|Birth: ||Dec. 23, 1984|
|Death: ||Jun. 19, 2001, USA|
Fur-baby of Lisa Burks; Fur-sister of Shelby; Fur-cousin of Critter and Casey. Preceeded to the Rainbow Bridge by Fur-sister Bunny.
LETTING GO - A TRIBUTE TO GUSSIE
Originally posted to LisaBurks.com in 2001
It would be easy to wallow in grief over the loss of my beloved Gussie Grrl and the experience of having to euthanize her if it weren't for the incredible gift she left behind.
The gift of showing me how to let go with love, acceptance and dignity.
When Gussie was diagnosed with gastrointestinal lymphosarcoma, her doctor told me that even with chemotherapy treatments she would probaly only survive 3-6 months.
The salt in the wound was also being told that this disease wouldn't afford me the "luxury" of seeing her one day go in her sleep, on her own. The cancer would not kill her swiftly, humanely or completely.
That would be my job. I would have to decide when to say "when" and have her put down.
I was so angry that I couldn't function for days on end, except to care for Gussie. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't stop crying. I hated cancer with a vengence. It killed my dad and to add insult to injury it was now killing the cat who was a condolence gift to me from a friend when my dad passed away.
The worst and most ironic twist to this entire situation was that Gussie has always had an iron will to survive. She was the runt of her litter and over the years she has overcome more physical challenges than I can remember -- including dragging herself home with a pelvis broken in three places after being missing for a week. She always took a "licking and kept on ticking" which was a huge part of her charm.
Now, no matter how hard she fought this time, there would be no happy ending. She would not survive this physical challenge.
Gussie lived -- and for the most part enjoyed -- three years of life after being diagnosed that day. Although she could not survive the physical challenge of cancer, she flourished in the face of a spiritual one.
Her famous will to live shown through to me in a new light -- it's not about staying alive, it's about how you appreciate the life you have and how you live each day you're given.
I wanted to give her a fighting chance so I chose to go with the chemo treatments. It was a tough decision because Gussie had always been a big chicken about going to the vets, even for a routine check-up. It had always been impossible in the past to get her out of her carrier once we arrived at the office. I could turn the thing upside down and shake it like a kid trying to empty a cereal box to get the prize out -- and she would not budge. She'd be in there spread eagle with all four paws pushing agains the sides in an effort to defy gravity.
But when it came to chemo, she seemed to know that it was for her own good and she took it like a champ. She'd meow a bit as she sat on a blanket in the passenger seat of my car (I'd long since given up on the carrier) but I think she was venting more than protesting. The vet said she was one of their best patients. I consider that the first of many miracles in this story.
Even though she was weak and nauseous from chemo, she did her best to get food down and walk to the litter box, or to the door for fresh air. She was even pretty good about taking her meds although I'll never figure out how she could eat a wad of tuna, lick her lips and then ever so gracefully spit out the tiny white pill fragment that I had carefully tried to conceal inside. It was like watching David Copperfield do an amazing magic trick.
Her "Pet Angel" Alisa Merlin came into our life when she was referred to us by the vet for home health care assistance. Gussie needed to have fluids given by a needle to keep her hydrated and although I was taught how to do it myself that task just about put me over the edge. I can do a lot of things when push comes to shove, but sticking my cat with a needle is not one of them. So Alisa came to our rescue.
Besides the fluids, she gave Gussie and me spiritual support. She prayed over Gussie in the process, gave me healing crystals and was always there to point out the progress our Grrl was making, and what a miracle it was. Sometimes it's difficult to see the forest for the trees when you're living with sickness every day, and it helps to have someone there to guide you!
Slowly, Gussie started to bounce back. The day she was able to jump up on her favorite chair was a milestone and one I'll never forget. She had some setbacks along the way, but she always had a "my glass is half-full" attitude. She was happy to be alive. And I was happy, too.
Once she started feeling better it felt like I had a second chance to really appreciate what having pets in your life can mean. Even Shelby, my other cat, seemed different in that respect. We all cuddled more, we played more, we spent more time together. At the risk of sounding like a Crazy Cat Lady, when given the choice I would often choose staying home for an evening lounging with my Grrls over a social night on the town.
That first year I even stayed home for the holidays. I usually travel to visit my family in Michigan for Christmas and New Years. But I didn't want to leave Gussie this time. So my mom (or Grammeow as we call her) came to stay with us. It was a great holiday for all of us, punctuated with a lot of quality time and conversations about how important family is, whether they're your own flesh and blood or the furbaby variety.
The day finally came this summer when I realized that Gussie was not bouncing back from a setback. Her back legs were stiff when she walked, it was difficult for her to go to the bathroom and her appetite was not what it used to be. She didn't have the wherewithall to jump on the bed to sleep with me at night, preferring to curl up on top of the cable box for warmth -- even though it was in the 80s.
Having three years to emotionally prepare for this decision-making moment of truth didn't seem to be enough. I talked to Alisa about it and one of the things she said to me was, "Gussie's hanging around for you. You have to let her know it's okay to stop fighting." Looking at it from that angle made a big difference. It was one thing to want to live because you're enjoying life. It was another to suffer because you don't want to disappoint someone. I didn't want to be the reason she suffered. It was a lightbulb moment to say the least.
Gussie and I have always "talked." When I've said things to her, I've always felt she listened and understood. So I sat down with her and told her it was okay to let go. That she wouldn't disappoint me by leaving, only by suffering in silence to make me happy. That I'd miss her terribly but I knew that we'd see each other again one day.
And an amazing thing happened. She blinked. Anyone who has ever been eye-to-eye with a cat knows they never blink first, unless they're bored with you and decide to walk away. But she just sat there and she blinked at me. I believe that was her way of saying she understood, and thank you.
After that "conversation" there was a noticable difference in her demeanor. It was like she was relaxed and allowed herself to slow down. She let the cancer win. She didn't try to hide her limp. She didn't try to squelch her meow if it hurt her when I picked her up. The only thing that didn't change was her appetite. She'd always been a garbage can that would eat anything you gave her. She still wanted food, but she seemed to eat it because she enjoyed it and not because she needed it for strength.
The next day I called the vet from work and made an appointment for the following afternoon at 1pm. I cried as I did it, but not out of fear or anger. I knew I was doing what was best for Gussie, and it was just a sad, sad moment that I allowed myself to feel.
Then, thanks to very compassionate bosses at work, I took the rest of the day off to be with Gussie and Shelby. Having made the appointment, I felt like a burden was lifted and now was the time to celebrate Gussie's life with her while she was still here. I went to the grocery store and bought all her favorite foods like tuna, turkey, chicken, salmon-flavored cream cheese, eggs. When I got home we had a 24-hour feast. Gussie looked at me working away at the stove as if to say, "What are you going to do when I'm gone? I'm the only one that really likes your cooking!" Sad but true. She was so wise.
That day we also looked at kitten pictures together, laid on the floor and just enjoyed quiet quality time, we cuddled, we listened to music and we watched tv. I took videos and lots of pictures. We all slept together in the livingroom, if you could call it sleep. I could only snooze for about 10 minutes at a time. Gussie was restless too, walking from her blanket to the cable box to her food dishes to the litter box.
I woke up at one point and found her laying in the litter box, too weak after tinkling to get out. Or perhaps she was dizzy and passed out. In any case, there was no dignity in that for her. It crystalized for me that I had made the choice to end this none too soon.
Over the course of three years I had always imagined The Big Day to be one of angst and tears. There was some of course, but it really was more about serenity. And Gussie set the tone.
She seemed almost majestic in her mannerisms, walking around the apartment sniffing out her favorite spots for the last time. And, for the first time in years, she asked to go outside.
We went out into the courtyard and she relaxed in the sunshine under a bush. When our neighbor cat, Memo, showed up I fretted because I thought she might start a fight. But Gussie simply and quietly meowed a few meows and Memo laid down next to her and purred. I can only imagine what they were communicating to each other. After a few minutes Memo meowed and left Gussie in to her sunshine, with only me there to snap a few photos. An hour later, she was ready to come in and insisted on walking up the steps on our porch under her own power. The dignity and serenity just poured out of her and I was in awe.
The most emotionally cleansing moment that morning came when I read aloud to her the story of the Rainbow Bridge. I cried. She blinked. Shelby laid still and quiet in the other room with her back to us but ears turned perked in our direction. We all knew that time was running out here, but I believe we also all knew that we'd be together as a team again at the Bridge one day.
I called Grammeow so she could say good-bye over the speaker phone -- over the years whenever I had talked to my mom on the phone I could never get away with hanging up before Gussie got to meow into the receiver to share her own gossip as Grammeow laughed. Today she didn't meow, and Grammeow cried, but the love was still there. Grammeow said that at the appointed time that she would go outside to where our family dog, Bunny, was buried and ask her to meet Gussie at the Bridge. It was a touching gesture that I kept visualized in the back of my mind later that day and which comforted me.
Alisa came to drive us to the vets and it was wonderful to have her support and presence with us. I brought Gussie and Shelby together, they sniffed noses and I vowed aloud that this "wasn't the end." And for once I didn't feel like I was in denial. I truly believed (and still do) that we will be together in another place, at another time.
Gussie wasn't going to off to die, she was going on ahead of us. She was off on a Great New Adventure. There was no drama between the two cats, only a loving, knowing look of acceptance that this is how life is.
I never cried at the vets until it was over. I didn't feel like it. I signed papers and paid in advance, taking care of business while I could. The people at the vet office are amazing, compassionate professionals. They all obviously cared about Gussie and it was a sad day for them. Their "success story" was coming to an end.
I'd always thought that I would cry uncontrollably as Gussie was put down. It seemed so unthinkable and tragic. But I did not. I felt love and appreciation for nearly 17 years with an amazing creature. She was curled up in her blanket like she was ready for a nap. A deep sleep she so richly deserved after a long, hard fight. I put my hand under her head, I looked in her eyes and I said, "I love you, Gussie. Thank you for everything." She blinked back.
Our eyes never lost contact and I watched her pupils slowly dilate until she was gone. Instead of the horror that I always imagined this moment would be, it was the most beautiful one I have ever experienced. I let go with love and my heart felt filled with a million good feelings. I didn't feel her spirit actually leave her body, but I felt an energy around me and then it was gone, like a shot. Like she had circled me one last time with her love and then she was off to her new place in the universe.
Once she was gone, I cried. Hard. I put my face on the cancer-ravaged body she left behind and I sobbed. Tears of good-bye, not of regret or anger or unfairness. Just good-bye. Letting go.
It was pure liquid love and it felt amazing.
Since then, I've had more tears of course. Mostly because I miss her physical presence. But I feel her with me when I stop and think about it. She's with me in my heart and it makes me smile. Every once in a while, I lay my head on her kitty-bed and cry on her pillow. Her fur is still there. And then I feel that same energy that I felt the day she died. It circles briefly around me and I know she's trying to help. And in lieu of her cold nose that she used to rub on my cheeks when I'd cry about less important things, it does.
Alisa gave me a beautiful crystal that day -- a Rainbow Crystal -- to hang in my bedroom window. When the afternoon sun hits it, it projects dozens of stunning, small rainbows on the walls. All's I need do is touch them and say "Hello, Gussie." It feels good. I picture her healthy and happy at The Rainbow Bridge with Bunny. And I'm reminded how lucky I am to be an animal lover -- so many people in the world don't get it about pets. They think of them as things without feeling or purpose. I'm grateful to have had the experience to know better.
And then I go to find Shelby and when I do I pick her up, hug and kiss her. She tends to find that annoying. I wonder what lesson I'm supposed to learn from her about that?
Thank you, Gussie ~ for leaving a legacy of love. I hope you are having fun with your birth mother at the Bridge. I love you!
Shelby & I would like to thank everyone for all the love and heartfelt sympathy thoughts, prayers, cards, calls, emails and flowers that we've received. It all helped so much! :-)
Special thanks and love to Gussie's incredibly devoted "Grammeow" Tillie Burks, her Pet Angel Alisa Merlin, and to Dr. Elizabeth Farrar, Nancy H. and everyone at Animal Specialty Group for unparalleled care and compassion! You made all the difference.
Cremated, Ashes scattered.
Created by: Lisa Burks
Record added: Oct 18, 2003
Find A Grave Memorial# 7997818