased for the loss of a human, or even a “thinking of you” card for persons who like animals—I never considered this. Using the images of my own cats for these cards, especially ones who had passed, was a little frightening; if one of the designs was not at all popular it could feel like a rejection of that kitty, who I loved so much. I am so glad I waited until my sentiments and designs were more universal, not so personal, to create these cards. Some are more popular than others, but I have reprinted all of them so no one has been left behind.
I intentionally chose to use photos rather than paintings for most of the designs. I like the softness and little bit of fiction I can work into a painting, but somehow I felt the realism of a photo was needed when expressing deep and sincere emotions of these cards.
Each of the cats depicted here was or is one of mine and the dogs are ones I’ve come to know through friends and art customers. I am currently working on more dog images as well as images of home and nature where we remember our animal companions best. There are more cats than dogs because I live with cats and have lots of material, but more than that I am careful with the images I use, not only that they are easily recognized and accepted, but that I know the animal well enough to use its image for this purpose. They are conveying a heavy thought, and I don’t take the relationship with my subject matter lightly.
All animal sympathy cards can be found in my Marketplace under Animal Sympathy Cards.
Other images used for sympathy
And in addition to the intentionally-designed sympathy cards are the blank greeting and note cards I have available portraying a special moment of one of my cats I’ll always remember.
We have each other to thank
Animals give us so much in everyday life, but my cats have given me my career.
Pet loss and grief told from personal experience
When I was losing a pet and making decisions, and after I had lost a pet and was dealing with grief, I was most comforted by hearing stories from others about their experiences. Sitting with one of my cats in the middle of the night, trying to determine if they were suffering in any way, if they were ready to let go, struggling to make the decision about euthanasia and what to do after they died, I felt so alone and only hearing what others had experienced and what they had decided helped me put my own situation and decisions into perspective, and let me know that I was not the only person to experience the anguish I was suffering. I’ve composed this series of articles in the hopes that others find comfort in my experiences and those of the others mentioned here, and that information included about services and products may help them in their decisions.
Read the other articles in this series:
To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long: my first and worst lesson in pet loss
Starting with pet loss—before the loss: begin preparing yourself for loss by being proactive about care and providing palliative care yourself at home
Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: aftercare, and a profile of a business and a person I find exceptional, and exceptionally comforting
Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice
Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort
Pet Loss Support Information: ideas and resources for where to find comfort and support in your loss, including books about and inspired by the author’s personal experience
Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art: my own experience turning multiple losses loss into multiple creative endeavors
About the images used in this post
All of the images used here are of my artwork, from portraits to designed cards. It’s one of the things that helps me with losing them, to know that their image goes out in the world and they are thereby, in a way, immortal. To see the art visit my website and look under “Fine Art and Portraiture” for the gallery, “My Cats“. Also look under “Photography” for the five galleries of “My Cats“. You can browse prints and notecards in my “Marketplace“.