It has taken me days to get to a space where I can share some very, very sad news. We laid our beloved black cat Gretchen to rest recently at the ripe old age of 18. Many of you know her as the black kitty I found under the trailer at a wildlife rescue I worked at because you’ve read my memoir Gracious Wild.
She’s Always Been There
Even though few people have had the benefit of meeting her in person, her elegant and gorgeous spirit changed many lives, mine especially. She was there at the very start of my spiritual awakening and was my rock during the confusion, fear and uncertainty that venturing into the mystery brings. I can’t begin to explain all she contributed to my transformation and, thus, the work I now do for others.
She traveled with me cross country to pursue my dream of becoming a shamanic practitioner. She rode in my lap through the writing, publishing and promotion of my book and sat patiently with me through the nervous first years of starting a new business. Many of you heard her voice over the phone as we sat in session. She strode by my side as I wandered through a dark night of the soul. She knew how to be a true soul companion. Of all the souls I’ve befriended in my life, she was one of the most impactful.
From Gretchen I learned about outrageous strength, immense courage, unyielding companionship, and a miraculous survival instinct. That girl wanted to live and live she did through at least three near death experiences. If ever there was a shamanic cat it was her. She entered the land of the dead and came back again, endured the initiations of intense pain and starvation, and seamlessly navigated into the spirit world. And she was a darn good cuddler, ridiculously affectionate and overwhelmingly demonstrative. I always knew how much she loved me and it was a lot. No door could remain closed to her including any door in our hearts.
The last couple years with her have been tough. I’ve waited on her hand and foot, knowing my second job to be her butler. When she wanted to eat for the sixth time a day I fed her. When she demanded my lap, she got it. When she made a mess on the floor, I cleaned it. When she stood purring in my face too early in the morning, even on weekends, I got up and fed her before doing anything else. I have never been so selflessly immersed for so long in the servitude of anyone. It was humbling and taxing, but nothing compared to what she persevered through to survive and stay with us. That cat wanted to live because she loved her life. What a compliment it was.
Oh how badly I miss her melodic voice, her pushy but irresistible nature, and her huge presence. She only weighed ten pounds but she took up the whole house. She was a black panther spirit animal born as a house cat. She was the queen overseeing it all, the bully demanding access into our hearts even though it was a given she had it, the shaman moving between worlds, our savior in so many ways, and the goddess channeling the divine feminine with more sass than anyone I know.
Each animal I’ve been the caregiver for in my life has been special, but this one takes the cake. She rules supreme. I love them all infinitely. This gal just looms largest. It was in her nature.
The New Initiation
Of course I know our relationship will continue on in spirit. You don’t need to reassure me of that. I know she will live on in my heart and all of those things we say to the grieving.
For now I am allowing myself to be with the grief, to not sugar coat it or gloss over it, to not refuse its entry into my heart. Gretchen is worth grieving over, ten times over. She is worth memorializing and remembering for a long time to come. She would ask nothing less of me then to face this death head on and not shy away from the pain, knowing that the only way out is through. So I am allowing this initiation of the pain of her loss to be her last gift to me, tempering my heart and my soul to the forces of life and death, reminding me of the preciousness and invaluable gift of my life and my loves. To endure pain like this and still love and still embrace life with vigor is the example she set for me that I intend to follow to the letter.
She is buried under oak brush facing east in the same valley as my white mare Legend. Her beautiful, sleek black body is wrapped in a soft white blanket with the very first copy of Gracious Wild I ever held. I have a picture of me holding her and the book five years ago realizing what we had created together.
Over her I scattered rose petals from a bouquet a client sent as a thank you. All of the gratitude from my clients belongs to Gretchen too because without her I wouldn’t be what I am today. She passed with my husband’s and my hands on her. Once upon a time it was just the three of us. She’s been our guiding light, the glue that’s held us together with a shared history. We wept and wept some more. Gosh how much she is missed. The mornings are the hardest. This one will take awhile.
Please do both she and I a favor… instead of saying that you’re sorry and saying you hope I feel better, use this as a reminder to dive headlong into your life and into your love. Don’t take no for an answer. Be ferociously loving and incredibly tough. Commit to persevering against the odds. Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t let the unknown, the mystery of what lies ahead, frighten you. Be bold. Be the brilliance you know yourself to be during the hardship. Know courage and soak up every last drop of what this life has to give you. Gretchen wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would I.
An Excerpt from Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks –
At the end of October when the rains and gloom of fall were upon us I stood in the clinic kitchen, preparing Graccia’s [the red-tailed hawk] meal. I heard a faint meowing from outside. Among the many creature voices at a wildlife rehabilitation center, this one was unheard. Wildlife rehabbers, as a rule, despise outdoor cats. Willow Brook admitted hundreds of wild animals a year, particularly birds and rabbits, that perished from bacterial infections as a direct result of cat bites or scratches. When a cat ventured to step onto the property, she usually heeded the general sentiment at the center and remained unseen.
I could only take about five minutes of the incessant whining from underneath the kitchen window before I opened the back door and wandered out into the mist to discover the source. The clinic was actually a mobile home trailer turned into a medical center, and one of the panels that closed off the space underneath the trailer had fallen off. I followed the meowing to the hole below and found a skinny black cat timidly staring out at me. Her coat was as black as the great void and her yellow eyes were bright enough to pierce any darkness. She crouched and meowed and begged. I saw that someone had put a blanket and bowls of food and water in her makeshift home. I didn’t understand how she could still be so upset. I figured she’d either been abandoned or lost. I knelt down and gently reached to pet her. She met my hand and burst into a melody of purring. My heart was instantly enthralled…
My heart beamed. I understood. This was the second gift my beloved friend [the harrier hawk named “Thalia”] from the other side had for me. It was not enough that Thalia sent me her power animal, the black panther, to work with me in spirit. Apparently, she felt I deserved the assistance of an incarnate being.
I walked out of the raptor barn with Graccia on my glove to see the bold, talkative black cat meet eyes with the red-tail. The few moments they stood staring into each other’s eyes inextricably linked their souls together. Neither broke their stare until I turned to walk off with Graccia…
For a number of months before I met the black cat, I actually had an unexplained yearning to bring a cat into our family. I had adopted a newfound fascination with the beasts. As a child, I was hopelessly allergic to cats, so much so that I couldn’t even visit the houses of cat owners. But now, somehow, I knew that my affliction was healed and it was time.
I asked my husband, Chris, to join me on a trip out to the wildlife center to meet the cat and hopefully help me bring her home. We made our way through the pitch black, rainy night down the path to the clinic. He couldn’t really get a good look or feel for her because she blended into the darkness so flawlessly, so I brought her inside. She proceeded to wander around the clinic crying. Chris could see that I was already in love with the cat and, although he didn’t find her particularly charming as she yowled aimlessly, he agreed to bring her home.
We tried to shove her in a kennel, but she fought us, fiercely pushing against the kennel and squirming. Eventually, Chris picked her up, tucked her into his coat, and carried her home that way… As we took her into our family and brought her back to full health she returned the favor two-fold.
I had a companion in my home that shared a slice of this new world I was entering. She came as a gift from my dear friend Thalia and had been face to face with my beloved sister Graccia. Every time I buried my fingers in the feline’s black fur or glimpsed into her moonlit eyes, I was linking back up with the wild ones. For this reason, I decided to name her in the spirit of one of the hawks. We called her Gretchen.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Director who teaches about archetypes and symbolism. Her speciality is working with soul pioneers - those of you who are making it up as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.