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.
I’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 a 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.
Sydney 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?