Just a few hours before leaving to the airport we had picked up Najia, our beautiful adopted fluffy Jordanian kitten. Najia had recently had an intestinal surgery and was on her way to recovery. We had planned a trip to South Asia and Europe to meet with friends, so the excitement was full on. Little did we know that our trip would be hampered with news we did not expect.
During the last few months, Najia was in pain every time she went to the toilet. When we took her to the vet, we didn’t think twice when he saw a foreign body in her intestines and suggested to do a surgery. It was unfortunate that the very procedure that was supposed to improve her life was the one that took her, painfully and slowly.
Before going on our trip, things seemed under control and there was no reason to be concerned. However, this changed a few days later on the day we were flying from Myanmar to Croatia. Najia had to be rushed to the clinic as she was not eating, had vomits and diarrhea. At Yangon’s airport, we were trying to reach the vet in charge of her care from. It was impossible to find him, so we took the long 20 hour trip without knowing exactly what her situation was.
When we arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia we finally got a hold of the vet. He said her case was not looking good and that her symptoms seem to indicate poisoning. Needless to say, the next minutes, hours and days were short of excitement and joy. Our kitten was alone, in a clinic and we were thousands of miles away.
On the day we saw the most beautiful sunset in the coast of the Adriatic Sea, we received the dreaded news that Najia had passed away. Until the very last minute, we had been hopeful. I remember visiting a beautiful little church on our way to the Trsteno Arboretum, a garden and villa that served as a filming location to one of the episodes of Game of Thrones. My tears and prayers were with her.
During the trip we also found out that she had not ingested poison and that her death was, in fact, a complication from the surgery. The vets had not been honest. They did not take responsibility. Despite our huge deceit towards them and the clinic, we had done the right thing. We took all the necessary steps. We trusted the veterinarians and their practices and we hoped that they were doing all would help our little girl. As an expat, you always run these risks with local vets. You trust and you believe in what you’re told. You don’t know the country or the vets well enough to think ill of them. Until you do.
The powerlessness and sadness you feel when you receive this kind of news are immense to say the least. Nothing you do changes the truth. Knowing you won’t be able to hold that little dear companion in your arms again is devastating. And at the same time, you have to make decisions, make phone calls and arrangements quick.
Having a plan of action in case of an emergency really helped us when we recently lost our precious kitten Najia. This is why, aside from telling her story, I thought it would be helpful to share what we did and how we’re coping.
These are 5 of the steps we took before, during and after we lost our precious kitten.
Have an emergency plan - Aside from leaving your travel itinerary, your contact information and money in cash to cover any emergencies, create an emergency plan. Ours included life saving medicines like activated charcoal in case of poisoning (an unfortunately very common practice in Amman, Jordan), contact information of two people who would be willing to take our pets to the veterinary clinic should there be an emergency and a copy of the keys to our home in case they needed to come in when nobody was home. I cannot tell you how important it was for someone to have the key to our home. On the day Najia’s body was brought from the clinic, it was a dear friend who had a key, the one who was able to bring her home and bury her in our garden. Would she not have had the keys, it would have been too difficult to do this.
Connect your emergency contacts - In case you can’t be reached during your trip (due to lack of phone reception, long flights, WiFi access, etc) make sure your contacts are able to contact each other. Exchanging their contact information and the details of when and how they can be of assistance helps coordinate actions when you’re not available or reachable. This was extremely helpful when we needed someone to visit Najia at the clinic or to coordinate the transfer of our dog when he was staying with friends. Connect your contacts for an easier and faster communication.
Honor their life and their memory - By making a donation to an animal charity you’re commemorating the death of a beloved family member while helping an organization that can help rescue and save more stray animals. Another way to honor them is to adopt a new companion as soon as you are ready. Giving them a home and a family will carry on the love you had for your deceased pet. After Najia’s passing, we made a contribution to a fabulous local organization called The Basboos Project, a hands-on and trustworthy community organization that helps trap, neuter and return cat to their homesite. To learn more about the wonderful work they’re doing with the cat overpopulation in Amman, Jordan click here.
Understand that guilt is part of the process - The feeling that came after grief and sorrow was guilt. Guilt of not having visited her at the clinic during the second time she went in. Guilt of not having played with her more, of not having spend more time with her, of having reacted when she scratched me or bit me. Guilt was a very strong feeling for sure and I was feeling stuck. The more I was trying to heal, the more research and inner work I had to do. During one of those nights when falling asleep was too difficult, I came across a site called Healing Pet Loss. Its founder, Marianne Soucy, talked about how guilt is part of the process. I learned that many (many) people experience guilt when they lose their animal companion. This is a list of all the articles Marianne has written on the topic. During this time I have also learned that letting go off guilt and practicing self-forgiveness take us into a place of peace and acceptance more quickly. I miss her every day, but the guilt lessens a bit each day.
Always kiss them goodbye - Before you leave home, take a minute to tell your animal companions that you love them. Hold them and thank them or simply kiss them to show affection. One of the most difficult things about this experience was the fact that I can’t change my last actions. The night I left to go to the airport, I rushed out the door and I didn’t kiss Najia goodbye. I didn’t hold her. I just left quickly with my suitcases and got in the car. I have a heavy heart knowing that I will never have the chance to do it again. This is why I thought it was important to include this as one of the lessons I learned with losing Najia. I am hopeful she knew how much I cared for her, but it would have given a lot to tell her I loved her one last time. We never know when someone we love will leave. Let’s take a minute and always kiss our pets goodbye.
One lesson I also learned from this process is that I failed to do the research on the consequences of such surgery. Asking more questions and being more involved instead of just accepting what I was being told while she was still alive would have been good. And despite having thought of taking her somewhere else after her relapses, I decided to keep her with the vets who were treating her. I’ll never know if going to another clinic would have saved her life, but now I know that I have to spend more time informing myself.
Najia came into our lives as a surprise. We were not looking for a cat. We were not thinking about adopting another furry kid. We had our beloved Buddy and we didn’t want to “complicate our lives”. As with many situations in life however, you can’t always plan who comes and who stays.
Najia was about six weeks old when she fell down in our garden. Her mom had probably hidden her and her little siblings in the bushes nearby while she went looking for food. We assume Najia was wondering around and, since she couldn’t see properly due to an eye infection, she fell down. The week earlier, her little brother Naji had done the same thing. (Naji means survivor in Arabic)
That week, we took four out of five kittens to the vet and got them all checked out and vaccinated. They all had a feline flue which affected their respiratory system and their vision. After a couple of days we returned them to their mom. Najia however, got reinfected again. We decided to keep her this time and look after her. Najia was the fluffiest of them all, with her big tail and huge ears she made everyone smile.
We bottle fed her, bathed her, cleaned her, helped her go potty and gave her all the medicines she needed. In all honesty, it was a very difficult time for me. Bringing her on board was challenging for my patience and my energy levels. But the payoff was huge. Before Najia I never really cared for cats. She changed that.
As time went by and Najia became healthier, she made her way into my heart. Little Najia kept me company. She would spend time sleeping on my lap and loved being held. Once she got bigger and stronger she started wondering around the house and even tried cuddling with Buddy. Each day was filled with joy and laughter. She was funny, smart and independent, till the very last day I saw her.
Someone asked me the other day what was I doing to heal. I told her that I was just feeling the discomfort and the sadness together with my usual spiritual practices. I had read somewhere that “The only way out is through.” and that is definitely the case for me. Some of the things I do are also lighting a candle every night and praying for her, visiting her grave and bringing her a little flower. Talking to her and helping other cats in need, including her little sister Arba who comes every day looking for food. She still lives on the streets.
This is the story of the first cat I’ve ever had and I thank you for taking the time to read. I hope you’re not currently going through this situation; but if you are, let me tell you that I understand how much it hurts. The house won’t feel the same for some time, but little by little, one day and one breath at a time, you’ll leave the sadness behind and move into a place of peace and gratitude.
May we all find the serenity and acceptance we need after losing our beloved animal companions.
Thank you for being here.
PS If you’d like to learn more about animal welfare and the challenges stray animals face on a daily basis in Jordan, read this article by the popular local blog My Amman Life.