The recent death of my cat brought home to me how dealing with grief gets complicated in our lives.
In some ways, his death was not nearly as upsetting as the weeks preceding it during his illness when I felt helpless. I tried to do everything I could to take care of him. The truth is, I did what any decent pet owner would- called the vet when his condition changed, administered medication, and ultimately, put him to sleep to take him out of pain when it became clear to me that the alternatives wouldn't work.
Yet after his death I felt not relief, but more intense grief and tremendous guilt. I realized that his death was reminding me of something else.
I recall many years ago losing a pet after my dad died and as I wept in the vet's office, he pointed out to me that I wasn't just crying for my pet, but for my father's death. I've always been grateful to that wise man for his kind words, for teaching me not to judge my feelings.
My intense feelings about Buddy's death helped me realize that grief had yet another lesson to teach me, one I hadn't recognized. This time it was a lesson about guilt.
It's only now that I realize there was nothing more I could have done, not only for my pet, but also for my father, who died suddenly before I could get home, and for any number of friends who have died in situations where I felt I 'should' have done something. For example, some of my friends with disabilities have taken their own lives or died in accidents. This has been very hard to witness. I've asked myself were there signals I missed? How could I not have known?
I'm finally learning that sometimes there isn't anything we can do. It's not always a question of letting others down when we become helpless bystanders, but a recognition of our human limitations.
Over the past four days my rescue kitty Riley (a tabby shown in the photo) has gone from whimpering in my lap for hours to going on 3 am scouting missions to discover windows and other special cat places. It's reminded me of Buddy's kitten days, when he too would wander around at night, then hop into the bed in the wee hours to report back to me that he discovered that knocking over things in the bathtub makes a great noise. I greet Riley with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, instead of urging him to go back to sleep, just as I did with Buddy, knowing that he'll grow up soon enough and his scouting days will be over.
Having a young cat around is not only healing because I lost a pet, but because it's a way to affirm that the deaths I've witnessed are just part of a cycle, one that I believe goes beyond death, and are no less joyful for having been lived despite how they may end in this world.