Caring For a Friend

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It takes a big heart to help a friend cope with the final stages of her life. When that friend has a cat who is a cherished family member, the process of helping becomes even more challenging. This is caregiver Merrill Clarke’s account of how she helped her friend, Susan Blake, and her beloved pet, Ginger. 

Helping a Friend Find Peace of Mind

By Merrill Clarke

Susan Blake with Merrill Clarke
Susan Blake MD, left, with Merrill Clarke.

For the 38 years that Susan Blake and I were friends, there was nearly always a sweet cat presence in her home. Her most recent kitty, Ginger, was no exception. About a year ago, Susan told me she just received a diagnosis of advanced-stage pancreatic cancer. I was shattered.

While I agonized, wondering how it could possibly be true, she began working quietly to take care of all the end-of-life details like her will and the disposition of her possessions. Susan had designated OHS as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

She then enrolled Ginger in the Friends Forever program, which provides for the care of any pet who survives their person. Knowing that plans for Ginger’s care were already in place helped Susan immensely as she dealt with everything else.

When Susan called me to ask if I would be willing to be with her until her death, I was stunned. I felt honored to accept and soon found myself as her primary caretaker, with Ginger’s assistance.

There was never any question that Ginger took her care taking seriously. She settled in to being with Susan all the time and rarely left her side. I enjoyed seeing them snuggled up together. We had a few nurses who didn’t realize the role that Ginger was playing in Susan’s care.

One night one of them woke me with a frantic, “The IV pump is beeping and I don’t know what to do!” I raced in to find Ginger perched on top of the pump, her paws pressing the buttons—completely unaware of the fuss she’d created!

Susan Blake and Ginger.
Susan Blake and Ginger.

Susan and I spoke frequently about plans for Ginger. I wondered if being moved into an entirely new situation immediately after losing Susan would truly be “humane” for Ginger. I decided to speak to Kathryn Karr, the donor relations manager who oversees the Friends Forever program at OHS.

We had a long, wonderful exchange about Friends Forever and Ginger’s life after Susan. I hung up reassured that Ginger would be cared for very well at OHS.

Susan passed away on July, 26, 2017, as quietly and serenely as she lived. I made arrangements for Kathryn to pick up Ginger. Because I loved her presence, I had been dreading Ginger’s departure. She and I shared the “job” of tending to Susan; together we did it well.

It was bittersweet saying goodbye but such a relief to me to know she would be collected quickly and in the wonderful care available at OHS. I was impressed with Kathryn’s grace. She entered Susan’s home with such respect and was clearly eager to know more about Ginger. I never once felt a sense of being rushed. It took several trips up and down the 33 front stairs to transport Ginger’s beds, food, and medicine!

In the end, the team that surrounded Susan in her last month was able to respond to her gentle guiding and give her what she required. To the last, Ginger was there. I learned later that Ginger was adopted five days after she arrived at OHS. I found solace in that, and I am sure Susan would have as well.


About the Friends Forever Program

Since its founding in 1994, the Friends Forever program has helped hundreds of individuals plan for their pets. The program provides peace of mind: should the need arise, OHS stands ready to find pets carefully matched, loving homes. To learn more about ensuring the future care of your pet or including OHS in your estate plan, please email our team.


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