Portrait “In the Sink”: Why Not?

portrait of cat in sink

Madison in the Sink, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

close-up of Madison

Close-up of Madison

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.

detail of faucet

Detail of faucet, why not?

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 Portraitsportrait of black cat in wicker chair Commissioned Dog Portraitspastel portrait of dogs

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.


On Dying and Death, and Remembrance

angel daisies

Angel Daisies © © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

silvery checkerspot

Silvery Checkerspot © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

cabbage butterfly

Many Asters © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

st john's wort

St. John's Wort © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

silvery checkerspot on butterflyy weed

Silvery Checkerspot on Butterfly Weed © B.E. Kazmarski

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”).

sweet peas and vetch

Sweet Peas and Vetch © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

dogwoods

Dogwood © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

family

All of us

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.


Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

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
  • Tributes
  • Fellowship

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.

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

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

white doves

The Dove Release

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.

table with photos

Table with photos and mementos.

“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.

dr carmichael

Dr. Brad Carmichael

“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.

Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW

“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.

Family Tributes

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.

Tribute Scroll

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.

slideshow of doves

We learn to let go.

Another story about this time in my household:

Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

Other articles about Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four:

Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight

Lucy Inspires a Book

Meet Lucy!

Other articles about Pet Memorial Sunday:

Pet Memorial Sunday: I’ll be Speaking of “The Joy of Pets”

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2010 Tribute Scroll

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.


On Pet Memorial Sunday

stone kitty marker

The Sleeping Kitty

I first published this article November 7, 2010, on the day I was to visit Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation to receive Peaches’ cremains. Today, as I attend and speak at the Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony, I remember Peaches, my most recent loss, along with the other 12 kitties who’ve continued their journey without me and the music I associate with each of them beginning with a very special moment in summer 2010.

I awoke in the very first light of dawn, that other twilight where the veil thins though not as completely as at evening, to hear the first few notes of “Cavatina”, one of my favorites and a most poignant piece of music.

I know it awakened me, literally, to a moment I needed to experience because in the dimness of my sleepy state and the early light I realized that all nine cats who lived with me this summer were tucked up against me or on the bed, sleeping deeply, quietly breathing, Sweet Peach curled next to my chest and Cookie curled tightly next to her, Kelly against my back and Dickie on the other pillow, all five black cats ranged around my legs in their usual spots.

It was a moment rare enough and one I knew would never come again, but more importantly it was a moment I needed to experience and remember because this wonderful group would soon break apart and I would only have memories of us all being together.

peaches and cookie sleeping

Peaches and Cookie sleeping next to me.

How do you make a moment last a lifetime? Experience it with your whole self, bring awareness to each of your senses and build a complete memory. As I listened to the Cavatina for its brief length I held still so not to wake my cats and watched the dim light grow ever so slightly brighter. I could distinguish each of the cats and familiar objects in my room, heard the rustling of the morning breeze in the tree outside and the first calls of the dawn chorus of birds, smelled the sweetness of a June morning as flowers opened and fresh air wafted in the room, tasted the tang of the damp morning on my tongue and felt the cool sheet and the warmth and weight of each of my nine cats.

I have experienced these early morning moments only a few times with other groups of cats, and even from the first recognized not only how special they were but also what they signified.

And with each of my cats, as we recognized they were in their last days, a piece of music presented itself in my mind and became our shared music, a song I sang to them, a piece of music I played while they were still with me and which I still sing or play and remember them. Usually the lyrics have something to do with how I feel about them, sometimes it’s instrumental, as it was with the Cavatina composed by Stanley Myers and used in the movie The Deer Hunter; I am not lost on the themes of loss and redemption in this movie, it’s a longtime favorite on many levels.

For Bootsie it was Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. For Kublai it was “I’ll Never Find Another You” by The Seekers (There is always someone for each of us they say/and you’ll be my someone forever and a day/I could search the whole world over until my life is through/but I know I’ll never find another you). For Fawn it was “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” a traditional Scottish song (Will ye go, lassie, go/and we’ll all go together/to pull wild mountain thyme/ from around the purple heather…). Sally’s melody was an instrumental entitled “Celtic Angels” by an artist named Kokila, played on an antique Steinway in an old church; I shared this entire recording with Deb Chebatoris to play in her living room for others to find comfort when they visit there. For Lucy, it was “The Hands of Time” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman from the movie Brian’s Song about an athlete dying young (All the happy days would never learn to fly/until the hands of time would choose to wave goodbye…). And of course there are more. Whenever I catch these played, which is rare, I think of my cats, and sometimes I play them just to remember them and that last special bond we shared. I have the recordings, I have them bookmarked on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet, I sing and hum them having no instruments at the moment; it’s all part of my process of grief and remembrance.

That last night Peaches and I spent while I was framing all night long, I was moved to play my recording of the Cavatina once or twice as I worked and petted Peaches.

stone kitty 2

The Stone Kitty, close up.

Today I will receive Peaches’ cremains from Deb Chebatoris in the special cloth bag with silk rose which Deb has prepared, and she and I will talk a while about Peaches and about our losses. I don’t mind this period of waiting; it seems like a natural part of the process of letting go. Little by little I have put away all the things I had at the ready for Peaches, cleaned up all the little messes, washed the rugs and no longer cautiously step over areas she used as her temporary litterbox. I’ve stood and looked at the places where I could always find her, picturing her there, remembering. I’ve accepted the changes to my household and anticipate more.

Now I am ready for what remains of her body to enter my home where her spirit resides in all her favorite places. These are not a substitute for her, but a respectful treatment of the vessel that had held her loving self.

And as I did with the others, I will move the sleeping cat figure in my garden, loosen the soil beneath and mix Peaches’ cremains with the soil, and with the others who’ve gone before. When I do this I feel the spirits of all the others flitting about me, welcoming the next member.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

Many of the kitties had enjoyed time in the backyard with me, and for them I’ll take a bit of their cremains and sprinkle them in the places they loved best, in the flower beds where Namir stalked voles, in the vegetable garden where Sally patrolled the tomato plants, between the bricks where Moses soaked up the healing sun. A bit of their essence is in the things that grow in those places, the forget-me-nots that emerge from between the bricks, the wildflowers that grow around the far edges of the yard, and in the food that nourishes me, from my vegetable garden. We are in but another turn of the cycle of our relationship, which changes but never ends.

Ultimately things come full circle before they move on, and I think of Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game” (And the seasons, they go round and the painted ponies go up and down/we’re captive on the carousel of time/we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came/and go round and round and round in the circle game).

And especially at this time of year I remember the sonnet by William Shakespeare…yes, in our loved one we may see a time without them, but the knowledge that we will one day lose them makes our love in this moment all the more strong.

Sonnet 73
William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

May we love well all the things we love, for as long as we can.

_________________________________________________________________________

I’ll Never Find Another You” lyrics © Tom Springfield, performed by The Seekers

Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” traditional

The Hands of Time” lyrics © Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by Michel LeGrand, from the movie Brian’s Song—find this movie and watch it, based on a true story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers, it is not to be missed

The Circle Game” lyrics © Joni Mitchell

And the characters in The Deer Hunter could have been my cousin’s wedding, my older cousins and younger uncles racing down Second Avenue from J&L Steel in Pittsburgh, getting tanked and running off to the Allegheny National Forest to hunt…and shipping out to Viet Nam, most were never the same. We thought we were watching ourselves. “Cavatina” touches me on many levels.

None of Kokila’s recordings are available to link, but visit her website to read about the recording or her store at on Amazon.com to purchase the CD. This recording is entirely acoustic piano; others are a mix of acoustic and electronic.


Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

gray and white cat in the sun

Sunwashed Namir

Hurricane Katrina, Namir, a household of cats and my personal creative inspiration

Namir was the inspiration for The Creative Cat, and while I had been posting articles once in a while for a few months prior to this it wasn’t until I wrote this article, and in the memory of Namir, that I began writing in earnest and developing The Creative Cat into what it is today. I originally wrote this article in August 2009, two months after I lost Namir; his loss represented the end of a cycle of loss, and every year at this time I remember him and all the cats from this era of my life.

I remember the night Katrina was headed toward New Orleans, partly scoffing at the hyperactive media reports and partly worried that the storm of the century really was heading for the Gulf Coast and knowing that, if it did, many people, most people, would not take it seriously. For all the dire warnings, natural disasters rarely fulfill their potential so it’s easy to sit back and wait for a while, much easier to stay in the place where you feel the most safe and guard the things you hold most dear; just stay home. At the beginning, we can never know the final impact, or what the disaster will encompass.

"Awakening", block print

"Awakening", block print

And sometimes a public event marks a time or a circumstance in your life, in fact stands as a metaphor for your circumstances, even though it has no connection with you or your life at all;  yet, whenever you encounter a remembrance of that event, it brings back that time in your life as if it was a slideshow playing for your review.

I don’t have a television. I heard about the storm on the radio and read about it on the internet, then visited The Weather Channel to actually look at the meteorology of it. I would naturally avoid all the hype of 24-hour news stations making a story out of possibly nothing in the slow news flow of late August.

The only reason I saw any television coverage was because it was on in the waiting room of the animal emergency hospital where I was waiting for the diagnosis of Namir’s sudden, frightening condition. I paced all night long between visits from the attending veterinarian as they x-rayed, blood tested and medicated Namir, then placed him in an oxygen cage. The veterinarian’s face was blank to grim, though no final word was given until nearly dawn.

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

I’d noticed that he wasn’t his goofy self for a few days, just subdued, then on that day he had begun crouching on the floor instead of sitting on my lap or my desk. I noticed his breathing was shallow, he wouldn’t eat dinner. He had had a compromising bladder condition for several years so I always observed his activity and took action with whatever seemed appropriate, but these symptoms were not indicating that condition. He looked up at me imploringly in the evening, those lovely, slanted, gentle tourmaline eyes telling me this was serious. I called the emergency hospital, packed him in a carrier and drove with cold, stiff fingers and my own shallow breathing, knowing this was not good.

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

As the veterinarian and technicians went through their paces and I watched Katrina spin toward New Orleans, I was sure, in my middle-of-the-night fearfulness, that the world was really coming to an end. I took hope for both New Orleans and Namir when the storm was reduced to a Category 4 sometime in those hours; even the smallest improvement could have a vast positive outcome.

Yet as the dawn began to open details in the black outside the windows the veterinarian told me that Namir had developed congestive heart failure through hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I fully understood the detailed explanation the vet gave me, following his sketches and descriptions in my own visual language, visualizing Namir’s damaged heart inside his delicate feline chest, struggling to move the blood through but not quite moving all of it every time, the blood circling and swishing around in the chamber, the walls thickening, the fluids building up instead of washing away. I understood that Namir was in very serious condition, that the condition could not be cured.

The hospital closed at 7:00 a.m. being only for overnight emergencies, but in the same rooms the specialty clinic opened at 8:00 a.m. Namir would stay there and see a doctor who specialized in his condition the next day, have more comprehensive diagnostic tests done.

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

They allowed me to say goodbye to him in the oxygen cage. I couldn’t touch him, and he didn’t come to the window but crouched close to it with an IV in one leg and several shaved patches and looked at me with those same eyes, but instead of the worry, near panic, I’d seen earlier, I saw hope, and perhaps he saw the sadness and fear in my eyes temper with it. We would work together on this, no matter what happened.

Katrina was reaching landfall as I drove home through the growing dawn and early morning traffic and I equated the gray misty light with the howling gray images I’d seen of New Orleans and elsewhere along the coast, pondering the veterinarian’s prognosis of Namir’s recovery: about a month with no treatment, six months with medication and careful observation, perhaps a year if we were lucky. Even with recovery his quality of life might not be optimal, he might actually experience a lot of discomfort and even great pain. I would know more the next day after an ultrasound and other tests.

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

In August 2005, I was occasionally dosing Stanley with sub-q fluids for chronic kidney failure, but he was overall well—amazing for being somewhere past 20. All the others were fine, Moses at 19, Sophie at 16, Cookie at 13, Kelly at 9, and even the two new senior fosters, Peaches and Cream, estimated at 15, were adjusting well.

In the following year I would lose four members of my household, my four oldest cats, and three of them my oldest friends, Moses, then Cream, then Sophie and finally Stanley, and shortly after Stanley, the kitten I’d taken in and simply adored after all that loss, Lucy, at 15 months.

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Namir lived almost four years with his condition, and hardly evidenced any discomfort though he hated his twice-daily medications and needed to stop back at the emergency hospital for a tune-up now and then. I don’t know how many times in those four years I said, “Namir was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure the night Katrina hit New Orleans…” Namir and I certainly had a better outcome and what we experienced in no way compares with what happened there, but whenever I hear about Hurricane Katrina I remember that night when my own storm began, my own little life inexorably pulled apart by circumstances beyond my household’s control, but in much the same way as the aftermath of Katrina it was the hidden reserves of strength that determined the final outcome, individuals pooling and sharing their strength and supporting each other.

Cookie, "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess"

I heeded my own natural disaster as best I could with the warnings I was given. Now I hope that my storm is finally over for a while. I know that I will have losses again, and with older cats likely I’ll have a few illnesses to treat. Even though Peaches hasn’t seemed to age a day since she came here and can still jump right up onto the kitchen island where she eats, she is 19 years old. Cookie hasn’t seemed to age since she was about 3, but I can see her slowing down and experiencing a little hearing difficulty, though we act as if we don’t notice. Little Kelly, who has to be at least 13, hasn’t shown any diminishing of ability and it’s hard to imagine her as a senior. My “Golden Girls” as I classify them…And I now have a big jump in age to Mimi, who is likely 6, then her kids, who just turned 2, though as I learned with Lucy and FIP that illness and death have no recognition of age.

After all this I was surprised I haven’t been in pain over Namir’s loss, considering the big personality he was and how close we were. He left strict instructions with “the kids” on my care and feeding, however, and I have never felt alone since Namir’s been gone—I’ll be writing more about this later, now that I have a perspective. But it hasn’t been just Namir’s loss, but all the others, too, all of them together, through it all knowing that I’d lose Namir, too, and finally I feel that process is complete.

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

The one thing I can’t avoid is that in two months I haven’t done much that’s creative—no blog entries, no new poetry, I’ve had to drag myself into my studio and still I’ve only done one piece of artwork, only a few photo sessions and all the other things I’ve done daily for years to keep my creative intellect in shape have just been neglected.

I know why that is. That’s the very core of myself, and in opening myself up to those creative experiences I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. It’s easy just to live on the surface as if floating on clear water, able to look at the beauty of the depths but frightened to go there, even though the risk, the plunge, the exploration and the return with new insights to share far outweighs any pain that might be experienced in the endeavor.

Now that the deepest part of my grief has passed, I’m ready to finish and fulfill the things I’ve planned, and to move on with new things. The hardest part of grief is letting go and feeling that who and what you leave behind will be forgotten, but we leave behind and let go in a million ways every day without ever knowing. Namir came to me one year after I lost the love of my life, my Kublai, and if I had kept myself closed off and held on to Kublai’s memory for fear of his being forgotten, I would never have known Namir, which would have done none of the three of us any good, or any other of the foster cats who became loves, or the people or the places I’ve known and experienced since then.

So I’m a little out of shape, but it’s never taken me too long to get back into it before. I love this time of year, and probably most inspired by it, when summer changes to autumn and I can feel the pace of life slowing a little.

And I have a wonderful feline portrait with which to begin my new season. I’ll post the first update in a day or two and update the images and other thoughts regularly.

______________________________________________

That portrait was Madison, and I had a wonderful reunion with an old friend with which to begin that new season. This year is another year of plans and work, and loss as well, losing Peaches last autumn, and considering Cookie’s condition at the moment, but they will never cease to inspire me to create, to share, and to love.


Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

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

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

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.


The Cavatina

stone kitty marker

The Sleeping Kitty

I awoke in the very first light of dawn, that other twilight where the veil thins though not as completely as at evening, to hear the first few notes of “Cavatina”, one of my favorites and a most poignant piece of music.

I know it awakened me, literally, to a moment I needed to experience because in the dimness of my sleepy state and the early light I realized that all nine cats who lived with me this summer were tucked up against me or on the bed, sleeping deeply, quietly breathing, Sweet Peach curled next to my chest and Cookie curled tightly next to her, Kelly against my back and Dickie on the other pillow, all five black cats ranged around my legs in their usual spots.

It was a moment rare enough and one I knew would never come again, but more importantly it was a moment I needed to experience and remember because this wonderful group would soon break apart and I would only have memories of us all being together.

peaches and cookie sleeping

Peaches and Cookie sleeping next to me.

How do you make a moment last a lifetime? Experience it with your whole self, bring awareness to each of your senses and build a complete memory. As I listened to the “Cavatina” for its brief length I held still so not to wake my cats and watched the dim light grow ever so slightly brighter. I could distinguish each of the cats and familiar objects in my room, heard the rustling of the morning breeze in the tree outside and the first calls of the dawn chorus of birds, smelled the sweetness of a June morning as flowers opened and fresh air wafted in the room, tasted the tang of the damp morning on my tongue and felt the cool sheet and the warmth and weight of each of my nine cats.

I have experienced these early morning moments only a few times with other groups of cats, and even from the first recognized not only how special they were but also what they signified.

And with each of my cats, as we recognized they were in their last days, a piece of music presented itself in my mind and became our shared music, a song I sang to them, a piece of music I played while they were still with me and which I still sing or play and remember them. Usually the lyrics have something to do with how I feel about them, sometimes it’s instrumental, as it was with the “Cavatina” composed by Stanley Myers from the movie The Deer Hunter; I am not lost on the themes of loss and redemption in this movie, it’s a longtime favorite on many levels.

For Bootsie it was Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. For Kublai it was “I’ll Never Find Another You” by The Seekers (There is always someone for each of us they say/and you’ll be my someone forever and a day/I could search the whole world over until my life is through/but I know I’ll never find another you). For Fawn it was “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” a traditional Scottish song (Will ye go, lassie, go/and we’ll all go together/to pull wild mountain thyme/ from around the purple heather…). Sally’s melody was an instrumental entitled “Celtic Angels” by an artist named Kokila, played on an antique Steinway in an old church; I shared this entire recording with Deb Chebatoris to play in her living room for others to find comfort when they visit there. For Lucy, it was “The Hands of Time” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman from the movie Brian’s Song about an athlete dying young (All the happy days would never learn to fly/until the hands of time would choose to wave goodbye…). And of course there are more. Whenever I catch these played, which is rare, I think of my cats, and sometimes I play them just to remember them and that last special bond we shared. I have the recordings, I have them bookmarked on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet, I sing and hum them having no instruments at the moment; it’s all part of my process of grief and remembrance.

That last night Peaches and I spent while I was framing all night long, I was moved to play my recording of the Cavatina once or twice as I worked and petted Peaches.

stone kitty 2

The Stone Kitty, close up.

Today I will receive Peaches’ cremains from Deb Chebatoris in the special cloth bag with silk rose which Deb has prepared, and she and I will talk a while about Peaches and about our losses. I don’t mind this period of waiting; it seems like a natural part of the process of letting go. Little by little I have put away all the things I had at the ready for Peaches, cleaned up all the little messes, washed the rugs and no longer cautiously step over areas she used as her temporary litterbox. I’ve stood and looked at the places where I could always find her, picturing her there, remembering. I’ve accepted the changes to my household and anticipate more.

Now I am ready for what remains of her body to enter my home where her spirit resides in all her favorite places. These are not a substitute for her, but a respectful treatment of the vessel that had held her loving self.

And as I did with the others, I will move the sleeping cat figure in my garden, loosen the soil beneath and mix Peaches’ cremains with the soil, and with the others who’ve gone before. When I do this I feel the spirits of all the others flitting about me, welcoming the next member.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

Many of the kitties had enjoyed time in the backyard with me, and for them I’ll take a bit of their cremains and sprinkle them in the places they loved best, in the flower beds where Namir stalked voles, in the vegetable garden where Sally patrolled the tomato plants, between the bricks where Moses soaked up the healing sun. A bit of their essence is in the things that grow in those places, the forget-me-nots that emerge from between the bricks, the wildflowers that grow around the far edges of the yard, and in the food that nourishes me, from my vegetable garden. We are in but another turn of the cycle of our relationship, which changes but never ends.

Ultimately things come full circle before they move on, and I think of Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game” (And the seasons, they go round and the painted ponies go up and down/we’re captive on the carousel of time/we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came/and go round and round and round in the circle game).

And especially at this time of year I remember the sonnet by William Shakespeare…yes, in our loved one we may see a time without them, but the knowledge that we will one day lose them makes our love in this moment all the more strong.

Sonnet 73
William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

May we love well all the things we love, for as long as we can.

_________________________________________________________________________

I’ll Never Find Another You” lyrics © Tom Springfield, performed by The Seekers

Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” traditional

The Hands of Time” lyrics © Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by Michel LeGrand, from the movie Brian’s Song—find this movie and watch it, based on a true story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers, it is not to be missed

The Circle Game” lyrics © Joni Mitchell

And the characters in The Deer Hunter could have been my cousin’s wedding, my older cousins and younger uncles racing down Second Avenue from J&L Steel in Pittsburgh, getting tanked and running off to the Allegheny National Forest to hunt…and shipping out to Viet Nam, most were never the same. We thought we were watching ourselves. “Cavatina” touches me on many levels.

None of Kokila’s recordings are available to link, but visit her website to read about the recording or her store at on Amazon.com to purchase the CD. This recording is entirely acoustic piano; others are a mix of acoustic and electronic.


“Heal Your Heart” Author Takes Things One Step Further

photo of karen litzinger

Karen Litzinger

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, Pepper and Zep

Karen, Pepper and Zep

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

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

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:

Pet Loss in the First Person

Pet Loss Support Information

Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook

To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long

Do Animals Have Souls?

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet


Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art

Seventh and last in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”

pastel painting of cat on windowsill

Suncatcher © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

pastel painting of a cat on a bed

Sunday Morning © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

.pastel portrait of cat

Bandit

pastel portrait of dogs

Sophie and Ellie

watercolor portrait of dog and two cats

Washburn Trio

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.

animal sympathy card

No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

animal sympathy card

The sweetest memories often come in quiet moments.

animal sympathy card

Remember the best moments with love and joy.

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.

animal sympathy card

always in your heart

animal sympathy card

They find a comfortable spot in your heart to live in forever and ever.

animal sympathy card

They find a comfortable spot in your heart to live in forever and ever.

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.

animal sympathy card

I will always walk with you.

animal sympahty card

Remember the beautiful moments with love and joy.

animal sympathy card

No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

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.

animal sympathy card

Remember the beautiful moments from all those years together.

animal sympathy card

No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

animal sympathy card

They leave their mark on us, don't they?

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.

pastel drawing of a cat on a bed

Afternoon Nap

pastel painting of a cat looking out a window

Winter Window

oil pastel drawing of cat in the sun

Warm Winter Sun

pencil drawing of a cat on a windowsill

Sleeping Beauty, my Sally, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

pencil drawing of striped cat

Stanley's Stripes

pencil drawing of cat sleeping

Don't Wake Me Up

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“.