I’m not good at this.
I’m not good at all.
I should be…I’ve had plenty of practice.
But I’m not.
No matter how many losses I’ve had or how prepared I am, losing a loved one sucks. Plain and simple – it sucks.
I lost my kitty Dori today and my heart is breaking in a million pieces. One by one. I told my husband that from now on, I’m sticking with goldfish. Perhaps I won’t get so attached.
But I will. I have a goldfish and I am attached.
It’s who I am.
It’s who we are.
If you are reading this, you are a human who loves deeply. And when you love deeply, losing a loved-one breaks your heart into a million pieces. You may not form weird attachments to goldfish, as I do, but you get where I’m coming from.
Truth be told, I need animals in my life. They are my little guardian angels. My therapists. They love me at times when I can’t love myself.
I also need meaningful human relationships, whether or not I like to admit it. I’ve experienced enough loss in my life to know that relationships are risky.
I take the risk because it’s in my biology. It’s in all of our biology. Introverts and extroverts alike need meaningful relationships for emotional health. And animal lovers need furry, feathered, or scaly companions to nourish our souls.
Loving an animal almost guarantees grieving at some point.
Dori was my mom’s cat that I adopted 10 years ago, after Mom passed away unexpectedly. Just 9 months prior, Mom had packed up her most cherished belongings, including her sassy/opinionated cat, and moved from Virginia to Seattle.
Mom was 71. Dori was 3.
It was Mom’s new beginning. Her new lease on life. She was finally close to her children and grandchildren, and she found happiness.
It was also an amazing period of my life. I was dating a fabulous guy whom my mom adored (and I ultimately married). My job sent me around the world where I met many amazing people (with whom I’m still friends today). And, Mom and I rekindled our relationship that had grown distant over the years.
Then suddenly, my mom was gone. Poof. Just like that. Gone.
In many ways, the emotions I experienced were deja vu to twenty-three years earlier when my dad died after his car collided with a loose horse on a Montana highway. He was 47 and I was 12.
Their cause of death was different but the outcome was the same; tragic and excruciating grief.
At 35, I wasn’t ready to be an orphan.
So I took Dori in, though many advised against it. A therapist suggested I would eventually grieve my mom again. My vet expressed concern that Dori didn’t get along with my two cats, Eek and Izzy. In fact, Dori and Izzy had waged a full-on war in our house – even sending me to the ER after a failed attempt to mediate a passionate kitty argument.
Most people in their right mind would have rehomed Dori. But, I wasn’t in my right mind. I was grieving. Dori was my last living memory of my mom.
I needed her and she needed me.
The cats eventually worked things out and Dori helped me say goodbye to both Eek and Izzy. Eek died of old age; Izzy of a broken heart three weeks later. That year, I lost my mom, Eek, and Izzy within 6 months of each other.
Without Dori, I wouldn’t have coped.
Now she’s gone and I’m incredibly sad. I have to grieve and I hate grieving. It’s painful, disruptive and at times debilitating. And that therapist was right; I am grieving my mom all over again.
Practice may not make perfect, but it has taught me to be gentle with myself. It’s important to acknowledge and feel the deep anguish that comes with loss. It’s taught me that grief has a mind of its own. I can’t control what I feel, how I feel it and when I feel it. There are days when I feel great and can express gratitude. There are days I feel like Pig Pen, followed by a dark, stinky cloud. I embrace them all.
Not too long ago, I was chatting with a friend who had experienced a tragic and unexpected loss. She expressed that she felt like she was learning to live as an amputee; learning a new way of being.
What a brilliant analogy. You get on with life, and eventually begin to function and feel joy again. Yet, somehow you are never the same.
As time passes, the happy memories overshadow the sadness. It does get easier. But the sense of loss never fully goes away. It’s been 33 years and I still miss my dad. It’s been 10 years and I still miss my mom. I miss Eek and Izzy. I still cry. I avoid Mother’s Day and Father’s Day so I don’t have to feel. But, I do feel. It sucks.
There’s also something special about loss. Someone may disappear from our immediate lives, but they are always with us – just a picture, a feeling, or a memory away. When graced with these memories we remember the impact they’ve had on our lives and on our world. We acknowledge that we are better people because of them.
That’s the beauty of the human spirit. We honor the legacy of our loved ones throughout our entire lives.
Both my mom and dad taught me to love animals with every ounce of my being. They taught me to value education, creativity, freedom of thought, and to stand on my own two feet. They are present within me, every single day.
Dori gave me 10 more years with my mom. She also turned out to be an incredibly loving kitty and one of my best models. I tried to give her a great life - organic food, clean cat box, and I even remodeled my house for her comfort and enrichment. I think she appreciated it. I think she enjoyed her life, despite having to share it with two unworthy cats and an imbecile dog (her words, not mine). For that I’m grateful.
On a final note…if you or someone you know is grieving, understand that no one grieves the same way. No one grieves at the same pace. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Don’t judge the process. Embrace it and be kind.
While you will never be the same, you will learn a new way of living that keeps your loved ones embedded in your heart – forever. You will cherish their memories and the gifts they gave the world. Until then, be loving, tolerant, and patient with yourself and others.
It does get easier.