There is an unspoken and inherent bond between humans and their animals, an eternal connection that exists forever and even grows stronger when physical death knocks at the door. One of life’s ultimate cruelties, having to say goodbye to a furry loved one is indeed, one of the most difficult experiences to endure. Even though mortal beings eventually transition from the physical plain, the true essence of their spirited soul remains. This is a concept that I have known for a long time; however, with the 2015 passing of my cat, Max Montgomery Strickland, I gained a further awareness of its actuality.
I am writing this article to connect with those who are going through the heart-wrenching time of saying goodbye to a dearly loved furry friend. All animal lovers can relate to and empathize with anyone who is going through the physical loss of a beloved animal. When Max passed away, I thought that my world would completely end forever. After a few days of complete and utter sadness and dejection, something beautiful happened: I started to feel peace enter my soul, a start to me accepting Max’s passing. It’s extremely hard to put this into words, but I started to feel Max alive in my heart and soul. I started to feel him with me at all times, a feeling that slowly, but surely, overpowered the extreme grief. Of course, I miss his physical self, but I find solace in knowing that his vibrant energy and majestic soul are eternally present in mine.
I do believe that many, if not all animals, can communicate to us when they depart this mortal plane. In the majority of cases, we hear of paranormal incidences with cats, dogs and horses. It would make sense seeing as though they are among the most popular animals to have. However, I think there is more to the equation. I strongly believe that it is due to their expansive intelligence and innately intuitive nature. We can experience ghostly encounters with our adored animals in the same way that we can with our dearly loved friends or family members. Whether it’s an apparitional sighting, a disembodied vocalization or footstep, an olfactory sensation or cold spot, paranormal occurrences with pets and humans are similar across the board.
In my 37 years on this earth, I have not ever had the magnitude of spiritual experiences with any of my animals until I came into contact with my cat, Max. I adopted Max and his sister, Kayli Strickland, after the devastating 2003 San Diego, California Cedar Fires, the firestorm that engulfed the majority of the city in smoke and flames. At their tender three-months-of age I fell in love with Max and Kayli the moment I first laid eyes on them. I even remember Kayli reaching out her paw and Max looking at me with intent green eyes when I walked up to their temporary boxed home in a local Petco. Words cannot definitely explain this, but it was the start of that unspeakable and everlasting bond that I mentioned in my words above. An endless union that not even death could interfere with.
In 2015, I had to take Max into our community’s veterinarian due to an eye infection known as conjunctivitis. While Max was there, his doctor listened to his cardiac and pulmonary functions and it was then that I received the news that he had a heart murmur. A murmur does not necessarily mean that there is heart disease present; however, it can indicate that something more serious is going on. The following day, I took Max to a specialist to get a cardiac ultrasound or echocardiogram of the heart. Just like the wildfire overwhelming San Diego twelve years prior, I was then engulfed with the tragic news that no animal lover wants to hear: Max had cardiomyopathy, an acquired and often hereditary physical ailment. As tears swept down my despondent face, the doctor reassured me that medication could help treat the disease and keep Max alive for many years to come. Needless to say, I drove home with a mixture of reassurance, anxiety and anger.
Max was on beta blockers for a few days to help manage his cardiac functions. On the fourth night, I noticed that his heart and breathing rate were extremely high. My mom and I then rushed him to the emergency hospital, perhaps, the most terrifying time that I have ever had to experience. After a few minutes, the veterinarian came out to talk to us and told us that Max may have had a reaction to the beta blockers or more seriously, he may be going into heart failure. Thus, he had to undergo some more tests, taking the total time of about an hour. At about the 60-minute mark, I heard the song Endless Love playing on the ceiling’s radio speakers. Being of no coincidence, it was then that I saw the doctor’s forlorn facial expression as he came out to brief my mom and I. No words needed to be relayed as I knew the tragic words we were about to hear: tragically, it was the latter and Max was going into cardiac failure.
Max stayed overnight so he could be monitored and receive the oxygen that he so desperately needed. The following day, my mom and I went to see him and it was then that his attending doctor conveyed that nothing more could be done. My whole world collapsed and my soul was stabbed with anger, sadness and hopelessness. I must say that the veterinarians catering to Max were relentless in their treatment of him, as they tried everything to help prolong his beautiful life. After a 45-minute consultation with the medical staff, I was hit with the decision to either keep him on life support or allow him his rite of passage to peacefully transition to the stars. Of course, I chose the latter as it would have been completely selfish to keep him alive in the condition he was in. It was his time and I did everything I could to honor it.
The registered veterinarian technician then took us into a room, a location that I never wanted to see again in my life. Max was lying on a table with an oxygen mask surrounding his face. Placing my arms around him, I told Max how much I loved him and echoed the following words, “Max, my prince and golden boy, I love you so much and our bond will last forever. Always and forever. You will always be a part of my heart and soul. Endless love, baby. I love you.” As I saw the needle responsible for delivering the medication to commence his transition, I kept telling Max how much I love him and held him until he breathed his last breath and crossed the Rainbow Bridge. When that time came, he had such a peaceful look to his face and body. They then wrapped a paw-printed blanket around Max as they brought him into a serene private room where my mom and I had some time to be alone with him. I must say that this was a very therapeutic experience as it gave us some time to say goodbye.
With death, comes the departure of the physical body and only the physical body. Death cannot touch the soul or energy of our animals. It is my belief that the bonds we have with our beloved pets grow even stronger in spirit. In fact, the night I came home from the veterinary emergency hospital after Max’s passing, I heard his meow in my bedroom as I was getting ready for much needed sleep. His vocalization was so loud and clear as if he was reassuring me that he was at peace in heaven’s pastures. It was later that same night when I felt Max breathing underneath my hand as I rested in bed. I couldn’t help but think that his ethereal inhalations were representative of a new life beyond the ethers. Then, in one of my often lucid dreams, I saw Max sitting right in front of me as he wrapped his front legs around me. Needles to say, I woke up with complete serenity.
In the days and months to come, I continued to encounter his angelic spirit many times and in many special ways. Almost on a daily basis, I hear Max’s meow, sometimes several times in a row. I have both seen him partially or fully manifest before my eyes. Many nights and mornings, I will tangibly feel him jump up on my bed and curl up beside my warm body. I have even felt his disembodied breath in my face as he ethereally lay on my chest, something he often did when he was of body.
Since his passing, Kayli and I have grown infinitely closer. On many occasions, I will even see her big green eyes morph into her brothers. She has become so much more affectionate since that fateful February night at 4:44 pm when Max evolved into spirit. It’s almost as if he continues to live through his sister. Intriguingly, when I first adopted Max and Kayli, I created the nickname of “KayliMax,” not yet aware of how profound that moniker would be in the years to come.
Now, I have pondered why I haven’t had as many of these spiritual experiences with my other fur babies who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Perhaps, Max and I were destined to have such a close soulful relationship, a woven tapestry of pure cosmic love and connection. Maybe we had past lives together, with fate bringing us together in this lifetime. My mind can speculate all day, yet there may be elusive reasons for why Max and I are so intrinsically connected. Maybe it’s something that is not intended to be explained but to only be experienced.
I was utterly devastated when Max transitioned. I felt my soul being ripped apart; however, it was slowly pieced back together when I accepted his passing and undeniably realized that he further became a part of my soul. I know it’s hard to not have our furry babies’ physical presence with us, but you will find everlasting solace in knowing that their spirit is always with us. Once we come to terms with this, we will feel peace permeate our soul.
Written by Nicole Strickland, San Diego Paranormal Research Society
Copyright Nicole Strickland and Paranormal Underground Magazine.