Monday, August 21, 2023

Pet Loss: A Run-Away Train of Grief

I have lived with several Zen masters -- all of them cats. ~ Eckhart Tolle 

A reader writes: My beautiful lilac-point Siamese passed away earlier this month. I took her to the emergency clinic where they took blood tests and kept her through the weekend hydrating her. That Monday I transferred her to the Cat Care Clinic where she stayed another day. I was taught how to hydrate her and how to force-feed her. She wasn't even drinking water, though she would go to her water bowl and cry. She was trying to get well, but couldn't.
She had seen me over the years come back from the dead more times than I can count and was trying to emulate me. For three weeks she lived on my chest -- hardly moving, needing and giving comfort. When I asked her why she was putting herself through that rather than taking the easy way out by dying she told me she was waiting for me to learn to grieve and celebrate all in one breath. My 15 year-old kitty was wiser than I... Eventually she started having violent seizures on my chest and I asked her if she wanted me to help her die. She said she was OK with the dying process but that if I felt strong enough to go through euthanasia she wouldn't object. Two gentle, beautiful souls at the clinic came in to help her and after an agonizing hour she finally let go. She was in peace the whole time though I was crying hysterically. Her little veins had all collapsed, and her heart was so little it had trouble pumping well enough to get the liquid to it. I kept telling her it was OK, that it was only a body and that we would be together always.

Though at times I can actually forget my grief for a little while, it's so raw that I have become intolerant of others, not my usual loving self. I pace all night, missing her on my neck, I get on the computer and play stupid games just to dull the pain. I am a spiritual being and know all things happen for my highest good, yet I would trade places with her in a heartbeat. Yes, I know all the right things, but they don't matter right now. I'm in agony and don't know how to stop this run-away train.

My response: I'm so very sorry for your loss. If there were a way to stop this pain, which you so accurately describe as a runaway train, I’d be the first to tell you about it. The simple fact of the matter is that grief hurts, and there is a reason for it: Your heart has been wounded ~ cut, torn and ripped apart. The pain you feel is a measure of your love for the one who has died. It is the price we all pay for loving our animal companions as much as we do. Where there is no great love, there is no pain.

I can think of no more accurate description of the agony of grief than this:

. . . Grief is a tidal wave that overtakes you,

smashes down upon you with unimaginable force,

sweeps you up into its darkness,

where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces,

only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped.

Grief means not being able to read more than two sentences at a time.

It is walking into rooms with intention that suddenly vanishes.

Grief is three o’clock in the morning sweats that won’t stop.

It is dreadful Sundays, Mondays that are no better.

It makes you look for a face in the crowd,

knowing full well the face we want cannot be found in that crowd.

Grief is utter aloneness that razes the rational mind

and makes room for the phantasmagoric.

It makes you suddenly get up and leave in the middle of a meeting,

without saying a word.

Grief makes what others think of you moot.

It shears away the masks of normal life

and forces brutal honesty out of your mouth

before propriety can stop you.

It shoves away friends,

scares away so-called friends,

and rewrites address books for you.

Grief makes you laugh at people who cry over spilled milk,

right to their faces.

It tells the world that you are untouchable

at the very moment when touch

is the only contact that might reach you.

It makes lepers out of upstanding citizens.

Grief discriminates against no one.

It kills. Maims. And cripples.

It is the ashes from which the phoenix rises,

and the mettle of rebirth.

It returns life to the living dead.

It teaches that there is nothing absolutely true or untrue.

It assures the living that we know nothing for certain.

It humbles. It shrouds. It blackens. It enlightens.

Grief will make a new person out of you,

if it doesn’t kill you in the making.

~ Stephanie Ericsson, in Companion through the Darkness: Inner Dialogues on Grief

What to do with the pain? Accept it, lean into it, endure it. Know that with every tear, with every sob, with every wave of pain, you will be moving closer to the cherished memories that will heal your broken heart. In the days and weeks ahead, do whatever brings you comfort, and do what you can to remember the love, the good times, and the wonderful memories you’ve been privileged to share with your beloved kitty. Know too that I am thinking of you and holding you close in my heart.

Afterword: Thank you, Marty, for that beautiful and perfect poem. All day today I have been actually holding my hands against my chest trying to push the pieces together... such agony... I will read this again when my head stops pounding so much. Thank you for your gentle kindness, and thank you for the articles you have put together on grieving for your pet. I got a lovely card from the Cat Care Clinic with all of the staff writing gentle notes to me. Since the pet grieving group meets Monday nights and I have choir, I can't meet with them but your words of wisdom in each of your writings have been wonderful. They make me cry, yes, but it's OK.  This has been a life-saver and, I think, better than a physical group for me because it allows me the freedom to read the articles when I'M ready for each one and, because I'm at home, I can cry as loud and as deep, and as long as I want without feeling self-conscious. They are beautifully and mindfully written and the links you suggest have been perfect. Your work is truly appreciated.

My response: Obviously I believe very strongly that, with sufficient information and support, there is much we can do to help ourselves through grief, and when circumstances and schedules are such that we cannot obtain that information and support “in person,” the Internet offers an easily accessible and powerful alternative.

I also believe very strongly that, while loss creates a deep and painful emotional wound, it is an injury that can be healed. Your response is a powerful affirmation of my belief that, with accurate information, help and understanding, the pain of loss can be transformed into a challenging new beginning, and the grief experience can become a healthy, positive and healing process. If ever I needed encouragement to continue doing what I do, your message does just that. I thank you for presenting me with such a gift, even while you are in such pain.

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Image source: Lilac Point Siamese
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH   

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