Thursday, November 15, 2012

Remembering a Loved One - Remembering Nyx

Our baby girl, Nyx
November 19th, 2010 - November 3rd, 2012
A few posts back, I talked about how we lost our cat Nyx to liver failure.  The suddenness of it shocked me into severe grief.  It's not that I don't grieve, but I strongly believe in the cyclic nature of life and death being simply another journey we all must take.  Typically, I handle it much better than the way I did the day we euthanized her.  As I said then, there is no right or wrong way to handle death and my reaction is as justified as any other reaction one might have to the circumstances.

Some part of me knew when Nyx went to the vet that she wasn't coming back.  I had placed her food bowl on the Samhain altar and a painting I had done of her hung over it.  My husband seemed a little upset by this. He wasn't mad at me for assuming the worst, but I think he was afraid I was giving up.  I never gave up - not until the last minute, but I knew.  In all honestly, I knew sometime this year that we would be losing a pet.  We've had a lot of illnesses with the pets this year that gave me a scare - asthma, medication allergies - but Nyx took me by surprise when she suddenly stopped eating the week of Samhain.  Liver failure is a sneaky thing.

That being said, there comes a point when you have to move on.  It's not that you will ever forget your loved one or familiar, but you must eventually unburden your heart with the weight of grief.   When Nyx passed, I almost immediately set up a memory altar for her to replace my Samhain altar.  A memory altar is a very personal thing - so personal that, while I discussed what's on it in the post I made about her death, I hesitated to post a picture.  But death is difficult for everyone and how to handle it varies from religion to religion and person to person.  Today, I would like to share with you how I celebrated Nyx in hopes you may take some aspect of it to help you with your grief.

Nyx's Memory Altar
On a memory altar, you should place anything that reminds you of your loved one.  The cat-shaped glass candle, which I found at a thrift store a day before her passing, will be perfect when our other cats eventually pass as well.  Around the candle are various things that I would typically give Nyx, such as dry cat food or tuna.  That was the can of tuna we bought and took to the animal hospital in hopes she'd eat it.  They wrote her name on it and sent it back with us when we took her home.

This is the red heart you see above the candle.  This came in the mail just today.  When we euthanized Nyx, they pressed her paw into clay to make this.  We had it painted red and gold because Nyx always represented fire.  I want one of these for every pet my husband and I own.  It gives me something to always remember them by.

In addition to items representing your loved one, you can place herbs, stones or other items that represent death, rebirth, memory or other aspects of the cycle of life.  The dried herbs up top are rosemary.  Rosemary is for remembrance - hard to forget when they both begin with R.  Lining the front of the altar are various stones, ranging from onyx to petrified wood, from tiger's eye to bloodstone.  Each of these either represent something about Nyx or something about death, memory or passage.   The string in front is a memory ribbon that I made during the Samhain ritual.

Memory altars give you a place to put sympathy cards and gifts.  One card comes from the emergency vet and the other from our regular vet.  The statue and incense were gifted to me by friends and the cherry blossom letter is from a close friend of mine who wrote me about to cheer me up.  In addition, I received a third card and a small plaque from two other friends after these pictures were taken and added those to the altar.  These things which might otherwise get lost, accidentally thrown away or otherwise damaged now belong somewhere.  Every time I received something new, it went right to the altar.

An altar such as this also gives you a way to grieve.  The first thing I did after setting up the altar was light the candle and cry.  Every time I felt down, I would put a new tealight candle in the holder and light it.  It was my way of telling Nyx I was thinking about her, that I missed her and that I hoped for her happiness.

I do hold a small rite for a passing.  It's never elaborate and I don't set up a circle for it.  This rite involves sending out a message to the universe and to your loved one.  Oftentimes when someone passes, especially if it was sudden, we don't feel like we got the chance to say everything we wanted to say.  You'll notice I skipped one item when describing the altar. Underneath the candle and the food there's a letter addressed to Nyx.  In it, I let out all of my sorrow, regrets and love.  I cried so hard when I wrote it that some of the ink bled on the paper.  It doesn't have to be legible; the feeling is the important part.  The letter was then sealed in an envelope and placed on the altar in a way that it was weighted down by other items representing her.

I leave this letter and the altar set up, burning the candle every time I feel extreme grief, until I'm ready to move on.  I promised my husband that I would move on the day we received her plaque, which was this evening.  Tonight, I lit a black candle and we stood in front of the altar crying for a few minutes.  We were releasing the last of our grief, getting everything out.

Then we burned the letter.
Burning something is a way to release it into the world.  By burning my letter to Nyx, I allowed her soul to hear it, to feel it, and to respond if necessary.  The letter's ashes remain in the bowl on the altar as of right now.  Tomorrow, I will clear it and begin setting up for Midwinter.

There are a variety of ways to deal with the ashes of your letter.  Many people believe in releasing them - throwing them in your nearest water source or to the wind, or burying them nearby.  I will probably do that, but not before I load a small bottle for a necklace with some of the ashes.  It is my way of keeping her close to my heart.  Another thing you can do with the ashes is save them for any kind of spell that involves past lives, spirits or remembrance like this.  Finally, I have a friend who collects the ashes of all the letters she writes and stores them in the same bottle.  It's her way of showing that all of her friends and family are together elsewhere and that we will eventually join them.  She openly explains the bottle of ashes in her front room to anyone who asks.

Whatever you do with the ashes, or if you do none of the above, find a way to move on.  Grief is appropriate and necessary but it is not a way of life.  As I said earlier, death is just another journey in the cyclic nature of life.  One day, we'll all find out what happens in the great unknown.  The important thing in remembering our mortality is to live each day to the fullest.

I thought life was a battle to win,
But now I’ve seen the leaves flow with the wind.
I think I’ll enjoy the ride before I meet my end.


  1. I just discovered your page tonight. She was a beautiful creature, and she was loved. Thank you for sharing this. I will remember it when the time comes my old lady dog leaves this earth, even as a part of her will live in me forever.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I deeply appreciate it.

  2. This is very touching, made me cry.

    Beautiful-I love the paw print heart.

    Thank you for sharing

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. We miss Nyx every day, but she's always with us.

  3. This made me miss my Mama cat.. I had a cat named Shelby but my daughter called her Mama cat.. so that was the name she truly lived by and was called.. and she passed not too long ago... I wish I would have thought of that paw print thing.. what a great idea..

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that. The paw print plaque was something the vet we took her to offered. Everything was such a whirlwind the last few days of her life, but I have a very vivid memory of straining through tears to ask if the plaque cost and the vet said it was totally free. But I think we would have done it either way. I'm sure it could be done at home, but I don't know if I could have mustered the courage to do it after she passed. I'm incredibly grateful for the vet here that did it and, while I don't use them as my standard vet because they're pretty pricey, I will probably always go there when it's time.

  4. The paw print is a lovely thing to have, I have my old girls paw print tattooed on my back next to a black cat sitting on a half moon surrounded by a pentagram to represent her, she had to get put to sleep tthis past May from old age health problems, she was 22, I really miss her.

  5. My cat is also named Nyx! She will be 9 years old this coming September. I'm sorry for your loss; I've lost many familiars over the years, and it's ALWAYS painful, every time. Did you call her "Nyxie"? That's what I usually end up calling mine. (As well as a plethora of other 'pet names'!)

    Just found your blog via Pinterest, love the charts and images you share, as well as your rituals...that's all I've found so far, gonna start digging a bit. :-)


  6. Years ago, My little girl Bubba, died of heart failure. She was only a year old. It was awful--she was fine one day, and then the next she was gone. I know this is an older post, but I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss. I still miss my little girl.

    All my animals are my babies, and when one passes onto the next life, it leaves a hole. But I always remind myself how lucky I was to have them in my life! Animals love without reservation--a trait we, as humans, can certainly learn from.


  7. Hello, I am launching my own blog soon , which will be a meeting place for all spiritual walks of life and those who wish to connect to them. I haven't launched it yet, it is very new, but I digress.

    I just found this article as I was searching on familiars. She was a beautiful beautiful familiar I may add. Just recently, about 2 weeks ago, my fiancee's familiar passed away. He was a panther mix with a house breed and he chose my fiancee over 17 years ago, across a room, he stared intently until my S.O. took him. fast forward to now, we knew this may have been the last year he was with us , and we still weren't prepared. See, I got really close to him, his name was Nicodemus. He died of Liver failure along with anemia. He was the most smart, humble, protective, and wise sentient being. He would warn us when there was certain energies around , and that's when we would know we needed to cleanse.

    I would love to set up an altar for him , we had to bury him because we were going through financial hardships, but we made ourselves a tombstone and a memoir of him. I'll never forget the grief, but I'll also never forget the opportunity I had to care for him in his last days. I sang to him and bathed him , I was always by his side.

    Thank you for sharing this <3