A Life Worth Living is a forthcoming memoir by Helena Marles about Oleś—a black cat with a penchant for empty bathtubs and human spoken word. It paints a meditative portrait of their life together, with nuanced vignettes about Oleś’s personality and intelligence, and the bond they shared.
The book tells the story of Oleś’s terminal illness and the author’s journey through as-yet-unexplored to her moral and ethical paths she found herself navigating while making decisions about Oleś’s life (and death). In her memoir, Helena Marles explores an acutely personal yet universal experience of loss and grief.
The memoir’s life-affirming reflections and discoveries born of the emotional landscape of a fight for the life of someone you love and the anguish of loss carry relevance recognizable to all who have ever loved a cat or dog or child or friend—or cherished anyone’s memory or life.
Grief at losing a pet
65% of U.S. households, or close to 80 million, have one or more pets—that’s 85.8 million cats and 77.8 million dogs sharing their lives with humans1. These companion animals are considered “members of the family” in more than 80% of the households, and in some surveys in as high as 95%2.
There is no escaping this reality: An illness or death of a beloved pet can be as painful and distressing as an illness or death of any family member. And it is often aggravated by a sense of guilt that naturally comes with the act of euthanasia or feelings of responsibility—whether warranted or not—for the animal’s suffering.
And still, the topic of illness and loss pertaining to companion animals remains relatively unexplored, is hardly visible in mainstream publications that tend to offer facile answers and advice, and often seems relegated to hushed outpourings of grief in online forums for pet owners.
Yet this grief is real and deserves the dignity of recognition as any other profound grief that is part of our human experience.
I was distraught over Oleś’s illness and death and grappled with questions about what should be done for a cat with cancer. And what was and wasn’t reasonable to do to prolong his life. And whether at any point his life was, still, worth living. And which decisions were and weren’t fair to the sentient, intelligent being that he was. Mourning him was one of the emotionally toughest experiences I’ve gone through.”—HELENA MARLES
1 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey
2 The Harris Poll