On life after death

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer


My mother once had a cat she adored. Babe was a tiny white and grey thing who was perpetually settled on Mom’s lap. Whenever the subject of another cat comes up, Mom says, “Oh no, I could never go through that kind of loss again.” Even though Babe died fifteen years ago, Mom hasn’t been able to release the impact of that moment.

Charlie and LynxterI’ve always been a cat person. First there was Fluffy (really), a black and white kitten I tucked into my pocket and took home from my piano teacher’s house without permission. Fluffy lived all through my school years, and there was more than one embarrassing moment when I was sent outside to find him. I’d roam the neighbourhood crying “Here Fluffy, kittykittykitty.” It was probably cute when I was six.  I’m not so sure it carried the same charm at sixteen.

My next cat was a delight. She was named Charlie Chaplin because of her moustache. And also because it had nicer connotations than Adolph. She was a brilliant conversationalist. We would play throw–that is, she would mouse a little cotton ball over to me and I would throw it repeatedly until she got tired. She was always in scritching distance, responding with a rumbling purr that I miss intensely. When her health began to fail, she stopped eating, drinking and purring. She was nearly 19 by then, arthritic and in considerable pain. I remember trying to coax her with her favourites–tuna, cat milk, catnip, treats. Finally I said, “Charlie-girl, if this keeps up, I’ll have to take you the vet, and he’ll want to put you down.” I’ll never forget the way she turned her head to me and let her purr fill the room.

That was five years ago. I miss her all the time.

When Charlie was ten or so, I adopted a playmate for her. Lynxy–a much quieter tabby–bounced around Charlie, teasing and testing limits. On the day that limit was reached, Charlie lifted a paw and boxed Lynxy’s ears, flinging her across the room. She hit the louvered door with DSCN3080a resounding thud that forever ended the alpha cat debate. Though they seldom touched they were always in the same room. When Charlie died, it was clear they’d been best friends.

Now Lynxy herself is ten so just last week we adopted another rescue cat. Sydney is a tiny torbi, barely six pounds. So far, we haven’t heard her purr, though we have learned she has an opinion on everything.  I hope to enjoy Lynxy’s company for years, but I’m keenly aware that she is in the second half of her life now. I know her presence eased the intense grief I felt when Charlie died. I hope Sydney will be here to help me again when it’s Lynxy’s turn.

IMG_0375Sydney is tiny, just as Babe was–which brings me back to my mother. I’d love to find a companion cat for her, but Mom’s refusal is absolute. She is not willing to feel that kind of pain again.

On this, we disagree. Neither Lynxy nor Sydney can replace the wonderful relationship I had with Charlie, but then, they shouldn’t. I will risk the pain of loss because there is an equal measure of joy.

I’m not faulting my Mom, but in a way she is stuck in that single moment of grief. It seems to get considerably more attention than all the wonderful moments she shared with Babe.

Don’t we do the same with people sometimes? We clutch the precise moment of loss so tightly we can’t seem to breathe without it. It’s as though we feel we will somehow be discounting how important that person was to us, that we would be dishonouring their memory if we dared to let go and live without them.

Then I wonder if the person who died would want that for us.

What would he say if we were able to ask?

I’m not saying grief isn’t important or that it must follow a particular timeline. It can’t, for it is too raw and complicated and necessary and different for everyone. We lament because the person mattered. We feel the hurt and the pain every day because the person was part of our everyday. No one else can impact our world the way they did.

But choosing joy sometimes? That won’t make them matter less. In fact, wouldn’t it honour their existence even more?

What do you think?

 

5 thoughts on “On life after death

  1. I agree with you, Crystal. Someone I love just found out that their friend has terminal cancer. They said that they will NEVER make another friend again. They can’t bear the loss.

    While I understand the heartbreak that comes with death, its difficult for me to relate to that type of thinking. And knowing this person, they mean it. They’ve lost one friend already and now potentially another. They are done. Until I read this it never really dawned on me that they are “stuck” in the previous loss.

    The situation gave me ample room to think about my BF who passed away several years ago. I wrote about it for the “sudden death” prompt. It was difficult. But then I got the idea to work backwards and recall how our friendship began and grew. That is bringing even further healing.

    Someone once said “It is better to love and lose, then to never love at all.” I have to agree with that. The longer I live the more people I say “see you later” to. But its worth it for the good times we’ve shared.

    You’re smart to overlap your pets like this. Your cats are beautiful. We have a little hotdog who is 14.5 and dealing with health issues. We’ve decided against another pet because we hope to travel. So, I’m going to be a mess when he leaves. But I’ll have a lot of memories and photographs to help me with the grief.

    1. Melinda, I’m so sorry for your loss, and I will be praying for your friend. It was a hard post to write, because I believe that grieving is a very important process, one in which there are no shortcuts or timeframes. But I’ve seen a few people be stuck in time, and while I don’t deny their need to grieve, I get concerned that they won’t be courageous enough to accept other gifts. It’s not a judgement. I’m sure it will happen to me at some point too.

      And it’s not that I don’t want to remember–I think of my grandmother nearly every day. My nephew and my sister-in-law too. I’ve been calling both cats Charlie quite accidentally this week because I miss her so much.

      Sigh, there’s no easy answers, are there?

      I know what you mean about your pets. We like to travel too, but that’s partly why we got another cat. Lynxy is so very lonely when we’re gone. I’m hoping Sydney can be good company for her too.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Today was a good day to read this piece on letting go. Our son called us early this morning to say that Grandma L’Hereux passed away the previous evening. Everyone knew she was in pain and everyone knew that, most recently, she had slipped into a coma. Grandma was Michelle’s grandma. I remember her at our son’s wedding….she was a robust 77 year old little thing. For the next 16 years, she became even livelier, if that could be possible! As far as I can tell, the 103 years she spent on earth were not wasted. So, as I drove to ‘the kids” house this morning, with tears in my eyes, to give them an extra-special 7:15 a.m. hug, I didn’t know exactly what I’d find.
    Michelle was smiling that knowing smile of hers that always speaks of patience, hope, God’s love and kindness and all things that are important in life. Three of the four grandkids were doing what they do at that time of the morning…life goes on. The two oldest knew about their Great-grandma’s passing, and were somewhat quieter than usual. The baby only wanted me to have a bite of her toast! Yes, letting go and hanging on…it’s all part of life….it’s all a balancing act. We have our present (which truly is a present) which is shaped by our past and our hopes for the future. I have yet to call Michelle’s mom and offer my condolences on the loss of her mother. All I have to do is pick up the phone….or drive there…but I am not ready yet….perhaps when I make that call, it will be the beginning of my ‘letting go’ time.
    And about us getting another cat….I totally understand how your mom feels about that.

  3. P.S. After I hit ‘post comment” yesterday, I dialled M’s parents’ home and spoke to her dad and mom. Yes, they are sad; yes, they will miss Grandma L’s infectious laugh and funny remarks; but, they both said it was ‘her time to go.” They did not say “we were ready to let her go.” Maybe, that’s the difference between letting go and not letting go…some of us take a longer time than others and that’s not always a bad thing…I think…
    But, I’m not yet ready to adopt another cat but I REALLY love going to visit Kate and her two cats!

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss, my friend. You know, I think you have hit on of more thing there–that the difference is when we are ready to let go, and I don’t think it is a bad thing either. Grief is so complicated…and when there is catastrophic grief–a term I heard today for the first time–then it is even more complicated. I will be praying for your family, that many lovely memories surface to provide some balm for battered hearts. Take care, my friend, take very special care.

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