For the first time in our 28½ years of married life, our home is without a cat child. I frankly don’t like it. Although we’ve entered a foreign land, it bears the eternal imprint of LOVE from our kids. For much of my life, I’ve been moving toward this day, always attempting to understand the mystery of death.
I was 16 years old when I experienced a tragic, life-altering event—Tom (my boyfriend) and Terry (my cousin) were both killed in an auto accident on the 7th of January 1970; both were 20 years old. This was akin to my personal 9-11 because my hoped-for future of marrying Tom and having our family lay irrevocably shattered at my feet. His death felt like I’d emotionally broken my back. Life felt uncertain, frightening, like quicksand. I was lost. I didn’t want to go on. The torment of my grief went underground because nowhere was it safe or acceptable to wear the symbolic black of mourning, of the unfathomable despair I felt within. And there was no one with whom I could share my agonizing pain or the complete loss of the life-direction I most wanted. In their personal reactions and behaviors, my family and friends did the best they could at the time, as I also did. I never fully recovered psychologically from Tom’s death despite my attempt to put on a show of normalcy.
More than four years later, hitting me like a thunderbolt out of the blue, I had a massive panic attack, which scared me beyond any words to describe it. I thought something was terribly wrong with me—that I was going crazy—as the all-pervasive anxiety mounted, paving the way for recurring panic attacks. The more I feared them, the more my nervous system cycled out of control. My comfort zone shrunk to a tiny circle of every-day activity.
During my early to mid 20’s, I barely eked along in my carefully crafted, protected environment, hiding behind the curtains of life, peeking out from time to time, so ashamed that I must surely be crazy. My motto was: stay low; stay safe in the margins of life, where the risks were minimal. Many years passed before I discovered that I was suffering from panic and anxiety disorder. In retrospect, I had a nervous breakdown, which I believe was the result of unresolved and repressed grief (technically “delayed grief”) and post-traumatic stress disorder from the shock of Tom’s sudden death, as well as a gamut of fears—all based on loss—that lurked in all the circumstances of my life.
Tom, me, Zoe, and Joe in August 1968
I was very fortunate after Tom’s death to stay in close relationship with his parents and sister. In fact, Tom’s mother’s name was Zoe, and our Zoe was named in her honor! But sudden, tragic death was once again to knock at my door. A mere five years later, just a few days before Christmas, my dad came to my apartment and told me the ungraspable news that eight people had been killed when their twin-engine airplane crashed. Those on broad were Tom’s parents, his sister’s two small children, his cousin, and his cousin’s wife and two children. Eight people’s lives wiped out in the blink of an eye. The first funeral had taken place only five years earlier with two coffins. Now, came a funeral with two adult caskets and two very small, children’s caskets. Although these losses had a monumental affect on me, Tom’s sister lost her brother, her parents, and her two young children all within a few years—a story so horrendous that it’s miraculous she eventually went on to find a happy, fulfilling life with her third husband.
Whatever occurs in life, there are always trade-offs. A profound consequence of losing the people I loved dearly so early in my life was to set my feet on a Path toward a more contemplative, inner life. My spirituality is a velvet cloth that fits me perfectly. I am an introvert by temperament, and so I was freer to follow my true nature of being a round peg in a round whole. I didn’t have to falsely try to be a round peg in a square, extroverted hole! According to British philosopher, James Allen, “he who loves Truth, will be much alone. He will seek the fullest, clearest revelation of himself. He will avoid the haunts of frivolity and noise, and will go where the sweet, tender voice of the spirit of Truth speaks within him and can be heard.”
The best chapter of my life began at age 28 when Chris and I got married. Chris boxed up and moved me, Bemmy and Bacca Marie cats, and off we “U-Hauled” for Corvallis, Oregon, where Chris had a home and worked as a research wildlife biologist. A few years later, I went back to college to get a Master’s degree in Counseling. The branches of psychological thought I concentrated on were Abraham Maslow’s psychology of “self-realization” and C. G. Jung’s archetypal, alchemical psychology, a psychological branch that accounts for the transcendent, “Self-oriented (higher self, that is), dimensions—those that provide the deepest meaning to many of life’s greatest mysteries. Jung’s later work reached toward the heart chakra, because he felt individuals could not grow without realizing life’s spiritual meaning. Also during this time of soul searching, I found my “spiritual home” and spiritual teacher, White Eagle.
The painting of White Eagle is copyrighted by The White Eagle Publishing Trust
After almost nine years, the Maser clan decided to “U-Haul” ourselves to Taos, New Mexico, and off we went for our great southwestern adventure. It was here that we met our neighbor’s neglected Siberian husky, whom we named Spirit. We loved and tended to her as if she was our own. After getting settled in about four months, we woke up one morning, puzzled that she was not at the back door looking in expectantly to see us. Some other neighbor’s dogs quickly alerted us to where Spirit was. Sometime during the night, as she was coming to our house through the sagebrush, she must have had a heart attack and toppled over dead. With her radiant spirit already released, we buried her in a sacred place up the canyon under a pile of rocks. It was the most difficult thing we’d ever done as we sobbed our hearts out. We were grief stricken with such a massive heaviness and lethargy that hung on our shoulders for many, many days. Life went grey, flat.
Our house in Taos, New Mexico
Spirit waiting for us to come out of our back door
Spirit’s grave protected from forest animals by the pile of rocks
Shortly after Spirit died and emancipated us from taking care of her, we moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Chris took employment. Bemmy and Bacca were beginning to wonder where our roots would end up and certainly this so-called paradise in the desert was not it!
Bacca is stretched out on the left and Bemmy is reposed on the right
Many months later, on one of our early morning walks to beat the heat, we saw a beautiful Siamese cat wandering through our cul-de-sac. I thought it was homeless and likely made its living in the undeveloped, brushy land south of our cement wall. Chris, sensing my heart softening, warned me strictly NOT to feed it, because we were NOT planning to stay in Las Vegas, as our home was already listed in a slow-selling housing market.
I did NOT listen, of course, and snuck food out on our backyard patio for the stray cat. Before we knew, the word got out on the “cat drum” and the most wretched, beat-up bunch of feral cats and kittens started showing up at twilight at the Maser diner. Although Chris was distressed by my marital disobedience, I was elated.
I was instantly attracted to a tiny black and white kitten. My heart was like a laser beam of attention pointed solely (and soul-y) at the baby, so petrified and panicked was he that every time he glimpsed us inside the house he ricocheted off the cement block wall. We put a wooden box next to the wall so he could leap on it and catapult over the wall to safety.
There was no dissuading me with this little one, however; I had no choice but to sit out on the patio as still and silent as possible when he was around. He was rather gutsy, as it turned out, and it only took him a few days to come a little closer to where I was sitting. A few more days and he raced past my leg, close enough for me to touch his fur. Another day or two and he actually stopped long enough for me to give him some gentle strokes on his back and sides. The next day, when I saw him poking around the backyard, I quietly opened the sliding glass door and astonishingly he shot in! I closed the door behind him, and Sketty entered our family.
Chris felt I had more or less tricked Sketty to come inside, so Chris instigated his own moment of marital disobedience. About a week later, when I was away at Nathan Adelson Hospice facilitating a grief support group, Chris opened the sliding glass door and out Sketty zoomed! Freedom! Sketty disappeared from sight. An hour or so later, before my return, Chris looked out to see if Sketty had reappeared. He was as far away as possible in a distant corner of the yard. Chris slowly slid the door open and said, “Okay, Sketty, make up your mind—in or out.” Without hesitation, Sketty bolted across the yard and into the house. “Okay, son, you’ve made your choice.”
Sketty newly in from his life as a feral kitten
Sketty being his ever-loving, trusting self
Bemmy and Bacca were over ten years old by this time and less than thrilled to have the little, energetic stranger harassing them. We tried to also get one of the other little feral kittens to come inside as a companion for Sketty, but she was so terrified that we released her a couple hours later. Thus, Zoe and Bodhi entered the picture after we visited the animal shelter to select a single kitten of a similar age as Sketty, about three months. (See the previous post “Loving Adoptions.”)
Beginning on the left is Bacca, Bemmy, Sketty, Zoe, and Bodhi
We never dreamt that we’d ever accumulate five cats!! Our final move back to Corvallis was an experience meant to be endured only once! Chris loaded the moving truck in 110° temperatures, and we took to the lone highway after dark in order to minimize the heat for the kids. I drove our VW Vanagon with five protesting cats abroad and Chris, with his loins girded up, drove the massive moving truck, to which a trailer with our Mazda was attached. Traveling 1,000 miles, we pulled into Corvallis a couple days later, suffocating in scorching temperatures of 105°, something of a rarity in western Oregon.
Our re-entrance into Corvallis was the “Return of a much expanded Cat Family.” Although we weren’t returning royalty, we were, nevertheless, filled with great joy and the love of caretaking our four-paw kids, as well as the undaunted energy to create a new home. The house we bought needed a tremendous amount of work and updating, having an unattractive, 1950’s “retro” exterior of old gold (which we came to think of as “gastrointestinal yellow”) with olive drab trim. In fact, the first summer we lived in our home, a neighbor called to Chris from across the street, “You are going to paint your house, aren’t you?” We hardly needed such a prompting. With our creative energy at a peak, we updated the entire house and created a unique garden with a pond, where before there had been a sick lawn and a patch of weeds.
Our “retro” house during our first winter
During those early months, I became involved with Benton Hospice Service, once again facilitating a grief support group with the social worker. I was also fortunate enough to be hired on as part of the social services team at Evergreen Hospice in Albany. The Corvallis White Eagle group came into being early on as well. We met weekly in the basement of our home for our absent-healing services and for special meditations to celebrate annual festivals, like the solstices, equinoxes, and the fall harvest.
Sketty checking out the White Eagle altar
The local group of the White Eagle lodge
Jean LeFevre (third from the left in the pink dress) was leader of the White Eagle work in the Americas when she visited our group in 1995
Years later, I returned to my astrological studies with fierce steadfastness to earn an advanced degree in general astrology and a specialized degree in horary astrology.
Our contented bliss was to be severely tested, however. Throughout much of 1995-1996, we were visited a number of times by “the great and compassionate Mother, called by some the Angel of Death, who comes at the appointed time to unbar the door between this world and the next,” as White Eagle describes Her. Departing from us on the physical level were several very dear friends and animals; Chris’ long-time, close and deeply loved mentor; my maternal grandfather; Joan Hodgson (who was then the co-‘Mother’ of the worldwide White Eagle work and Principal of the White Eagle School of Astrology); my wonderful dad; and our beloved Bacca and Bemmy all died within that terrible timespan. Hitting the wall of grief over and over temporarily knocked the wind out of us. Then, seemingly out-of-the-blue, in the midst of reeling from so much death, my panic attacks and severe anxiety episodes resurfaced with a vengeance, once again triggered by the depthless sense of loss and the many readjustments it required. We were uncontrollably downsized to just our three little ones—our second-younger cat family—and us.
In 1999, I took up the soul-satisfying task of being the long-distant correspondent for the animal-healing work (prayer support for animals on the healing lists) for the White Eagle Lodge in Texas, which is the North American center for the worldwide work. With the supervision of my healing colleague, Denise Badmington, who works at the center, we shared the joint responsibility for the animal healing work in our part of the world.
Bodhi and Zoe on top of the refrigerator
The dreaded disease of cancer took the lives of our treasured feral boy, Sketty, in 2002 and our gorgeous silver tiger, Bodhisattva, in 2005. Zoe, Chris, and I took a long, deep breath and somehow managed to continue. We were extremely blessed to have four more incredibly serene, priceless years with our cherished Zoe, who went on ahead of us on Christmas day as the “Divine Mother” Cancer Full Moon was nearing its glorious fullness. Just four short months earlier, my mom fell on her 83rd birthday, shattering her left femur. She was unconscious and on a ventilator, slowly slipping away for eight days, when the doctor told us she had zero chance of recovery. Mom died as the Pisces Full Moon illumined her way Home.
Over the past four years, so much of my time and energy centered around taking care of Zoe, making sure all of her little needs were met, as much as was possible, especially her need for loving attention. Perhaps in sharing my personal journey and feelings, it may touch your heart and give you permission to allow your own grief and tears to flow (whether for an animal or a person, the loss of a job or home), to clarify the context of your own experiences of death, and thus more importantly, to know that, in the end, we are all united in One Heart.
The more we extend ourselves to help one another, the more all the Kingdoms of Life are elevated. The Jungian astrologer Alice O. Howell describes the transition from the Piscean Age (“to love your brother and sister as your self”) to the actual commencement of the Aquarian Age—to her the fated year of 2012—as coming to a conscious awareness that “your brother and sister ARE your self.” Let us, therefore, live daily with the conscious realization that we are everyone and everyone is us
In her loving condolence the day after Zoe died, my dear friend Jeannine sent me one of her favorite Vedic prayers (Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination):
Lord, lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Text and Photos © by Zane Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.
My editorial guru and technological wizard is Chris Maser, my delightful husband.
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