Have you ever been at work and someone takes a personal day because their cat died, and someone in the office (maybe even you) rolls their eyes at the idea that a pet dying requires any personal grieving time?
I’ve seen it. I know some folks don’t understand. Or don’t want to understand. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t loved a pet themselves. Or they have yet to ever say good bye to a pet that they’ve loved. Or maybe they once lived on a farm and it was senseless to get emotional for every barn cat that had an accident and died. Or maybe they are grieving something else that they feel is so much bigger and harder. Like losing a parent, a child, or a spouse.
Whatever the reason, this feeling that grieving a pet is trivial, unimportant, and even an indulgence, causes many to downplay their grief.
Two weeks ago my dear friend passed away. We had been roommates for over 15 years. I had known her for 19 years. She trusted very few people, but she let me in, when she needed to. She hated it when I tried to show her my affection, but she was all bark, no bite. My entire life was altered by her presence. Everything I did, in my home, was in some way to accommodate this co-habitation. My decisions were made based on a respect for her, and her needs. I’ve grown accustomed to her face.*
Her name is Ghost. My father named her. She was all white, two different coloured eyes, and deaf at birth. She was a wretched runt when she was found on the streets, and my father brought her back to health, and cared for her for the first 4 years of her life. Then… she became a member of my household. She lived in 5 different apartments with me, saw me through my marriage from the day I met him, to the day I left him, she has had two fur friend companions, and she loved Alex very very much.
She was “just” a cat. But she was my cat. She was my friend. And I loved her for a very long time.
She had a good life. 19 1/2 years! She was mostly healthy until recent years, and even then she managed just fine. She played. She demanded what she wanted. And even though she would never admit it, her love for us was clear in the small moments of our days with her.
Grief is a bitch.
I respect grief. I know that it will move in, take up residence, and only be ready to move out when it has exhausted all of it’s shenanigans. For now, I carry grief. Two weeks later and I still have moments when grief takes over, leaving my body shaking with sobs, tears clouding my eyes, and heat rising in my chest.
Grief evolves. For the first days after she passed, I couldn’t do heart openers without feeling like my whole inside was exposed to the outside. Now, I can back bend again.
Grief is a trickster. We went on vacation, and for 5 days not a tear. Just laughing together at our memories of her. When we came home, grief showed us it was still here. Just hiding, just pretending to be done. Grief is not done.
Ghost was my cat. And yet, I find myself comparing notes with my friend who’s grandmother is sick and dying. Her grief in anticipation of her loss, is so similar. Is it more? Is it less?
Does it have to be measured?
We grieve. The house feels empty. Morag* needs extra snuggles.
Today we go get her ashes. Give her a proper goodbye.
Goodbye Ghost. I’m so grateful that I had the gift of loving you for so long.
* My Fair Lady