Trigger Warning: Suicide
You can’t save them all. They say this about cats and other creatures in need of rescue — but it’s also true about people struggling with mental health issues. Sometimes there are things beyond your control, and beyond theirs. And there is no blame, only tears — and gratitude for the gifts they did leave in the short time they were here.
Ashley Morrison was a kind and incredible young woman who made a big difference in cat and kitten rescue, both in the Pacific Northwest, where she lived, and on the internet where she was known as the “Youngest Old Cat Lady.” Ashley worked very hard for TNR and low cost spay and neuter, and began programs that really made a difference. Things like the “mom’s last litter program,” where she took in pregnant owned moms, fostered their kittens, and returned the moms spayed when they were done parenting. One look at her Instagram, or that of her nonprofit rescue, Ashley’s Kitten Academy, shows you what magic she had with these babies, including the wild, homeless ones. She had hundreds of thousands of followers and admirers on social media. She was a bright light and an inspiration in rescue.
But there was a side of Ashley that, while she opened up about it publicly, she didn’t go into detail. She did mention her mental health struggles, and her own father’s suicide. But her social media focused on her mission, which was rescuing cats and kittens. It was her passion, and her life’s purpose.
Last week, Ashley ended her own life, and before she did, she scheduled a post on social media to publish a few days after she was gone. She did this to give her family and friends time to cope with her death before the whole internet knew, and quite possibly, so nobody could stop her.
When people die by their own hand, some may accuse them of being selfish or cowardly. This is never the case. Usually they fought against all odds to overcome their darkness. They worked twice as hard at the endeavors they care about in an attempt to make a difference during whatever time, short or long, they had here on earth. And quite often, there are chemical issues that the medical community hasn’t yet completely solved. According to her mother’s statement on Instagram (she is known there at @youngestoldcatgrandma), the latter seems to have played a part in her demise. Combined with the stresses of rescue, compassion fatigue, and being an online lightning bolt for bullies and trolls (as rescue people often are), it’s overwhelming.
The rates of suicide are especially high in rescue and the veterinary professions. The only people that truly understand why are the ones that actually do it. It’s worse than backbreaking work. It can be heartbreaking work. And so, so under appreciated.
What can you do if someone is struggling? As a friend, acquaintance, or even just as someone who follows them on social media? You can do this:
Know you can’t save them all. But you can be a light in their darkness, a spark of hope that may just be temporary — or a turning point. You don’t know which, so you just do what you can. Either way you’ve made a difference. You have made a difference. Always remember that. So never, ever stop reaching out. Love…and let go.
If you ever considered donating to Ashley’s Kitten Academy, or want to express your gratitude for Ashley’s work, you can make a donation to Lynwood Feral Cat Spay and Neuter Clinic.
Ashley, where ever you are, I hope you know how deeply you were — and are — loved.