Loss is on my mind this week since I just posted a wonderful conversation with Brian Smith about love, grief, and finding meaning in it all. You can read the post and listen here.

The topic of grief is one we all have to manage at some point. One of the greatest losses of my life (aside from my father) was a big, white, soft, fluffy cat named Chauncy. I loved all my animals, cats and dogs alike. But there was something about Chauncy. I think it’s because Chauncy taught me that it’s all about love.

The post below is an excerpt from a chapter about Eric Hodgdon’s loss that was edited out of the upcoming book (but may appear in another!). In each chapter of the book, there’s a short intro, a story from my life, then more on my guest. This is the opening of the chapter where Eric and I share stories of loss. This is mine.


Love, Loss, and Gratitude


“Gratitude, I think, is at the heart of your emerging from a setback, a bump in the road.”

-Eric Hodgdon


Loss is something that we will all face. Loss of a job, a spouse, a parent. But Eric faced the loss of a child. That is such a profound loss that I hesitate to even share my story about loss, out of fear it is trivial.

But no story is trivial. Our stories and how we tell them define us. For each of us, death of someone we love brings a heart wrenching emptiness that changes our lives. Whether it be a child, a parent or a pet, loss is something we all must navigate.

In one three-year period, I lost my father and two grandmothers. The year after my father died, my world was grey. The world went on as if my grief didn’t matter.  How could the world go on?My father was gone. What was the meaning in all this?

Loss stays with us until we decide to transform it into something more meaningful. In my life, my most meaningful lesson about life, death and loss would come from a most unexpected source.


Reno/Tahoe, NV 2000-2016


I had moved from Incline Village on the north end of Lake Tahoe, down to southwest Reno and into my brand new house. MY house.

One morning, the phone rang. A friend of mine from Incline wanted to know if I could take another cat. She was nursing him back to health. “He’s beautiful,” she said.  “Wouldn’t you like to adopt him?”

Another cat? I don’t think so.

“Come meet Chauncy,” she insisted. No matter how much I tried to guide the conversation elsewhere, she wouldn’t let the topic drop. So, I gave in.

In my sleek, black just-back-from-the-dry-cleaners-French- jeans, I set off to meet this cat.  I sat down in front of the fireplace and a massive, silky, white creature appeared out of nowhere and, unbidden, jumped onto my lap.

A kitten without a home.


He looked up at me with his big blue eyes, circled once on my formerly pristine black jeans, then settled in. He was obviously in poor health. His rib bones were prominent, and he seemed so frail. His head was disproportionately heavy so that when you picked him up, he pitched forward. But there was something about him.

The practical part of me said that I did not want another cat. Life was good. Why change things?

But everything in my heart and soul argued with my logic and Chauncy came to live with us.

By us, I mean me and Miss Margaret. Miss Margaret  was a stray from the airport who had joined my household.

I remember driving home from the airfield with her. She was in a temporary cardboard carrier, in the front seat, howling unhappily.

“I’ve never been owned by a cat,” I tried to explain to her.

She looked up at me with her big green eyes and responded, “I’ve never owned a human.”

So, our adventure began.

He is not welcomed here.

Miss Margaret was very particular and sometimes a bit cat aloof. When I introduced Chauncy, she made it clear that he was not welcome. Not now, not ever. And she stuck with that singular cat thought for an entire year.

The constant flow of dislike from Miss M was almost tangible.  My once peaceful home had become a battlefield.

But Chauncy just exuded love no matter what Miss M threw at him. Love, love, love. That is all this big, white, fluffy stray cat knew.


But Miss M was not susceptible to matters of the heart.


Then, one day, Chauncy staggered down the hallway. He could barely stand. His front legs gave way and he slid onto the smooth wood floor, his little white chin hitting hard. He couldn’t get up.

His distress hit me like a sledgehammer. All the feelings and fears of what it is like to lose one’s neurological function came rushing back.  I knew what unexplainable, uncontrollable muscle weakness felt like. I knew exactly how scared, lost, and terrified he must feel.

I scooped him up in my arms, and sobbing, tears streaming down my face, I phoned the vet from the car as I raced up the hill, weaving between cars, crying into the phone. The vet took Chauncy in overnight for observation.

I arrived at the medical office first thing the next morning and went back to sit with Chauncy. I climbed part way into his cage and held him, then we moved to a rocking chair where we held each other.

“Most cats don’t behave like this,” the vet told me, looking at the two of us huddled together.

“I know,” I replied. But this is Chauncy.

We never discovered what had happened. I suspect it may have been a spider bite. But whatever it was, Miss Margaret suddenly decided that Chauncy was maybe all right, and peace finally reigned in my house.

Chauncy and I had an eighteen-year mutual love affair. We were like an old married couple. At exactly three a.m. every morning, he would wake up in the guest room at the opposite end of the house and start crying. His meows echoed as he wandered from room to room, until he found what he was looking for. Which was me.

He would stride into my bedroom, jump into bed, and snuggle up. He was so big that our backs matched almost perfectly. I’d invariably wake up in the morning and he would have shifted from sleeping back to back with me, to snoring peacefully in my arms. To this day, I can recall his cat smell. To me it was the smell of love.

Eventually Miss M passed away and Chauncy grew old. I found a vet that had a naturopathic approach to his practice, and I brought Chauncy in for weekly acupuncture to help with his arthritis. The fine, barely visible needles were carefully placed in his thick white coat, and we’d sit, me holding his paw, while the ancient medicine worked its magic.

Getting the needles out of that massive fur coat was another story. The vet and I would carefully count each one as it went in. But sometimes, one would elude us, and we’d find ourselves searching through his luxurious fur coat for a slender, nearly invisible acupuncture needle. Chauncy just sat calmly, as always, oozing love and an existential calmness, despite the pain he was obviously in.

His death wasn’t unexpected, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. I watched as his soul left his body.

But he lived on in me. And I had two contrary feelings. One is the emptiness and the pain of his loss. It lives in my heart. It is a bottomless well of missing him. But it’s also a bottomless well of love.

Chauncy was pure love. He acted with love and won everyone over. Even Miss Margaret.


Chauncy’s legacy is about having an open heart, no matter what the circumstances.


He showed me that that it is all about love.  Love will overcome anything. Even Miss Margaret.

I have loved all my animals, but there was something about Chauncy. His big blue eyes. The fur that protruded from his paws. His cat smell. His loss is always with me. But I focus on feeling gratitude for the time we had together. Gratitude for all he embodied and taught me. And most of all gratitude for that lingering scent of cat love.