Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: On letting go and saying goodbye

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz



Published: 09-10-2023 9:03 PM

Today, I am sharing with all pet caregivers and caretakers, and those who love and cherish animals and pets. I know you will understand what I am going through. I imagine it’s a universal lived human experience I am having, and there’s little to differentiate my experience with yours or others.

I’ve had my adopted Dakin cat, Mr. Max E. Katz, Jr., DBAAC (more on the initials soon enough), for nearly 17 years now, since I took him in at the age of just four months, and he immediately became a hit and the focus of our household and home. We’ve seen each other through numerous highs and lows — several deaths in my family, job gains and losses, my “almost” retirement, his emergency visits to the vet, plenty of shots and special meds — and whatnot. All these lived and shared experiences have brought us closer, and he is a respected and precious elder in our family. There is love that is shared. He shows me this daily through his protracted licking of my beard, falling asleep on my belly, eating from my hands, and the way he sidles up to all my friends and visitors. No words, of course, but we know that actions speak much louder than words. And his actions and behaviors indicate that he is and has been well cared for, given so much attention, and given reasonable free reign indoors and out.

I took him in early on, knowing that there was a good chance that he might develop feline leukemia early on — we wanted him to be a part of our home and household, no matter. Though he never contracted leukemia, at age six, he was diagnosed with kidney failure. He and we went through many, many visits to his local vet, changes in diet, new meds, special treatment, and the need for even more ongoing care and attention. His response to all this fuss? To love me, his caregiver/taker all the more, and to form a bond that feels unbreakable.

Max, already aging and now with advanced kidney disease, has slowed down, become quite lethargic, eating and drinking only minimally. He’s lost 30% of his full body weight, and, as I have found out over the past week, is now in a struggle for his life with two other recent diagnoses: a heart murmur and a protracted growth on his back which is thought to be inoperable. These latter two medical alerts have come about so suddenly that I am still recouping from my vet’s words. It’s increasingly likely that he won’t live very much longer. The depth of my sadness knows no words.

And so, I am working overtime to love him up every moment. I cater to him as though he was my aging baby child, and no need or want goes unmet. I also am working overtime in my mind and heart around preparing to say goodbye to him in this life we’ve both lived with such passion and deep friendship. It’s likely that my feelings of saying goodbye and farewell are one-way: I doubt he’s aware of how close he may be to passing on.

The other battle I face with him is to stay present in the moment, each moment that we have together. My heart wants the present to stay as is as much as possible, yet my mind wanders to thinking about his death, just months after losing each of my parents and our family’s lifelong apartment in New York City. I fight with myself to not overthink, to not lose him before his time, and to maintain present-time company with him. We are each vulnerable in very different ways, and yet this brings us closer still. It’s not yet time, but my mind sometimes sees him in the past tense. And I find that this makes it even harder to be with and around him.

Life as we know it is ongoing, no matter who lives it and who lets go of it. There is the constancy of day-after-day living, compounded and complexified by the lists of “to-do’s”, meetings, deadlines, communications, friendships to maintain, family, giving grandchildren the attention they need and require. And then, to me, there are these moments out-of-time, now shared daily (almost hourly, it seems) with Max. Whether I want or need the distractions of life or not, Max is always with me, and so are all his medical challenges that will take his life away all too soon. How to say goodbye and to let go? The inevitability of his death is confounding to me, and I am still grappling with this news to try and make sense of it all.

What remains till then is to be sensitive to his needs and nuances (as always, but more so) and to tend to him with full compassion, patience, and tender-loving kindess. I strive to maintain all of this with him, as I do with my friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I know that I will lose a big piece of myself when I lose him. Still, my time with him, ebbing as it is, is now even more precious. Through and through, he is still my Max E. Katz, Doing (his) Business As A Cat (DBAAC).

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at