7.23.2013

The Fatalistic Grieving Mind


You think about destiny and fate and spirit. You think about how hard it is to let go and then marvel at the comfort found in ashes and clippings of hair. You think of moving on, perhaps getting another pet. You think today isn't as bad as yesterday, and it's a hell of a lot better than the day before that.

We were going to scatter Angus's ashes, but when we brought him home in his temporary container yesterday, we realized we couldn't do that. We wanted him here with us. I needed him here with us. Having him in the home, even in this form, seemed to fill in at least a little of what had been missing since I came home without him Thursday evening already half immersed in grief because of the state I'd seen him in before I left the vet's office--skating on the thinnest possible ice. Even though I had that brief bit of jubilation when the vet called a few hours later to say Angus had improved, the shadow was still hanging here, the vet's ominous words that it could turn south at any moment ringing through my head as I sailed into sleep and woke up the next morning. And the vet's words ended up being true. I'm sure it wasn't the first time he'd seen this very thing happen. The shadow only proceeded to darken progressively after I received that horrible phone call and then went to visit Angus's body. The teary moments came harder and harder, the black hole yawning wider and wider until the woman at the pet cemetery handed me a box containing the cremains and keepsakes from my beautiful cat, my dear friend and companion.

Bringing him in here quieted the part of me that was always hyper-aware of where Angus was when he was alive, especially toward the end when his breathing had gotten bad enough that I could feel that shadow lurking over us along with a capering fear in the corner of my mind that I would walk into whatever room he was inhabiting and find him dead already. I no longer had to wonder where he was or who was handling him or if he missed me, or (after he died) if he was cold and alone and growing stiff in a dark place.

But I know where he is now. I no longer have to wonder. He is in a beautiful urn on our mantel, and I know for a fact he would like it up there, because he can see out the big front window and he can look out over the rest of the living room and even into my office and feel like the watchful king he was. Yes, I know he can't really see these things. I realize that they're just ashes. I know Angus is dead, and even if he exists in spirit form, it's in me and not an urn full of ashes. But please understand that even the non-religious among us need the comfort of those illusions, these rituals. I think it's human nature and I'm not ashamed of them. Perhaps one day I will release this little security blanket of mine, but right now it helps me cope and I'm clinging away.

My mom helped with everything. She made arrangements I was incapable of making. She helped me pick out the perfect urn today. She also helped me pick out the shadowbox and little frame I'll be using to display a collection of pictures and hair clippings and paw prints. With these rituals comes catharsis and healing. I don't know how I would have gone through any of this without her, frankly. I don't know what I would have done without my husband and his ability to just sit and just listen and stroke my back while I sobbed into a pair of plastic bags that Angus had been lying on for the last few weeks of his life, even leading right up to that fateful vet visit. Everyone should have someone guide them through this sort of darkness and I'm lucky to have the people I have.

Friday and Saturday were the hardest days. Sunday was better. Monday, when we brought Angus home, I felt a calm and invisible hand settle over my raw nerves and I found I could think of him and talk about him without breaking down into a quivering puddle. I felt strong enough to support my kids who are still feeling the sting of it all. I miss him so much, but somehow I'm able to muddle through that longing without becoming inconsolable. I can write, I can eat, I can even make that climb up my stairs at night and get into my Angus-less bed and fall asleep... though it takes a bit longer than usual and sometimes requires the help of a pill. I think of him or that horrific conversation with my vet playing over and over in my head again as I drift off, and those thoughts seem ready to jump into my head the moment I awake, but the storm clouds that would build up in my head and chest the longer those thoughts remained seem a little less full each and every time I let them rain. What's left now is a numbing residue that has settled over everything. It inures the heart but it seems to be blocking the hysteria I felt all this past weekend. I don't know if that's good or bad, but I just think it's part of the process.

Saying goodbye to this is the hardest
Death is not something I've had a whole lot of company with. I have many friends and acquaintances and I have very strong bonds with a select circle of people, and up until now I've been very lucky that I haven't had to experience losing anyone very close. I've only been a spectator to other people's losses. Like when my grandmother (who I wasn't particularly close to in my adult life) died, or when my dad's best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. My heart wept for my parents, but it's different when you're in the driver's seat. I'm not going to spend time weighing the differences between the loss of a fellow human and the loss of a beloved pet. You can't trivialize it. You can't tell me it isn't the same or "lesser." It just "is." It's a yawning black hole of despair from which you must slowly claw yourself day after day and you have to let yourself feel every single thing that climb is doing to you so that your mind can build defenses against it. And you can actively feel your neurons re-routing themselves the way the cops will reroute traffic when a bridge goes out. You can feel cognitive processes changing. The deep grooves that regular routines only a pet can wear into you start to smooth themselves out little by little.

And here you sit. A different person. The kind of person who now tearfully kisses baggies filled with cat hair and whiskers, who pets a receptacle of ashes and bone fragments and talks to thin air when she gets up every morning, all of these things comforting training wheels that will undoubtedly come off when the time is right. I don't plan to rush it. I just have to let it happen.