Just like we don't necessarily choose who we love, we can't necessarily choose who we mourn, or how we mourn.
I've lost people in my life, dear people, people who I think about everyday and wish I could see them just one more time. I've lost other animals in my life, animals who made me feel my humanity more than most of the humans in my life have. But a few days ago I lost my cat Brandy, and I don't know if I've ever quite felt this quality of sadness and loss before in my life.
I write those words with the full knowledge that I am lucky.
Yes, I'm lucky that such sadness has not touched my life before. For many I've known, the loss that I feel right now has rolled over them more times than a single person deserves. But I am also so grateful that the love I feel for my girl, my beautiful kitty companion has branched out into longing, aching, sorrow. It's all a part of loving her, and I want every last moment.
I'm hurting, I miss her so much, but not everyone gets to experience such love for another being. The pain is precious. It's a piece of life — both my mine and hers. The pain will dull, I believe it will become tolerable and I'll stop crying. Yet I look forward to always being able to reach out and touch these memories, that they will always be tender.
But isn't it strange how guilt can creep into almost every emotional experience? Well, it does for me. I don't think I've ever felt such anger at guilt invading my thoughts as I have in the past few days.
So I tried to abandon it quickly. Not guilt over what I could have done differently for her, I am at peace with her passing — at home, in my arms, with my husband cradling her little head as her heart beat once...twice...silence — but guilt over mourning for my cat in a much more intense way than I have for humans I've lost.
"This is my sadness!" I screamed in my head, "Nobody gets to tell me it's not alright! Not even me!"
Relief from that guilt came from an unexpected place.
In this haze that I'm operating under, I'm surprised by the things that stick in my head, bring me comfort or some peace. I keep thinking back to a short email Lesley wrote to me recently. In times like this there are beacons that light our way to the next baby step. Lesley's words were such a beacon.
Last week I wrote Lesley to tell her I couldn't write more for the week because I'd been staying up 24/7 keeping Brandy comfortable — flipping her over when she couldn't breathe well, carrying her to the litter box, cleaning her up when she didn't make it, lifting her little head to lap at food or water. I had put off writing that email for a while because I wasn't sure how it sounded.
Though the words, "My cat is dying, all I have in me is going to keeping her happy and comfortable. I can't do anything else," made perfect sense to me, I wasn't sure how they might look in an email to my boss. Did "normal" people work through this? Was this the epitome of being unprofessional and entitled? I don't know why I wasted such energy on those thoughts. I knew better, I knew Lesley better.
I finally decided that I feel how I feel and I had to take care of myself so I could take care of Brandy. She was the most important matter in my life. So I sent my email.
Very quickly I received a response from Lesley. For the sake of her privacy I won't tell you the details of what she wrote, but in a few short sentences she allowed me to open the floodgates of my sadness. I'm not sure if she even knew exactly what she was doing, but she gave me the gift of expelling guilt and knowing that I was not the only one who has ever felt such anguish over a pet.
In some ways I'm so obedient that I even needed a "grown up" to tell me it's OK to mourn.
Essentially, Lesley gave me permission to feel every little bit of my grief, fear, and sadness. It was horrible and wonderful and nauseating and I relished it. I still relish it. My last hours with Brandy are seared into my memory with such terrible clarity and strength of emotion that I am forever changed.
It was a gift and I will forever be grateful to you, Lesley.
What I have to come to terms with is that there is no right or wrong to mourning. My mourning Brandy in no way diminishes the loss I, or others, have felt for humans. Forgive me for sounding maudlin, but it all comes down to love. I loved and love my little cat so fiercely, it's a small miracle of humanity that we are capable of such feeling.
Amidst all the metaphysical talk being bandied about in my home lately — feeling Brandy's energy still, "what is a soulmate?", my husband and I seeing her out of the corner of our eyes — I find Brandy's death grounding. I've never felt more human.
As a person who has always tried to float above her more difficult feelings, Brandy's death has forced me to not only come face to face with my fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, but to swim in them. The strength I usually reserve for keeping my emotions at bay is not available to me.
So I've crumbled into a mess of "humanness." As a person who battles anxiety and depression on a daily basis, it's terrifying but... I'm still here. I haven't been incinerated by the heat of my feelings.
From the other side of Brandy's death, I think a big part of me was afraid of feeling her death; that somehow I wouldn't emotionally survive. I wasn't sure I was capable.
But I am capable. Maybe it's Brandy's last earthly gift to me. This pain, this loss, this sadness is what makes me human — it's all a part of loving someone. I can and will survive this, and as hard as it is to believe right now, I will be better for it.
Thank you, little girl. I'm a better person for having loved you.