THIS IS THE fourth installment of my series “Attachments” which discusses the things I’ve developed attachments to because they have something, however distantly connected, with the loss of one of my cats. They may seem silly and hard to explain and we often try to deny or hide them, but they are indeed attached to something we hold dear. Attachments have a role in our life to help us more deeply explore complex emotions over time, and in time we should be able to recognize their role and let go of them but still keep what they represent. I write about my own experience and how they were resolved for me to encourage others to consider their attachments and what role they play. This article includes an attachment with the loss of my brother to help illustrate the idea.
I turned left at the light and glanced right to where the motel…should have been. I nearly stopped in traffic when I saw the empty lot of leveled soil where the motel had been, open and operating, just a few weeks before. I only slowed a bit then continued on my way, thinking about its absolute disappearance.
It’s mildly shocking to unexpectedly see an empty lot where a long-standing building recently stood, especially if it had been occupied and functioning, and to rubberneck a little as you go past, but there was more to my reaction than that, and it’s a convoluted and complicated memory.
My brother had stayed at that motel for one night in November 2015 while we were moving him from one apartment to an efficiency in the same building. His old apartment was found to have bedbugs, and he had moved some of his things to the new apartment so both had to be treated by the landlord. I didn’t have any room at my house for him, and didn’t know of anyone or find anyone who would want my brother in their home. An inexpensive room for the night would be the best solution, made possible by his reduced rent in the efficiency, and that motel was the one. I booked a room.
Mark had to be away from all the food he had in his refrigerator so he would need a supper; breakfast was included in the stay. I decided that since I’d been working to move things and then to discard things that might have bedbugs, with no time to cook for a few days, that Mark and I would go to a local restaurant for supper. We never did that, neither of us had any money, but it was the only way I could resolve a meal for both of us without running in several different directions. I quickly ran into my own basement to toss my clothes in the washer and run upstairs for a shower, bought Mark some new clothes so that he wouldn’t be carrying bedbugs around and had him change in the laundry room of his apartment building, throwing his clothes and other things in the laundry before we left. I checked him in and we reviewed his room to show him where things were and how to use the remote for the TV, then off we went for dinner.
It was a bit of normalcy in a scene that had crept so far from normal, just a brother and sister having dinner at a restaurant, the brother completely sober and clean. The restaurant didn’t care that we sat and talked over coffee for a while, and we talked to the servers and bus people and other patrons in our area. I dropped him off later and said I’d be back the next day before checkout. He had a very quiet, nice night in the motel room.
It was one of the last little bits of normal that I remember of my brother. He never settled into that efficiency apartment, his drinking grew out of control and I often had difficulty finding him, and he died unexpectedly the following July.
I’ve written about “attachments” before, a relationship we come to build with an object to which a memory is attached. We keep the object to hold onto the memory, and if the object is damaged or lost it can bring the pain of grief right back again as if the loss is fresh, fearing we’ll lose the memory without its talisman. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve done this because our internal scenario of remembrance when we look at the object isn’t always part of our conscious thought. Usually for me this is an object that I own and have control over, it’s not a public place or business, as with the motel.
I knew I briefly ran through the events of that November each time I made that turn and drove along that particular road, continuing in my mind through time to other memories of my brother back to and including Nikka, the cat he had adopted from me. It had more to do with taking my brother out of that existence into a different world for a moment that kept me holding onto that place.
I had no idea how deep it actually was, though. The motel was gone, and I had nothing with which to prove that event had ever happened. Except that now when I go past I look at the empty lot and still think it through, wonder about my attachment and wander off into other thoughts about my brother and his life. Even when something else is built there I’ll probably continue with that pattern. Ironically even the restaurant where we ate is gone now too, but I apparently didn’t build an attachment to that building from the same event.
And another, not far away
A little farther down the road from where that restaurant used to be, though, is the place where a compounding pharmacy used to be, and the site of another similar attachment, this time through one of my cats.
When Cookie was in her last months she developed renal failure and though I was careful to feed her low phosphorus foods the renal failure was moving quickly. The prescribed medication had to be compounded and I first talked to a pharmacy for which I’d done some design, including a flyer for veterinary prescriptions and compounding specific for pets. They said they’d look into it but they did not and weeks went by with no answer, so I looked elsewhere and found a brand new pharmacy that compounded that medication regularly for pets in renal failure. I faxed my prescription and they had it ready the next day. It did seem to help Cookie for a couple of months, but her loss was inevitable and we knew that. Everything was happening at once in her body and there was no way to stop that.
Some time in the following year someone in one of the rescue groups asked about compounding pharmacies for pet medications. I was more than happy to refer them to the pharmacy I’d used. I checked the refrigerator magnet for their phone and website, but had to check the website for the address. But there was no website. I looked them up every way possible, and at least electronically they did not exist, not just in that spot, but nowhere at all. When I ran an errand later that day I couldn’t stop myself from driving out there to see if they were perhaps there under a different name. Nope, the place was now a hairdresser. I parked at the end of the parking lot looking at that spot, remembering the hope with which I’d gotten out of my car and hurried in the door, how nice the staff was who all had pets and were knowledgeable about animal medications, how glad I was to know this was available. It was one of those moments in Cookie’s last months when I thought we might actually stop this thing from happening, at least for a while.
Pharmacies don’t go out of business in under a year. For a pharmacy to completely vanish without a trace there had to have been some wrongdoing that put them out of business, I thought. I felt betrayed, as if the compounded phosphorus binder had been tainted and that was part of the reason I had lost Cookie. That wasn’t true, of course. I would have found legal actions if there had been professional issues. It could have just been that there were already several pharmacies in that area and even with a specialty like compounding they just couldn’t make it work. Or something else that had nothing to do with Cookie and me. But I still carried that feeling and after a year or so decided to remove the refrigerator magnet so that I wouldn’t think of the place every time I walked into the kitchen. I could do that because I still had a sticky note pad with their logo on it so I wasn’t entirely giving up the memory.
Now when I go past there I still think about the pharmacy and about Cookie, who died in 2012, but all the anguish has been wrung from that experience. That may not seem a possibility when a loss occurs and everything connected with the loss becomes precious, and especially when it involves an animal companion who, still, many people think of as more of an object or possession than a living sentient being, and who thereby stands a good chance of being completely forgotten if you don’t hold onto every single memory and keep all tangible evidence.
Healing and letting go
I’m glad that in time, we heal. We let go of those attachments and don’t carry all those objects around with us for the rest of our lives. When we live with companion animals, after a lifetime the losses add up and that’s a lot of physical and emotional things to carry. Add in the people in our lives, and to a certain extent, places we’ve lived, jobs we’ve had, events in our lives it all adds up to a lot of things to box up and move along, even emotionally.
In all those attachments, including items from my mother’s final years and from my parents’ house, from my own life and career and from my family of felines, I’ve learned to be gentle with myself. If the thought of letting go of something caused me any pain, I kept it. Eventually I would be able to let it go, but if I forced myself to do so before I was ready it would hurt much more, and longer, for the regrets and feeling of disrespect. My brother died two years ago, almost to the day. Last year I couldn’t even consider giving up any of the meager things I had from his life back to our childhood. I recently let go of most of the last tattered things I’d kept that reminded me of him. My mother died in 2011 and I’d sold the house in 2004, and each year I look at what’s left behind and realize I’m ready to let a few more things go.
Study the attachments you decide to keep to find your deeper feelings about what those feelings are attached to, and lovingly let go of those when you are ready. Unless holding onto an attachment is holding you back from healing in some way, there is nothing wrong with holding on a little longer.
The image included in this post is “Sunset, Moonset”, a small pastel painted from a reference photo I took while driving home from taking my brother to do a little shopping for some new clothes. It was the last time I saw him a little over a week before he died, though it was not the last time we spoke. The unusual sky opening up after a storm to reveal the moon as well, the colors, the endless details, helped to ease my worries about him. When I painted this the following year I poured a lot of emotions into it and stressed the absolute beauty of a moment. Sometimes the only thing we can do is be there. You can find the painting on Portraits of Animals.
Read other stories and essays about Pet Loss as well as my Pet Loss in the First Person series. Also read other Essays.
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