The grieving of any loss is rarely straightforward, where we have the time to let our grief resolve in its own time with no interruptions. Anniversaries are important, in hours, days, weeks or years after the moment of loss we remember best, and however we choose to acknowledge that anniversary is often another important step in our healing.
Sometimes grief over another loss, actual or anticipated, whether the death of an animal or human loved one, or even a non-death loss such as a friend moving away, will layer over what we are already experiencing at any time during our process. Depending on its nature that additional circumstance can also feel like an interference in our process, even disrespectful to how we feel or to the memory of our lost loved one, when we focus on our own grief and don’t look at the bigger picture.
If we visualize our grieving process as a stream that in time has grown smooth and calm and clear, flowing at a comfortable pace and little by little healing our wound as it washes over it, complications like these can toss a stone into that gentle course, create ripples and waves and muddy the waters with emotions pulled up from the bed of that stream we had thought were healed. In addition, anger and resentment toward the source of this other grief can charge how we feel, and suddenly we are not only grieving all over again but we have other emotions roiling around and can’t identify or deal with them all, we just know that we hurt.
And if the source of that other grief happens to be another of our animal companions who is also reaching the end of their mortal path with us, the pain and confusion can be devastating. Grief makes us fragile, sometimes to a great extent, and we’re not always able to deal with circumstances as we typically do. The fact that we feel negative emotions at a time we had planned for greater healing can be just as painful as the circumstances themselves. Sometimes the depth of our relationship with the one we’re already grieving can make it all even more complicated.
I lost Cookie on February 3, 2012. She had seen me through the years after I lost Kublai in 1996, always at my side, always cheerful and loving, with no health issues in all those years, and more supportive than I realized. In January 2011 my mother reached the end of her mortal existence and in her last two months endured several critical trips to the hospital including her last, where we sat with her until she drew her last breath. During that time, especially the last week, Cookie seemed to lose vitality, her always enthusiastic appetite waned, but my vet and I could find nothing wrong with her. Reiki treatments restored her vitality and appetite and I could release my worry over her and focus on my mother.
I hadn’t realized how much of my own angst over the years had taken a toll on Cookie, and it was my first indication that, at the age of 19, she was weakening. The following year, 2012, after seeing me through the first anniversary of my mother’s loss, Cookie herself finally let go a week later. I felt adrift without Cookie’s constant presence until Mimi stepped in. When I also lost Kelly in August 2012 I knew it was the end of a long era for me of intensively rescuing and fostering cats and caring for family members. I knew my life was meant to change. Expressing the magnitude of all this is impossible. The 2013 anniversaries gave me perspective but as the third anniversary of my mother’s death and the second anniversary of Cookie’s death approached in 2014, I was deeply reviewing my life, my emotions and eagerly anticipating the actual date as a milestone in my journey, and a turning point.
Emeraude, one of two geriatric kitties I’d taken in to foster in June 2013, had lost her partner in August, but after that had integrated with the household to her chosen extent, mostly staying upstairs in the bathroom but happily cuddling with the boys on her fleece bed and joining us in the studio. In November she was diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia, but did very well with hospice treatment. At 19, her passing had always been a fact sooner rather than later, especially after the loss of Lakota, but lymphatic leukemia was manageable and had a slower course than other leukemias. She likely had some months left.
By the end of the following January it became apparent that her time was coming near. But as I anticipated the anniversary date of February 3, Emeraude was in need of more and more supportive care, and I could see that Emeraude’s passing would likely coincide with that date.
I feel it’s very important just to be with one of my animal companions—and family members too, for that matter—when they come to the end of their time. I don’t want them to feel abandoned just because they may be hard to look at or be with, or I don’t know what to do because caretaking is largely over and it’s just waiting, and that can be awkward and uncomfortable. Wanting to give each event, the anniversary and being present with Emeraude in her passing, their due time and effort, I knew that would be impossible with the depth I wanted to give each. I wondered how, out of all the times this could happen, would it be now? And how could I best deal with giving both cats and both circumstances my best?
I remember contrasting the long and complex relationship I had with Cookie with the brief relationship I had with Emeraude, a foster who’d spent 19 years with another person and only six months with me. Time makes no difference, I did love Emeraude and especially when she finally reached out to me in trust and accepted her new home I fell hard. The leukemia diagnosis was painful in that it took the mystery out of how long we’d have to get to know each other. But still, I really wanted that clear path I’d set for myself leading up to that anniversary date and all the articles I wanted to write and the posts of photos and memories and just the time I’d spend in contemplation and memory, so necessary for my creative mind but so rare in my daily life, and that time was taken up with fairly complex hospice care.
Looking at Emeraude and knowing her time was now, and there was no changing that, I knew that I didn’t need an anniversary date to celebrate my life with Cookie and all the changes brought by her loss. In fact, Emeraude and my new fostering life was a part of that change. I will celebrate Cookie all the rest of my life, and I have years to contemplate my relationship with my mother. The household and I focused on Emeraude and honored her life and her death in the moment it occurred, all of us around her as a family.
Even though it can be difficult to manage your own emotions when complications arise at such a tender time, choosing to be in the moment with what is urgent is always a good choice. Often regrets are centered around “not being there” when you felt you were needed whether physically or emotionally, and when that moment passes you can never bring it back. Be with your loved one in the days, hours, moments when they transition. Grief takes time, and will wait for you to return and recognize an anniversary, even if not on the exact date.
And I have the feeling Cookie would have wanted it that way too.
Read more in Pet Loss on The Creative Cat.
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