Letting Go of Martha

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full
— Marcel Proust

Shortly after moving to Arizona, my friend and I decided it would be a great idea for me to get a companion for her kitty George who had bravely endured the cross country road trip with us. We headed out to the Rabies Control Center on the edge of town and walked into a windowless, badly lit corridor lined with cage after cage of abandoned, lonely cats.

At the end of the corridor, just before the sicker animals, was a scrawny, short-haired, patch-work young female nursing a younger kitty. When I approached, she immediately jumped to the front of the cage and stuck her long, thin paw out for me to take. I was immediately charmed by her nurturing and affectionate nature.  

My friend yelled over for me to come look at the adorable black and white kittens that had just arrived. We were told they would be scooped up quickly. After much anguished deliberation and wanting to please my friend, I reluctantly selected one of the cute kittens and proceeded to the front desk. At a pause in the checkout process, I asked the woman behind the counter about the history of my friend down at the end of the hall and was told that she was the runt of a litter and the person who surrendered her had named her Loner. Tears streamed down my face and everyone in the room looked on with pity assuming I was there for an entirely different reason. My friend gave me a disappointed look when I told the woman I had changed my mind.

As soon as we introduced “Martha” to George they immediately despised each other and it was at that moment I became acutely aware that I had made a serious commitment to care for this sweet, gangly creature through the good times and bad.

Fast forwarding seventeen years. We survived the cross country road trip back to Boston and lived contently in a cramped one-bedroom North End apartment for fifteen years, occasionally sharing it with boyfriends, a few who were kind to her but most were indifferent. We eventually settled into our cozy condo in Cambridge complete with a sheltered courtyard allowing Martha to explore any wildness that might be left within her.

It was a warm, sunny winter morning and Martha was failing. She had not eaten for days and wanted nothing more than to find comfort curled up in my lap. I went to yoga class and when the instructor asked us to set an intention for the practice, I silently asked for calmness, clarity and strength to do what I knew needed to be done for my friend.

When I returned home I was surprised Martha had enough will to get herself down the stairs and outside. She defiantly walked over to her favorite spot but I could tell she was not able to find the comfort there she was seeking. She slowly headed back to our front door and started to stumble. I swept her into my arms and walked upstairs and stood near the kitchen window where the sun was streaming in. I looked into her eyes for guidance but she was staring off somewhere unknown to me. I knew it was time. She obediently got into her carrying case and once we were in the car, she crawled out and settled deeply in my lap as I slowly drove to the animal hospital.

I waited alone in the cold, sterile waiting room as she was being examined. The Super Bowl halftime show was playing on the TV and the Black Eyed Peas were cheerily singing, “Tonight’s gonna be a good night.” The bitter irony of the lyrics stung me and anger filled my body. The caring doctor called me into the room, confirmed my suspicion and carefully explained the options and what she felt was the most compassionate thing to do.

Martha was prepped and brought to me in a small, foreign, round sheepskin bed. We were left alone and I lifted her from the bed and placed her on my lap to feel her beautiful, soft fur against my skin. She was calmly draped across my lap when the doctor came back to give the injection. Soon after the fluid entered her sick body, I felt a sudden, very definite release, and then a complete blankness and a letting go. My gut and mind unclenched and I heard in my head the words, “It’s OK.” I’m sure that was the moment Martha left me, this world, and her pain behind and was thankful.

After the doctor confirmed Martha was gone, she asked if I wanted to spend more time with her and I said yes, thinking that would be best. Soon after, I felt the warmth leaving Martha's body and quickly called the doctor back to take her away. I knew she was no longer there. I asked the doctor how she could possibly do this work. She took a deep breath and explained it was hard but she meets the most wonderful people, who care deeply for their pets and she feels honored to be there together with them as they said goodbye and she helped it happen in a compassionate way. She said it was beautiful and special.

I’m not sure why I chose to share this story from my past. Perhaps as a path towards deeper healing or perhaps because I know countless others can relate to this story and by sharing it, they will know they’re not alone and might be able to find some healing too.