Many times when we learn Reiki for animals, we think we’re going to be “doing” the healing for the animals. But the animals know better. They understand that in a true and deep healing space, where hearts connect in compassion, the healing goes both ways. This healing is not about curing, but  about becoming whole. Johnnie is one cat who taught me these lessons.

Johnnie (above left) was a beautiful orange tabby who lived at BrightHaven holistic animal sanctuary and hospice. He suffered from a variety of ailments, including renal problems, heart issues, severe dental disease, low potassium and hyperesthesia. Somehow, though, he always thought of others—never himself.

For many years of his life, he would adopt certain cats who came to live at BrightHaven who needed extra love. At first, many of these cats were not convinced that they needed Johnnie’s rapt and loving attention, but his engaging personality always managed to persuade each one that a love affair was needed—and, indeed, each one thrived under his doting care.

As BrightHaven is a hospice, and the animals there are in the final chapter of their journeys, one by one he had to say goodbye to each cat he loved so much. He sat vigil and supported each one’s death with a pure and open heart. When his last love, Vancouver, passed away, it seemed that finally Johnnie’s own heart was broken. It was only after Vancouver passed that we began to see Johnnie front and center for all Reiki classes. At this time, his physical heart and kidneys were failing, and although he certainly benefited from the Reiki shared, his focus remained, as always, on others.

He would go around the circle, greet everyone and then choose a specific student to settle on. His favorite perching place was in your lap or across your heart, where he would calmly fall asleep purring. The students would feel the energy flowing very strongly, and Johnnie would gaze lovingly into their eyes. For many, it was the first experience of connecting heart-to-heart in the Reiki space. For others, Johnnie’s presence ignited their own inner healing experience. One student had never cried after the recent loss of a parent, and Johnnie’s presence created a safe space for her tears to flow. Another student recently had all three of her cats pass away, and Johnnie was the first cat she had held since these losses. As the tears flowed, she said, “I feel a release of my grief!”

As a witness to many of these heartful interactions with my students, I could see that the healing went both ways; that both Johnnie and each person received exactly what they needed. This is a beautiful quality of healing connection that Reiki creates. In time, I had my own health challenge, and during my first visit back to BrightHaven after my surgery for breast cancer, Johnnie came running to me, jumped into my lap and stretched his entire body over my shoulder and draped across my chest, purring loudly. As I closed my eyes and relaxed into a Reiki meditation, I felt so much gratitude for this wonderful feline Reiki teacher and how he shared himself so unselfishly. He and I could let go of our health issues and just “be” together in that beautiful, peaceful Reiki space. I could feel a lessening in my own post-surgical pain and discomfort and could also sense his breathing become more relaxed and regular.

Johnnie passed away after a long journey with his myriad of health issues, but Reiki helped him to reconnect with his healing purpose even after his beloved cats had crossed. Reiki gave him physical and emotional comfort in his final months of life. He also had a beautifully peaceful passing supported by Reiki and surrounded by loved ones, which was only fitting, as he had sat vigil in hospice for others so many times.

Johnnie taught me that real healing is not about curing this or that problem. We can be truly healed, or made whole, even when we struggle with physical or emotional issues. When we let go of the need to “cure” this or that problem, we are better able to connect to others from the heart with selfless compassion. In doing so, we create a space where all healing potential exists—and we remember what Johnnie always knew: that this is why we are here in the first place—to help each other remember wholeness.

All photos copyright BrightHaven.

9 thoughts on “The beautiful life lessons I learned from a hospice cat”

  1. Bless you Kathleen for sharing “our” Johnnie’s beautiful story. He was indeed an earth angel sent to BrightHaven to teach us all about love and healing. Thank you too, Elizabeth for sharing your Johnnie story – his shadow cat was undoubtedly Eric, who was his first love.
    With love, blessings and gratitude,
    Gail xoxo

  2. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to a truly angel cat. I knew Johnnie late in his life, after he lost his beloved Vancouver. After that he never had a true cat partner at BrightHaven but always wanted to be hugged and patted and connected with — getting him off your lap was another matter. I always felt his broken heart and hoped he’d have one more cat love before he passed, maybe he just moved on from cats to humans before he had to say goodbye!

    One of my favorite Johnnie experiences was one day when I sat with each animal and sang and hummed to them. Johnnie was out in the garden and he snuggled in my lap and was so happy. However, he was also very unwilling to let me move on and every time I tried to get up, he hunkered down and wouldn’t release me. All the animals loved it, but Johnnie wasn’t wanting to share with others! So we sat together a long while, and I saw this “shadow cat” very near by. Gail knew exactly who it was, it was one of Johnnie’s beloveds (I can’t remember which cat it was, I’d never met it). After that I often saw the shadow cat when Johnnie and I were outside together.

    I wasn’t fortunate enough to be around the sanctuary when Johnnie passed, though I was around when he will slowing down from health problems. I just never saw him as sick, his spirit was always shining and it was all about what love could be shared that day.

    I love your Reiki story with him, not surprising at all of course, but so beautiful. Thank you for bringing him to my heartspace today.


      1. Sherrie Ashenbremer

        Beautiful story, I believe certain animals (like humans) are here to serve in a particular way. His was to teach patience and love, and help those cross over knowing they had love in the end!

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