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Whiskey's Last Summer - Lessons in Letting Go

June this year was hot. Long summer days with scorching heat - not great for an animal with fur. So I wasn't surprised when Whiskey, a grey and white cat who'd visited us briefly for a similar hot spell last summer turned up in our front garden to seek shade. Only this time he didn't leave.

I tried everything to entice him home (his house backed onto ours separated by a paved communal area). I led him to his home holding an empty bowl (he soon cottoned on there was no food on it and followed me back). I put him on the fence in his back garden and pushed him over. He jumped straight back over. We talked to his owner who came and got him several times after work. She'd feed him and then he would dash straight out again and back to us and the sanctuary of our shady garden. Day in day out he'd be there, come rain or shine. We got used to looking out for him.

He had a favourite spot on the woodstore in the sun (only built the previous winter but with a convenient felted roof which was relatively comfy and sufficiently high for a cat to be safe and away from the odd dog which happened to pass by. He felt safe and secure. By the afternoon when the sun would come round he would move to the wall by the front door. Perfect spot to be in pole position should we either come out the front door or back gate (both of which might signal food!) We even made a little nest for him in the wood store for rainy days.

At first I hoped he would go home when he was hungry and avoided going out so he wouldn't assail me with a hopeful look and half miaow (he wasn't vocal but would produce a small strangled 'eh' sound to signal he was expecting a meal). The previous summer we had fed him because we thought he was a stray until we found his owner had recently moved to the area and he was confused about where he lived. Whiskey never forgot that we had done that and was ever hopeful! I battled with myself. If I fed him I encouraged him not to go home. If I didn't feed him he got increasingly dehydrated and listless - he was suffering. I can't bear suffering. I see a lot of suffering in my work as a therapist, I'd not long lost my mum to dementia and the sight of his hopeful face imploring me (yes I know I was being ridiculously emotional) was causing great turmoil.

I'm a highly sensitive person (HSP). I've just written a book on it (The Highly Sensitive Handbook) because I know that I feel things more than most people - what's called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. I recognise in myself that I take things in very deeply and can't always process them easily. I was very conflicted and this turned to deep anxiety within the space of just a few weeks. I couldn't look at him sitting there as day turned to night. Looking out the window at night seeing him still curled up there, wondering when/if his owner would call him in (she was also despairing a little and feeling rejected but she had a busy life with 2 jobs and raising 2 kids on her own). One evening I walked him home as I knew she was in. He took one look at the front door when it opened to her step-father and walked off in the opposite direction. He wanted to come home with ME. It was really difficult.

I started to find a permanent clenching in my gut - this is how I express anxiety. It was there like Whiskey when I woke in the morning til I went to bed at night. I made a decision to feed him. Not too much - just when he got hungry in the afternoon before she got back but not too much so he would return to her at night. It helped a little. I told her what I was doing and hoped she would understand. I didn't want to take Whiskey on, we had our own cat so that was never the plan. I just needed to stop battling myself. The anxiety began to abate slowly and I was able to function a bit better without the horrible clenching. I had some therapy (yes even as a therapist we can't do it for ourselves) and made the connection between the failure to alleviate my mum's suffering and this ageing animal. The therapist suggested a break from work and looking at my over-giving to clients but she also corroborated my decision and said she would have done exactly the same. This also helped and I was finally beginning to open up about what I had been feeling to others (there was a lot of shame going on about such a 'silly thing' to get upset about and some friends were quite rigid - it was my fault for feeding him in the first place, what did I expect!).

Then one day I spontaneously decided to tell my study group (I run a monthly Community programme for highly sensitives) about what I had been experiencing in order to help them understand that even the so called 'experts' struggle. People were incredibly encouraging and again I got support from others. And then the very thing I had been most dreading happened.

The very next day started oddly. Whiskey had been off his food a little the last couple of days. He'd eaten but without the normal enthusiasm. My partner Jill had been worried about him not being able to get into his back garden (we'd noticed that he couldn't climb the fence anymore and seemed a bit stiff in his gait, so he had to be let in the front door as there was no cat flap). She'd been out in the evening to stroke to him and give him some chicken. She said she felt strangely drawn to be with him and felt sad when he wanted to follow her back. I felt sad too but I was used to that - I had to assume he went home at some point.

The next morning instead of being on the wall to greet me as I went out for my run, he was in next door's garden on the hard concrete with his head down. He didn't look up. It had been a cold night and I wasn't at all certain whether he'd been home, but I thought I'd check him when I got back. I wasn't out for long but when I returned he was gone - and I assumed he'd gone off for a wander or to do 'cat business'. And then I got on with my day as usual.

I'd just finished recording a video for my Youtube channel when there was a knock at the door. The window cleaner wanted to know was that my cat - pointing to the alley where Whiskey was splayed outside the back gate. At the moment I looked down the alley he raised his head and yowled in a really strange way and threw his head back at an awkward angle. I'd never heard him make such a noise. It was horrible. I ran round to where he was and stroked his head. There was no response, he was just breathing but on his side and seemingly comatose. Somehow I knew that he was dying and started to gabble something to the window cleaner about him not being mine and I'd need to tell the owner. "Well we can't just leave him there, he needs to go to a vet right away" he said. He was right of course but I was suddenly unable to make a decision. What to do first? I tried to ring his owner, no answer, I went round to her house, no answer.

Meanwhile the window cleaner had scooped Whiskey up and taken him up the road to the nearest vets. It was the right thing to do but it meant I didn't get to go with him. I'm glad in retrospect because I don't cope well with death or endings of any sort - it's one of the things that came up in my recent therapy - the difficulty of letting go.

Finally around lunchtime we got a text from his owner that she was at the vets and would let us know any news. Later that afternoon she confirmed that he had passed away and the vet thought it was maybe digestive, and had several convulsions (which is common when their organs begin to shut down apparently). But ultimately we'd never know exactly but maybe just his time had come. He was 12 (not old but he'd had a hard life - he was a rescue cat and had been abused as a kitten) and that has the same effect on animals as it does on us - it creates a high stress response and thus accelerated ageing and a likelihood of a shortened life*.

I was devastated. Like all HSPs I am prone to going over and over things in my mind. Did I do enough, should I have let his owner know he was a bit off his food, could I have picked him up and held him to reassure him before he died? Should we have /could we have averted his death?

We had a meeting with his owner the next evening (she asked if she could come round and try to put together Whiskey's last days - she hadn't seen him since the night before last so my hunch he hadn't been home was correct). It was a very emotional meeting (all of us were close to tears) but healing. We accepted that we all did the best we could given the circumstances. She felt bad because she hadn't been there for him as much recently as when he was younger. As a single mum and in rented accommodation she hadn't been able to install a cat flap and had only recently worked out he wasn't able to climb the fence anymore so she would let him in when she saw him.

I realised that she needed reassurance too. I touched her arm and said "at least you know Whiskey had a good last summer. He was loved". For I had realised hearing her speak that we was indeed very loved but just not as easy to manage as he once was. He was a wanderer by nature and a street wise cat but his lifestyle took a toll on his body.

I shared the pictures I had taken of him on the wood store and she showed me some of him when he was younger and more vigorous (one is reproduced below). The difference was startling and I realised that perhaps he had been slowly losing his vitality. That perhaps he had chosen us to be with because he was ailing and knew it. Cats often seek out somewhere to be away from home in such circumstances. I also acknowledged in looking at the photos that indeed my heart had been touched by him in a big way. He was a gentle soul who had come to us for a reason and it was my job now to assimilate that understanding.

Our neighbour had put some flowers out on the wall for him which was a lovely touch. Everyone seemed genuinely sad at his passing. He had become a little local icon for the passing schoolchildren to stroke and he had loved the attention. It was his last summer and I told his owner that at least it had been a happy one in the main.

I am still processing his loss but I realise the message is to let go of what you can't control and that you are not responsible for everything. I even did an i-ching reading (an ancient Chinese divination process that helps with change) which came back as the number 19 hexagram which I reproduce in full below but basically said that I could cherish him but never possess him. Nurture then let go. That is his message for me. RIP Whiskey, you were very loved.

I-Ching - The Book of Changes Divination

19 - Nineteen

Lin / Noble Calling

The rich, loamy Earth on the banks of the Marsh provides fertile soil for exceptional progress.

The Superior Person is inexhaustible in his willingness to teach, and without limit in his tolerance and support of others.

Supreme Success if you keep to your course.

But be aware that your time is limited; your power will wane, as Summer changes to Fall.

You are in a position to help another.

This is a temporary situation, because your power is cyclical, seasonal.

Knowing this, you must perform your good deed without hope of reward.

You are not furthering your own process, but another's.

Though you may cherish this other, you will never possess.

Touch without grasping.

Take comfort in becoming a fond memory.

Nurture, then let go.

*my first book The Scar that won't Heal was written about this


Patricia Worby
Patricia Worby
Sep 18, 2023

We are so connected to animals as HSPs. It feels like the death of a friend


Sep 18, 2023

This is beautiful and so touching, brought tears to my eyes. I too am a HSP.

Patricia Worby
Patricia Worby
Sep 18, 2023
Replying to

Glad you liked it Sandy. I felt I had to write him a little eulogy. He was such a sweet soul

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