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Archive for the ‘mourning’ Category

Saying Goodbye

Two weeks ago I buried our cat, Thunder. He was 15 years old. The house has been so quiet with him gone. Every day when I come home, I notice that I instinctively start to look for where he is – and then remember that he is no longer here. My daughter moved out in January. Then it was just Thunder and me. Now I’m a total empty nester, and it really feels lonely.

The first cat I ever had was when I was given a kitten in the mid-1980’s. I was living in Connecticut in the woods. I called him Rocky. He didn’t like to be picked up but loved being petted.   When he was a year old, he was run over. A neighbor found Rocky and buried him for me. I was devastated. I had no idea I would be so upset, so sad and grieving. Never having had pets growing up, I thought that saying, “I can’t see you now, my cat just died” was overstating the situation. I was so total wrong. I was heartbroken. Losing a cat – or dog – is like losing a family member. Grieving an animal is the same as grieving a person. It’s a heart connection and it takes time to get over the change and the sadness.

Last year in May, my daughter and I buried Clare, our female cat. She was 16. She had been losing weight and not doing well for several months. Thunder went through quite a mourning period after Clare was gone. They had been together his whole life. He lost weight and was hiding under the deck. I thought he was dying. He finally came back but not as healthy as before and required special food and care.

The last couple days of Thunder’s life, I could tell he was on his way out. He was wobbly, not eating and drinking a lot of water. On Sunday, I kept an eye on him and kept him close by. I called the vet on Monday morning and got an appointment in the afternoon to put him down. Mid-day I found Thunder under the deck and could not get him to move. I had to drag him out. I brought him inside and sat with him on the living room couch. We sat there together for several hours. I cried as I petted him. He was such a sweet guy and had been my buddy following me around, keeping me company while I worked in the office or in the garden. I took him to the vet and he passed peacefully. I then drove up to my friend’s home where we dug a grave next to Clare and buried Thunder. Now there are 2 cats and 3 dogs in her pet cemetery.

I made an altar for Thunder in the front hall so that I could have a focus for remembering and mourning him. It is also to honor him for being part of our family and includes pictures, his collar and a cat sculpture I purchased to eventually put on his grave. I created an altar for Clare after she was buried – and left it up for a good month or more. I will probably do the same for Thunder.

My daughter was ten when she picked him out from 3 kittens neighbors left behind when they moved in the summer. We had an opening for a cat as our male cat, Hugger, was gone. She really wanted a black cat and there he was with big gold eyes. He got the cute kitten award at the vet when we took him in to get checked out. She named him Thunder. When the first rainstorm arrived late in the fall, he was out all night. He loved being in the rain. We knew he was not a normal cat. As he got older, we discovered he had what they call smoke fur – he looked like a black cat but with white on the inside half his fur.

Since Thunder and Clare were such a big part of my daughter’s family life growing up, I’ve started making a book of their pictures. It helps to remember all the joy they both brought to my daughter and me just by sorting through 15 years of photos on my laptop, putting them online and starting to arrange them on pages. I realize this is another ritual – in addition to the altar and the burial ceremony. All these help to remind me that Thunder and Clare live on in my heart.

It’s funny that a critter that doesn’t talk much would take up such a large space in my home and heart. I’ve found this with all my cats. I was surprised originally that cats were such wonderful company. After 35 years of cats, I’m taking a break. I will explore what freedom is without anyone at home I need to take care of. It doesn’t mean that I’m not sad that Thunder is gone. This is an ending and a beginning.

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Another article I wrote in the fall of 2014 – that I didn’t post.

In the Op-Ed section of a recent Sunday New York Times, there was an article I tore it out so I could read it again. You never know when something sparks an emotion, a thought, a piece of the puzzle I didn’t know was missing. Here’s the quote that had me pondering:

“When we mourn, isn’t it not just for our relationship with a person, but also for the physical presence of her, of her aliveness? The voice, smell, textures and warmth, the gestures we know intimately, all of these are replaced with their opposites in death. We are left with a hole that the energy that powered the person through life once filled.”

That last sentence nails it. “We are left with a hole that the energy that powered the person through life once filled.” That’s why I felt empty, at a loss – a loss of presence, of energy, of aliveness when Mike suddenly departed. Yes, with all the mannerisms, habits and behaviors that I loved or drove me crazy but with him gone, I missed them all.

As I have said before, when Mike passed on to the “next expression of life”, I knew he was and is fine. I was the one left to adjust to the change. To learn how to live with that hole that suddenly appeared. Actually, to first feel the feelings of loss, of sadness, of whatever I am feeling. Feeling my feelings was not a practice I learned growing up or during most of my life. I was more focused on action, doing and thinking. In the last ten to fifteen years, I have learned more about feeling my feelings – even being aware of what my feelings are rather than what I think.

In every experience, I know there is a gift. Some call it the silver lining. Mike’s death gave me the gift of learning to really accept my feelings, to dive down deep into them, and to be present with my feelings – to allow them. Our society doesn’t always encourage us to stop and feel our feelings. We have to move on. What’s next? Keep on keeping on, rather than stopping – to pause and ask, what am I feeling now? Sometimes, especially in the first 2 to 3 years after his death, feelings of grief would come like a wave that crashed over me and I would be overcome with the grief and sadness. Only after developing a practice of diving into the waves of my feelings, could I discover how to collect the energy, the aliveness, the love that was Mike and bring it into my heart to fill the hole. What I have learned is that this process happens over time. It’s not a quick fix. Years, it takes years – and that’s ok.

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