Animal companions, loss, and grief.

orange tabby in the sun
This cat gets it. The sun IS life.

This post is heavy. And raw. And I’m sorry, in a way, to share it. But hopefully you’ll forgive me! Next week will be better.

You know me. I like to joke and have fun! It’s my favorite thing to do—approach the world with a sarcastic hilarity that makes me laugh all the painful stuff off. I’m like Terry Pratchett that way (I love his approach to life and death!).

But I need to tell you all about this. Just know that you are free to skip it and do what we all do to get by: pretend that life isn’t painful.

My cat died a few days before Thanksgiving. We’ve had him for 15 years. He’s been sick and suffering for a while, but I think we hoped eventually he’d recover and be ok for a few more years.

He continued to decline. We had to face the music. You know how hard this stuff is. You know that these are the Things About Life No One Wants to Deal With.

His name was Sobek and he passed away on Monday. We buried him near where my other cat is buried (and his surrogate mother), in my childhood home (my sister bought it a few years ago and is renting it to my cousin).

It was a warm day for November in northern Utah. My daughter, Zoe, played on the jungle gym. My son helped Stoker dig the hole.

There were ghosts everywhere there, for me. Remnant memories of my childhood. Of all the animals we’d ever had funerals for as children, of my many past cats, of my mom shouting at me from the deck to put my shirt on as I played outside with my BF cousin (male, the one living in the house now), as a five-year-old. I know. Yes. I played with my shirt off. The boys did it. Why couldn’t I?

Grief is such a strange thing. I don’t understand it.

The week passed like a rough old beast that can’t be tamed. I went to work. My son went to school and called me often from his 3rd grade classroom.

Yesterday, I sat in the car as Stoker ran into a store to grab a coffee. I thumbed through a workbook the school counselor sent home for our son to use to work through his grief. It helped me understand my own.

The song “Breakers Roar” started playing. It’s this old-style country song by Sturgill Simpson.

Stoker trained to become a recording engineer in Nashville (he’s really amazing at it!). That’s where we adopted Sobek. And it’s where I also grew to appreciate old school country.

The song. It’s just. Wow. Poignant. Moving. I don’t listen to country that much, but when I do, it’s generally older stuff like that.

It hit a nerve. I was crying, suddenly. Just overcome with the song, with the sublime nature of life. The pain that we must embrace or allow to ruin us, turn us into angry humans, afraid of empathy and love.

I saw the four of us as though in an out-of-body experience, my little family, in the room at the vet’s, holding Sobek before we released him and let him return to light and energy, before he slept what Mary Oliver calls the “unshakeable sleep,” (blog post featuring the whole poem).

It all hurt so much. I kept seeing my son’s little 8-year-old face crumpled into tears and anguish. I saw Stoker holding Sobek tight and weeping. And Corbet looking at me like he was going to explode, like he didn’t understand how something could hurt so much.

I know. I really get it too, Corbet.

And it was so, so beautiful, but so painful. It ached so much.

But within the ache and the pain and the immense sorrow that I can barely hold inside my body, is this respect and awe at the other side of all that—the joy.

Life is beautiful. If we let it be that. But we have to be dedicated to love, to never letting the anger take away the love and dearest parts of what we may have and hold.

I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hurt again like I have been hurting for the cat that was such a good companion for so long.

But I will. Because it’s worth it. Besides, I’m already in this deep. What can I do now but face all of it with the aplomb and dedication that my ancestors gave me?

I hardly understand love and suffering and how in the blink of an eye we can be holding onto a warm, living body only to have it suddenly go cold. I don’t get any of that. But I will choose it all again and again.

I must be an idiot.

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