Tag Archives: saying goodbye

In the final hours all the things we do with love

Dear Readers,

I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support by readers here. Many of you have sent me personal messages and  emails and all are so greatly appreciated. Thank you.


It’s harder the before part, isn’t it? When you know the end is inevitable, but yet, you watch looking to find glimmers. Oh, Ringo walked to her bowl. She’s still making it to her litter box. Oh, and she ate a bit more! She’s purring. After a few days of her withdrawing to under the table, resting and sleeping mostly, not sleeping on our bed, not jumping up on my desk to lounge on top of my laptop and help me…

After days of not, this morning Ringo jumped back up to my desk and sat in her usual spots. On the right side, behind the laptop, on top, on my lap, over my shoulder, and then circle back again to look out window at birds. She meowed and asked me to pick her up and I held her, Ringo Lite, so  airy and fragile, and she did that thing she does, nestling into my neck, hugging and purring. We sat like that for a while, while I cried and cried. I wasn’t sure I’d get to experience that one more time. But she came and gave that moment to me. One more time on my desk, inspired.

I thanked her out loud for being here with us for so long, and all her goodness. I thanked her for being there and helping us through tragedies and health problems and happy days and holidays, and boring nothing happens days, every day. I thanked her. I cried into her fur and she just purred. “What a good cat. What a good, good cat, you are. Thank you, Ringo. “

Then she got down and I thought, OK, she has given me her love for 15.5 years, a third of our lives. I have given everything I could to her. I’m lucky.

pic from 9/16/14 but she did this today, too
pic from 9/16/14 but she did this today, too

A little bit on how we found her is in this below:

Exhibit curated by Holly Metz, Cover -An Exhibition at the Hoboken Historical Museum, 2004
Exhibit curated by Holly Metz, Cover -An Exhibition at the Hoboken Historical Museum, 2004
The bit about Ringo starts on this page
The bit about Ringo starts on this page
And the rest is on this page
And the rest is on this page

This painting (sorry for not such great photo of it):

Ringo, 2001 by EH
Ringo, 2001 by EH

was inspired by this photo:

August, 2001 by EH
August, 2001 by EH

Today, Ringo enjoyed chicken and kugel (she can be such a little Jewish cat) cut up into the tiniest of pieces and heated up in the microwave. It’s hard for her to eat. It’s almost time.

Here we are with TableCat in September 2010 during Rosh Hashana.

September 2010
September 2010

When we first got her, she also couldn’t eat. So small, at 5 weeks and abandoned without her mommy cat,  we went to a vet and tried everything, used a dropper, but for days she seemed to not eat enough. On Mother’s Day morning, 1999, maybe a week after we found her, I was eating a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. Suddenly, Super Tiny Ringo jumped with all four paws into the bowl and starting chomping down. I let her (and got myself another bowl), but then I made her little cracker type things using the cereal as a base and smearing on baby cat food. She gobbled it up, eating from my hands. She’s been a great eater ever since and she grew into a whole cat.

Vintage Ringo Collection
Vintage Ringo Collection

In recent years, she’s been finicky with food, but that was fine, but really, she’s eaten very well her whole life, enjoying plenty of delicious home food courtesy of Andy’s amazing cooking skills. Now, at the end, she can’t eat enough to sustain. It is  almost time, soon, before she knows hunger, before it hurts too much, her pain meds keeping her comfortable for now.

M said, “Her work is done. She has achieved all her life’s goals. Now its time for her to rest.”

But denial along with that, “At least she doesn’t have cancer. She’ll be here, probably two more months. I’ll have one more birthday with Ringo.”

I had to tell him the truth. “Yes, Ringo does have cancer. She is going to die soon, but we don’t know exactly when. She won’t be here for your birthday. I’m so sorry.”

Watching him let that sink in was hard. His face fell. He bit his lip. I could see he was holding back tears. He gets it and doesn’t get it. We talk of the Rainbow Bridge. I told him whatever he feels is OK. I told him all feelings are OK. I said, “Let’s talk about FutureCat. Let’s eat more ice cream.”

I check on Ringo, watching her breathe. Making sure. I look around the house at all the spots where she has always been. The windows. The couch. The table. My desk. The beds. The hall. The litter box. Under things. There is fur in the screen of the window. There is fur.  More windows. She’s still so present and here. I’m already sad at the thought of her absence. All the above, but without Ringo in the picture. All the drawings I have made over the years which include her. There’s that empty space, the negative space, where she won’t be.

I cry a lot. I keep it together for when M is home. He’s so sensitive, we need to be careful, what we say, how we say it. But we still need and want to be honest and tell him the truth. We keep searching for ways to be as gentle as possible, knowing that while he often seems older than his years,  he’s also younger in other ways. All those feelings of loss and grief are certainly hard enough for an adult to process. I don’t think there’s any one right way or wrong way. We know our M and we make decisions that we feel are best for him, for us. So far, it is a mix but it is also calm and peaceful and is also a thing our family is going through together, each in our own different ways, and there really is no way out of it, just through it.

"Through the storm" made after Superstorm Sandy  in December 2012.
“Through the storm” made after Superstorm Sandy in December 2012.

This morning, M made some video of Ringo. He pet her head. He talked about names for his next Future Kitten.  He listed for me all the reasons why rescuing a cat is best, why we’ll get one from a shelter, why we won’t buy a cat from a store. M gets it.  He’s a real  cat person now. I’m glad for that.

I’m pulling out albums and looking through pictures and scanning and the time is going by too fast and it isn’t  just Ringo, but all the STUFF that has happened in the past chunk of time, 15.5 years, all rushing by. Little blips of images, memories, deaths, losses, snapshots of happy days and nights and all the days in between. Like a blur  going inward and backwards, but holding on to the pieces of the moment. I need to remember to eat. There is fur in corners and on steps and on my desk and on the window sill and —- and I like it that way.

Cat lovers know how special these creatures are. Ringo has been a muse for me. She heard me when I talked about trouble and when I triumphed. I have received and received. Grateful.

detail from illustration 2012
detail from illustration 2012

A silly ditty we had and rhymes…oh, there are so many silly songs and memories and things we have said:

“Ringo, bingo, bango, bongo, cat would eat a mango. ”

“Who’s good? Ringo’s good.”

“Ringo, Cat of Excellence!”

“Ringo, Cat of Destiny and Density.”

“Ringo, Cat of Constant Furrinness and Love.”

“Ringo, Healing Paws.”

Ringo is  a state of mind and an attitude. Ringo is pure love. We got to have pure love for 15.5 years.

How lucky is that?! Wildly, incredibly lucky to have Ringo in our life. All joy and love covered in fur. All goodness and peace. Our Beautiful Ringo, Angel Cat.

Ringo is made of StarStuff.

With love,


from Creative Systems Thinking
from Creative Systems Thinking



On having to start saying goodbye

Dear Readers,

Yesterday we took our cat, Ringo to the vet as I had suspected something was very wrong. She had started hiding in the closet, lost weight, had a strange smell in her mouth. As soon as I realized, I made an appointment to see the vet.
We learned she is very sick and will die soon.

We’re going to keep her comfortable (pain med and antibiotics from vet have been given) while we have to decide the inevitable — when.
It’s hard to accept. And already I have the dropsies and the bumping into things from the grief which has started. That time- is- sped- up- and- slowed- down simultaneously feeling where you notice everything, but then you want to please, lay down and sleep in cotton, and the sun is too bright, although warm and good with fall leaves turning and falling. Such a beautiful time of year this is.

Ringo is getting delicious brisket and long spells sitting in the window catching sun.
Heavy hearts but M already talking about our next kitty and that he’s quite sure Ringo will be going to the rainbow bridge and the rainbow is the entry point to cat heaven.

detail from a painting by Elana Halberstadt, 2014
detail from a painting by Elana Halberstadt, 2014

M said, “Maybe she will meet up with her brothers and sisters.” I said, “Maybe she’ll meet Pounce who left us in 2003. Or Banana in 1977.”  I know Andy would also think of Schnapsie, his childhood family dog. All of the animals who we love(d) who love(d) us every day and then leave us, always too soon. We’re with Ringo more than 15 years.

Such goodness and all the love as we’re being extra kind to Ringo as much as we can and to ourselves because this will be Ms first death experience. We always joked that she’s his  big sister.
And we have to help him say goodbye. Or maybe he will help us.

Transitions are hard for M. But, I don’t know anyone for whom death is an easy thing. If death is the ultimate transition, I think what an incredible opportunity to show him how we love our furry family member at the very end of her life. How we can say goodbye in a way that is only for love. Ms ability to see past this to a new, future kitten is hopeful.

It’s hard. I’m numb sometimes.  It’s the news you never want to get. Most likely cancer. Denial pops up. It could just be an infection in her mouth and then the antibiotics will clear it up, and she’ll be fine. No, that’s not what the vet said. But we say that because it feels better to hold on to that shred of hope for another day. I’ll be calling the vet tomorrow and we’ll go over everything again. I’ll ask him which types of cancer he thinks it is. I’ll ask him to tell me again what he suggests will be best for her to not suffer.  Tell me the options again.

I started documenting the end and writing in my head and I realize that’s just my coping mechanism. How to turn these feelings into pictures or find a place outside my head to put the feelings to contain them and make sense of things. Tears just roll and roll.


Then I see something funny  and start looking for more funny  and I find it, and then there’s folding and  sorting piles of laundry. Then sorting and more piles of old papers and magazines and junk mail. Recycle, shred, keep. Contain. Put away. Do something that has immediate results, something I can control. Laundry, piles, or to go outside and smell the freshly cut grass by Andy. Watch M run in the circles of the grass. Try to save the orange mums  that were decimated by a critter overnight. Whoever did the damage left the purple ones alone, but now I want to bring them off the stoop, too. Those flowers make me happy.


If I can make something that will last after Ringo is gone, even if I never look at it again,
maybe that’s just my way through.


Of course we’ll be ok. With so many disasters and true hardships in the world, this is a personal story, nothing more or less. Just about our cat, Ringo, and things related to that, which feels like everything. She’s one I turn to for a hug and snuggle when the world feels too much to bear.  When the news is too grim and gory, Ringo is the balm of comfort.  Always perfect love. Makes everything better, makes it all tolerable somehow. Life’s moments of difficulty, eased by her presence. All the celebrations made sweeter with her here. Every day for over 15 years and counting.

This is what we’re going through now, and so I think about that; how one goes through this — losing a beloved animal friend. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have experienced this, it is never easy. Each time you go through it, it is new. Each animal has a unique soul.

So, you just go through it, however way you do. Knowing there’s no way to stop how much it hurts. No way to measure the love. No means by which to show gratitude sufficiently to the creature that is our Ringo, such a good cat. She has lived a life better than many humans. Most certainly better than so many animals. She has only known love. She has only given love. Every day since May 2, 1999 when we found her at 5 weeks old, so tiny she fit into the palms of our hands and measured 5″tall.

Pizza saves the day. Sweet treats, ice cream cones with chocolate sprinkles (or Jimmies as we said in Boston, MA when I was little). Andy made us a fabulous dessert and is cooking again, and I’m peeling tiny clementines by the handful in between cake and coffee with cream. Because sometimes I have no appetite at all, and other times, I can’t stop eating every morsel of comfort food put in front of me and with plenty of water to drink.

Sitting on a chair next to the window holding Ringo and listening to birds and kids playing outside. Then I watch her enjoy sitting in the window, sniffing at the air.

watching birds 9/27/14
watching birds 9/27/14
nice air in the window 9/27/14
nice air in the window 9/27/14

I took pictures of her on the sunny spot on the floor in the dining room and her whiskers are lit up shiny in the sun, on the floor with crumbs and bits of fur and all the imperfections. You can see she is thin and that the floor is worn and needs to be swept.

shiny whiskers

The kind doctor who hugged me and gave a wad of tissues while I absorbed hearing the news and the options and accepting but not being able to say yet, yes, we will do this or that, because we just found out, she most likely has cancer, an aggressive kind, and it is untreatable. To find out for certain would require surgery and a biopsy, and then  she would not be able to be helped anyway. Doing this procedure  would confirm the  vet’s most likely opinion which he formed from a thorough visual exam, tests, the symptoms. The procedure would accurately name and type it.   We will not put her through that. She’s over 15 and she’s been living a wonderful life. It’s been a good run. Her time is coming, even though we’ve told her repeatedly that she must live forever.

With the vet’s help, we’ll keep her comfortable, giving her days with treats, open windows, and love. Not unlike any of her regular, pre-sick  days.

The vet said, “We’ll take it day by day.” He has promised me that we can hold her or her paws when it’s time for the rainbow bridge which will be soon.
Too soon.

All love,



On Graduating Pre-K

Dear Readers,

Why  is it that when nearing an end, time seems to accelerate? There are 11 days of school left for Max. 11 days! What?! Max has been at his current preschool for almost two  years and he’s  done summer camp there twice. It literally feels like yesterday that we found this school and were the new kids on the block who didn’t know anyone.

This is Max’s little world.

Classroom door

There is the morning  drop off, the afternoon pick up. The small tables and chairs. The gazillion art projects. The incredibly warm, thoughtful, caring, wonderful teachers and staff. The parents. I’m not sure if  leaving  this school will be harder for me or for Max. I’ve got a  lump in my throat.  It will be difficult in parts and maybe easy in other ways, but I believe that we’ll both be OK. I know there’ll be tears. His. Mine.

I’m holding on to the moments as they fly by. But I have to keep letting go to make room for new moments.  I know I still have to show him how to leave, how to begin. But he’s also getting the hang of it on his own. I stay in the moment, but know the moment is ending even as it’s happening. Sometimes I wish for less awareness. I wish I didn’t feel some of this stuff. I wish  I could be like other people who seem to transition easier, people who can let go faster (or maybe they feel it too but are just better at hiding it). I’ve never been one of those people. I hold on. I don’t like letting go. I get very attached to people and places. That’s  how I’ve always been. It hurts  when it’s over, but then I think,  I had a full experience and felt something.  Better to have loved and lost.

By Max’s pal, Nina

We’ll  want to stay in touch with Max’s current circle of friends, my circle of friends. I know it will be possible and impossible (as it is already now with everyone’s schedules). I know that everyone is going off to various summer plans and then to different schools. I know that what we know now, exactly as it is,  will end.

Max art

I really  hope we  stay in touch and not lose everyone. I  can’t bear the thought of never seeing these people again. But I also know, as it is with small children, that the day-to-day changes when you go from place to place, from one school to another. I know Max’s world is expanding and that’s  a good thing. I know nothing lasts forever. I know Max is growing up and that’s  something to celebrate.

I don’t like goodbyes or endings, even if they’re inevitable and part of  life or are expected or perfectly timed, or are part of growing up or reality or how it is. I don’t like having to say goodbye or feeling the hurt of missing people I care about. Yet, I know I can and that I’ll be  fine. I know that Max can do it, too. But I don’t have to like it and neither does he. And I hope I find out that other parents feel the same way, so we can share in it together.

Maybe Max will be better than me at leaving, and I can look back at this and have a good chuckle. Silly me, worried for nothing. Last week, he was poring over a map on the back of a cereal box and said to his dad, “I’m looking at the map. I wonder what my new school will be like.” Andy said that Max was curious and excited. And who cares that he was looking on the wrong map to find his school? That tells me he’s processing things in his own way. Max knows he’s leaving his current school and he’s looking forward, too.

Recently, Max wanted me to watch him do a new trick on the monkey bars.  “Only big kids can do this, Mommy!” Then several of his friends showed me their cool moves. They  do incredible feats with their strong bodies. I realized that I finally know everyone’s names. It sure took me long enough. I’m going to miss them all.

I love Max’s friends, their parents, and the teachers and how much I have learned from them. I will miss this time period, this place. It has been good. And who wants something good to end? It’s bittersweet.

Getting ready for one of the “best days ever!” Leap day, 2/29/12 wearing silly, mismatched clothes and underwear as a hat.

Then there will be the next place. The next circle of friends. Which is a bit scary, but is also very exciting. Kindergarten in public school. I think that’s a big deal. It certainly feels big. Sometimes it feels like I need to breathe into a paper-bag-BIG. A guardian angel in my life told me, “It is an accepted maternal tradition to be freaking out about kindergarten.” I was immensely relieved to hear this after I was doing everything I could to squash how freaked out I felt. Oh, I’m not freaking out. I’m fine. No really. 

His  teacher told me Max is absolutely ready for Kindergarten. What a relief to hear this. She told me, “He’ll be OK and you’ll be OK.” She gave me great advice. She suggested that since September is light years away in the mind of a 5 and a half-year old, it’s better to not over talk the topic of BIG NEW GROWN UP KINDERGARTEN. Or to build it up into something GREAT.  She suggested that we let Max bring the topic up and let him guide how much we talk about it (or not).  She said that sometimes children are afraid that getting older and going to Kindergarten means the fun is over. I’m doing my best to reassure Max that the fun won’t end. So far, this strategy seems to be working.

At the school playground

The reality is that what Max knows now will in fact be over and there will be a real loss.  I believe it’s important to allow ourselves a minute to let that sink in and let whatever feelings we have about it come and go freely. I imagine there will be sadness, anger, frustration but also excitement, celebration, and pride. Squashing feelings doesn’t move one forward faster, it usually is a set up to get stuck, instead.

The teacher also suggested that instead of us telling Max how it will be, since no one can predict or know exactly how it will be or feel like for him, that if he brings it up, to simply ask him questions or mirror back observations: “I hear that you’re excited/ scared/ curious.” Or leave things open-ended. “It’s true, going to a new school can be scary AND exciting. You won’t know how you’ll feel until you’re there and  find out.” Or something along those lines.

Max tends to get anxious if he knows too much (or too little) ahead of a big change. I’m a fan of the need to know information flow. Many things require advance notice and preparation and this does, too. But I agree with his teacher. Max doesn’t need to know every single detail before he’s ready, or before it’s much closer on the calendar, or before I’m a bit over my freak out that his preschool days are almost over. Which, by  the way, since I accepted how freaked out I was feeling, I’ve actually become much calmer about it. Squashing my feelings isn’t the same as presenting a calm front for Max. That I do as best I can. But acknowledging my real feelings helps me move through them so they don’t control me. To sum up: I’m both freaked out AND calm. OK, truth: calm-ish. Mostly ish.

When we know which school Max will be going to, we can start preparing him for the specific place (drive by and show it to him for starters, etc.). I think that unknown factor is contributing to my nerves. But our town has a system by  which we’re notified of placement in mid-summer, so I’m not the only one in the dark right now. And I’m pretty sure the schools organize orientations and help facilitate play dates for incoming Kindergarteners (and their anxious newbie parents, like yours truly). I look forward to those events where we can meet our new future friends and classmates and get a grip on what will become our new routine in the Fall. Gulp.

Max at home, May 2012, photo by Elana Halberstadt

Our family moved when Max was two and a half, leaving his first preschool. Then we moved again when he was three and a half, leaving his second preschool, so it wasn’t surprising to me that when he realized he’d be leaving his current school soon, that he was  concerned. “Are we moving again? I don’t want to!” I reassured him that yes, he’d be going to a new school, but no, we’re not moving. Big sigh of relief!

I’m also thinking of those first two preschools —both wonderful. I still have friends from both of them. It is good to remember that even with time passing and big distances, that some friendships last. And even if these friendships aren’t as present in our daily lives, we remember our  friends and our time in the world together: the babies, the 2s, 3s, 4s—they’ll  always have a place in our hearts.

Last night, Max and Andy had a chat. Max said, “I like our house. I have a lot of friends. You meet new friends your whole life. Right, Daddy?”

For now, I’m holding on to my gratitude for a terrific preschool experience. Blurry, mushy, fast moving and slow days. Minutes and months and all weather and a full range of feelings for how much Max has grown and how much I have, too, because of this specific place, with these specific people. I am immensely grateful.

Max on the first day of pre-K, Sept. 2011

I hope we have a good goodbye. We’ll celebrate what we’ve accomplished. And then, after that, with pounding hearts and sweaty palms, we’ll walk into the next place, with new people, and we’ll say, “Hi. It’s very good to meet you.”

You meet new friends your whole life, right?

Yes, you do.