DEAL WITH IT
Painful experiences happen. That’s part of the unavoidable script of our life. How we deal with it is a personal thing. And how OTHERS deal with OUR traumas is much more complicated.
When I have massive life “disturbances”, I know I will meet many types of responses. Most of these people just want to help in some way. Most are well meaning but many people are also a lot of work when you don’t need the complications.
And then there are animals.
Animals (and children to a certain degree) will be straight forward and uncomplicated. Humans are “more nuanced” or “full of their own baggage” or just plain “difficult”. I know when I’m grieving, I want to grieve and not feel like I need to take care of them, taking care of me, taking care of themselves.
That might be harsh but it’s how I feel, especially on a day like today.
When people ask, “How are you doing?” are they asking because they care for you and want to “be there” for you? Are they asking because it’s the obligatory thing to say so they don’t seem insensitive? Are they asking in an awkward way because your emotion is making them feel awkward and uncomfortable? Are they asking because it’s the quickest way for them to talk about themselves?
“How are you?” they ask.
“Sad.” you say.
“Ohh I’m sorry to hear that. I had a bad week too. My car isn’t working well and I bought the wrong shampoo and look what it’s done to my hair.”
I’m not judging. We have our own baggage making us who we are? Regardless… An animal will sense something is wrong and comfort you or piss off and eat at it’s food dish because he’s hungry. There is no unravelling of complicated intention when all you need is just to “BE”.
SO…. I took a step back from everyone because my grief didn’t ask for complication. I needed to die inside and hurt and cry and not deal with anyone else. I can engage with my empathy for the world again in a couple of days.
For now, I can give the short answer to those who want to know the ‘talking point’ truth. I can give the headline answers to those who want to know the broad strokes. And I can include the details just once for those who want every word.
If you DON’T want the details, here it is in short:
My best friend of nearly the past 18 years is dead. My heart breaks every second.
I will cope. That’s what we do.
That’s what happened. That’s how I feel.
If you want the headlines, skim ahead.
If you want the details… then have at it, as they say.
There’s a lot here and not a lot filtered out. I’m mainly writing for myself.
I don’t like repeating my own history. I don’t like telling stories I’ve already lived through. I’ve lived it. It’s done. But, there are things that everyone will ask about and I feel obliged to respectfully repeat details of the experiences I’d rather not be going over again and again. I suppose it’s a bit of a contract of relationship that most people expect. “Open up, talk to me.” But, I won’t get into that right now.
The following story is one of those bits of my recent history (yesterday) that others ask about and I would rather not go through with every wonderful caring person I know. For those who want the details, they are written below. I won’t have to say them again and again to every person unless you demand it.
THE FULL STORY
Three months later a sandy coloured cat who lived independently in various houses along Maggie street chose me, above all others, as his exclusive human. I don’t know why. I’m grateful he did.
Coincidentally, or maybe as some sort of argument for reincarnation, this cat adopted many of my previous companion’s traits, including sleeping in his bed, caring for sad people who visited and carrying balloons around. He was the only cat I’ve ever met to carry balloons in his teeth. He helped me cope with Fitz’s loss in a big way.
This cat had names tagged onto him from all the other homes he bedded down in. Gerald, Sandy, Red. I called him “Kitty”, (the least original name in the community). I encouraged anyone who visited us to give him any name they thought suited the relationship they had with him. Why not? How are we humans supposed to know what this furry creature calls himself when hanging out with the other cats during singalongs or political discussions or whatever cats do in private?
Over the years, Kitty has taken on the name of Fat Cat, Orange Cat, Sam and others. The vet knew him as Copernicus, probably the most thoughtful name for my ginger travelling explorer given to him by Gavin Williams. Thanks Gavin.
This morning at 1:55 Kitty died.
You, who belittle us who love these animal companions, often more than we care for the general human species, go away. I don’t want to waste yours or my time you blind, self centered, small creature. Is that being judgmental? Let’s move on.
About a week ago, I had been in Portugal rekindling a pandemically damaged relationship and getting back to touring work for the first time in a year and a half. I was supposed to be in Europe working for another 4 weeks.
Then I got the call that Kitty’s kidneys were shutting down and he was no longer eating. My only thought was, “Can I wade through the covid regulations, tests and paperwork as well as switching all my flights and get home to be with him before he died?”
The argument to head back was easy. The value I feel for a relationship that has bettered my life so consistently for the biggest part of two decades screamed to me from inside myself. “RUN FORWARD!” Don’t think. Don’t waste a second. Don’t hesitate! RUN TOWARDS your highest value. Everything else will sort itself out.
I “practiced being psychic” a lot as I ran forward. “Wait for me. Don’t Die. I’m coming back. I’m going to be there soon”.
A few people put forward how disappointed I must have been to cancel my trip.
I’m not sure I understood those statements. I was disappointed that I was losing the most important relationship of my past 18 years. Work/travel will always be there in one form or another. I don’t even like to travel.
When the pandemic hit, it afforded me almost 2 years of “restricted” home life. That’s more consecutive time home than in all of my adult life. I don’t want to seem insensitive to so many who have suffered, but for what you took away from me Covid, you gave me valuable time with Kitty. Thank you for that Covid, you fucker.
My fight to go home might seem a little dramatic but it felt more like desperation. There was a lot of internal grasping at straws because there’s so little control over ultimate actions when you are far away. I’m agnostic but I was running through every possible god and making up a few others trying to encourage everything to work out.
With Tina and her mother’s help (Thanks Tina and her mother) I made plans to leave the country. I cancelled my plans for Germany and Italy (Thanks Giacomo and Guido) and managed to get the required PCR test needed to get me back into Canada. The Canadians take at least 24 hours to produce results for that test. The Portuguese had it done in less than 8. Obrigado Portugal. You got me home one day earlier.
Computer problems in the first airport threatened my flight and the connection to Canada but it worked out. Barely.
I “slept” on a floor in London because the flight was the only connection I could make to get home. I watched 8 hours of live feed of reporters trying to make something seem exciting about one of the most boring Canadian election ever where the political parties ran at break neck speed to produce a result that changed nothing that existed before the election. Fascinating… or not.
There was no communication during my 9 hours in flight about Kitty and I kept imagining the words, “You are too late. He’s gone.” popping up on my phone when I landed. But fate was on my side. Thanks fate.
Elizabeth picked me up and drove me home. Thanks Elizabeth.
On the drive back from the airport however, Elizabeth’s warnings confirmed the failing state Kitty was in. “He stopped eating. He’s losing strength”.
When I saw him, he could barely walk but I was told that he was “spunkier than he had been in the past few days” when he saw me.
Before I left for Europe, he was still an independent Kitty. Less than a week later, he was wetting the bed and fighting to keep his balance. I knew that he only had a few days left at this rate.
I picked him up and kissed his furry face.
A side note. Kitty would always purr when he saw me after arriving home from travel. He didn’t need a pat on the head or scratching under the chin or to be offered food. He saw me. He purred happily. He liked me. (and I liked him). I never heard him purr this time. I think that’s what scared me the most.
For the past years we had a nightly ritual where he would jump onto the bed, look at me or tap the blanket. I would lift the blanket and he would crawl under the covers as far as he could only to make a U-turn, come back up to the top and rest his front half under the pillow with the rest of him across my arm and under the blanket. He would lean left or right which told me how to move his legs to make both of us more comfortable and then would start purring, cuddled close for the night. When he was close, his purring in my chest was a happy vibrating, rumbling happiness.
I recently learned that a cat’s purring, besides showing joy, might also have some therapeutic value, benefiting a cat’s physical well being.
If it does nothing for a human’s physical well being as well, I can attest to the value of my bettered mental health from that beautiful meditative sound and feeling. I loved that quality so much that I recorded it so that I could play it to myself whenever I wanted. I never needed to play it though because he was always broadcasting. Thank you Kitty.
For his remaining 4 days he never purred again but he did cuddle close and called for me if I was away from him for more than a few seconds. And I was rarely away for more than a few seconds.
HIS LAST DAYS
On his last days I learned the sound of the particular MEOW for wanting to go to the bathroom and was able to help him MOST times get to his litter box. When he wanted to walk I assisted, carrying the weight of his body while his legs directed me to where he wanted to go.
If there was sunshine, he still wanted to lay in it. At night, he still wanted to snuggle close. I slept about two hours at a time and got used to it. I started feeling like a cat because I would sleep at odd times, even in the day. There’s a Buddhist saying that I like. It says “Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired” That’s exactly what Kitty does and what I learned to do. Or maybe it was the jet lag hitting and I didn’t really care when I slept.
On Kitty’s last day Lee offered to drive us to the Vet to pick up some more saline solution. (thanks Lee). I had to inject Kitty every day to keep him hydrated.
We decided to grab a drink at Tim Hortons. Kitty enjoyed car rides if I held him and he could look out the window (like Fitz did). We went to a park on the way home. We sat for a while and then I carried him on his pillow for a little walk like an elephant carrying the King in his cushy mobile thrown. I think the air was good for him and we were able to stay in physical contact. His last little adventure.
That night at 1:30 Kitty’s organs shut down. His muscles got tense. His breathing got shallow and I started wishing that maybe I should have taken another path and asked the vet to end his life. My agnostic side went out the window and I was pleading for whatever god, being or spirit that exists out there to take him quickly.
At 1:55 Kitty took three slow big breaths and died.
I held him and shut his eyes and I felt my heart ripping apart violently. I apologized to him. I told him how much I loved him. There are emotional states so strong that sound without language comes from us. Moaning, wailing, heavy, hurting, grief and pain.
I knew that he would become cold and then his physical death would be undeniable. I held on to the warmth of his life as it escaped and squeezed his little paws and kissed his eyelids. And I remembered the recording I had on my computer.
I played the sounds of his purring on a loop and curled up beside him one last time.
The words, “the last time” were happening constantly now. No matter how much I wanted to stay in the moment, I kept thinking this is the last time I will hold you. This is the last time I will brush you. This is the last kiss and it would destroy me again and again.
We laid there until the sun rose. His body had become rigid but the pads of his paws always stayed soft even though they turned from that beautiful living pink to a yellowish-white.
I put him on his little cushion bed and took him outside on the balcony where we would sit and have breakfast so many times in the past. I watched a bleeding sunset spill away into morning. I took him to each of the spots he loved one last time. I know I did it for me -some stupid ritual because I couldn’t control anything really important.
…Under the printer on the pillow. In his ‘cat cave’ on the day bed. Under the work table where the 11 AM sun would live. On the welcome sign at the front door. By specific plants. The bench in the backyard where he would watch me in the garden.
Leaving the bedroom for the last time was the hardest room to leave. Knowing he would never be back to curl up with me is like losing a truth that you feel should be unbreakable. Gravity stops, your language won’t work, your heart gives up suddenly. Your closest companion stops BEING physically present in your world.
In the backyard, I left him on the bench as I had done many times over the years while I worked and he would play or sleep nearby. This time, I was digging a grave in the garden by the fence and gathering the things I wanted to leave with him.
A lot of birds and squirrels watched and got close. One squirrel stayed just over my shoulder in the tree before quietly going away. Usually they make a lot of angry sounds.
I wrapped him in my t shirt and found some favourite flowers
I brought him his favourite morning brush, some treats, a toy, and some of the fallen leaves and pieces of the garden including the cat plant he likes so much. I also cut a piece of my hair and put it next to him. (And I cut a piece of his fur and have it with me)
I brushed his fur… one last time. Heart break.
But the hardest, hardest, hardest thing was to close the lid on his little coffin knowing I would never touch him, or see him again.
It took more than an hour with the lid. One last touch. One last kiss. One more. One more.
I left a lot of tears on his fur.
I wrapped his final home in plastic so the water would not reach the wood.
Covering his box with dirt was more heart break.
Every step made more distance between the physical Kitty and me.
Placing him in the box. Closing the lid. Placing him into the ground. Covering him with earth. Further and further and each step digging deeper and deeper into my heart.
I made sure he was placed so that he faces the bedroom and we can sleep in each other’s direction. Just rituals and band aid behaviour to make something seem “ok” “It’s ok. It’s alright. It will be ok.” It’s a tiny patch on a dam that’s breaking.
Next year I might plant a vine that turns orange/red in the fall like his fur and his last sunrise.
CLEARING THE SHRAPNEL
And then… I cleaned the litter boxes, Washed and removed all of his dishes, gathered all the mats that his dishes rested on, and I packed away all of his food to give to Lee for his cats. (Thank you Kitty, says Lee’s cats)
I’m at Tim Horton’s having a drink and bit of food, writing this. When I go home… Kitty won’t be there. I need to build a new home.
Tom was home and I felt bad not talking to him… but this is not about anyone else right now. I get at least 24 hours just for me. A few words and I went up to my room and I did something I hadn’t in many years. I shut the door.
All those years my door always stayed open enough for Kitty to come and go.
It doesn’t seem like much, to shut a door but the room was foreign to me like that. I laid down in my bed and stared at the closed door. I turned on the news for distraction. 10 minutes later, the door opened.
Kitty could open doors that weren’t completely shut if there wasn’t enough room for him to pass through. But there was no Kitty. But there was no person either. The door opened and I left it like that.
It was probably just the breeze and the door hadn’t been shut properly but it was right that it stayed open.
When it got dark I set a fire outside in the fire pit beside Kitty’s resting spot and put a candle on the dirt. one last time with him outside. I wrote a little and looked over at the candle and noticed the shadows were forming the shape of a heart (you look at the picture and judge).
The rocks all came from the ground that I dug through. The big rock at the front had no significance at the time except that it was the biggest. The welcome gift of coincidence or whatever, was this little image of love that I feel for Kitty.
People often describe humans negatively with animal words, “Dog, Pig, Sloth”. Even the word animal itself has negative connotations. “You are an animal.”
People will often try to raise animals to an assumed high point by relating them to people. “The way the monkey grabs the stick is almost human.” “How that dog looks at me is ALMOST HUMAN”. They even dress them daily in little human clothes.
We humans tie our ego and worth to being “superior” but consider that a dog can smell cancer in your cells or travel miles to find you, and an Elephant tribe can peacefully exist and honour their dead, and a cat can come to you when you need a friend while most humans chase illusions of money, fame, fashion or politics. We humans should relate to them as superior in many ways.
You are almost cat like in your calmness. You are almost as loyal as a dog. You are almost as committed as a Sandhill Crane. You have almost as much empathy as a Capybara.
The people in my world who are almost like a cat or dog are the humans I can almost appreciate as much as I love KITTY or FITZ.