This post is a little bit different from the others. This past Friday my parents put down their cat, Mage. While legally she was my parents’ cat, Mage always picked me as “her human”. We bonded in a way I’d never bonded before with a pet, so her loss was devastating for me. I wailed and sobbed, I cried to my gods, I apologized to Mage profusely. It was the first time, be it human or animal, I had ever experienced such grief.
It isn’t that death is unfamiliar to me. On the contrary I’m quite familiar with that type of loss. Even though I’m almost 30 years old I’ve lost numerous family, pets, and friends. I’m familiar with how I grieve, but I tend to be a little more private about it. I kept my feelings mostly to myself in the past. During those times I usually was the rock others around me needed. I was afraid if I grieved they would feel lost or my emotions would be used as some sort of weapon. I was afraid of being vulnerable.
Mage’s death was different for me in many respects, one of them being the care I provided. She grew ill due to what the vet diagnosed as an ear polyp (though we suspect now it was something much worse) and she grew depressed despite our efforts. Since I felt a close bond to her watching her health decline was difficult. I’d tell myself she was getting better, or the declining health was a temporary setback. There were good days and bad days, but I couldn’t deny she was too tired to move. I cared for her to the best of my ability and tried to spend as much time as I could. I’d sit and eat with her, I’d make sure she’d evacuate, I made sure she was comfortable and had her needs met, I’d help keep her polyp clean while making sure she didn’t scratch through her Elizabethan collar. I’d sit and talk to her and reminisce.
Despite our care and our best intentions it wasn’t enough and my parents couldn’t afford surgery. Mage’s health declined and the polyp worsened. Finally the moment came when, as a family, we knew it was too much for the cat and to keep her alive would cause her great suffering. We had done her an injustice in keeping her alive, if that was the case. It was time to rectify it. My mother informed the entire family the next day Mage would be put down.
I knew this day would come, but I wasn’t prepared for the flood of anguish. Tears fell while I held Mage and I muttered my apologies. I put her down to rest and I fled to continue sobbing. I was inconsolable except for the occasional moment of rest between sobs. After I regathered myself somewhat I set out to make her final moments as comfortable as possible by providing for her in any way I could. I held her so she could watch thunderstorms (a favorite pastime of hers), cuddled with her as she slept, provided her canned cat food (her favorite food), and provided what I could between sobs and apologies. I even played her favorite music while I sobbed. I knew this was part of the grieving process, but knowing this process I’ve learned doesn’t brace anyone for the impending flood of emotions.
I went with my mother to put Mage down. After she died I sat outside the veterinary clinic sobbing. I prayed to Bast to take care of our departed cat. I apologized further for my perceived shortcomings and failures. I sought comfort from my partner over the phone. I confessed every minute thing where I felt I made her sad. I knew this was part of the anger and bargaining stage much later, but I was too far in the throes of grief to notice or care. I cared only about my pain.
After I left the clinic I tried to hide from the world. I posted a couple of pictures of me with Mage and then isolated. I was still afraid to be vulnerable. What happened next I never expected. I got an outpour of condolences from acquaintances, friends, and friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I thought I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I found myself pouring my heart out who gave me an audience. They listened and shared their experiences as well as sympathy. They checked on me regularly. Sometimes, as in the case of my partner, all that was necessary was knowing someone was there while I cried.
I’m thankful that I had people around me during this time because my thoughts were a mess. Despite the anger and intense anguish I felt, I learned a lot about myself during this moment. I learned in the support groups I attended how grief accumulates. I wasn’t mourning the loss of Mage alone, but all the other loved ones in my life. As I cried and processed my emotions I found grieving loved ones wasn’t the only thing. These past 5 years have been very tough and I’ve lost a lot. I’ve lost friendships, the life I was building, my hopes and ambitions, and everything I planned. Mage had been there for me during most of those times. She cuddled with me, she’d try to soothe me, and even in her selfish desires for attention during those times I found comfort with her.
I learned something important in that moment. I learned while my friends and loved ones could sympathize with my grief over a loved one’s death and not over my other losses it wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of sympathy. The grief over the loss of a loved one is more tangible than the grief over the loss of more abstract concepts like job loss. People can relate more to losing a pet than to losing a dream. It’s why with the grief over a death some people cope better by being around loved ones; the compassion and sympathy are there. All those times where I thought I had to guard my emotions were just that: thoughts. I had no need to feel vulnerable or be anyone’s rock. I just needed to be there and sympathetic.
In some of the tombs in Ancient Egypt some poems were written called the Harper’s Songs. I was reminded of it when I set up a spot for Mage on my akhu shrine. In particular I was reminded of the passage that was in the tomb of King Inyotef. Part of the literature consists of talking about celebrating now because:
Their sobbing cannot save the heart of a man from the tomb.
But tire not yourself with it.
Remember: it is not given to man to take his goods with him.
No one goes away and then comes back.
No one knows what lies in the afterlife, if there is one from the Harper’s perspective, and we can’t take anything with us despite how tombs were prepared during that time. Crying will do no good because it doesn’t bring loved ones back to life. For all we know the dead can’t hear us on any level. I’ve learned in not only living my life to the fullest it means celebrating the lives of those who touch mine. Part of that is allowing myself to feel the grief of their loss, as well as the losses tied to it. I can’t forget, however, to live my life. That doesn’t mean I forget the ones I love, but I don’t have to stop my feelings of love for them. It also means that I don’t have to stop my world for it either, but take the time I need to heal by celebrating their lives.
My family have been sharing our memories of Mage. I’ve reminisced with my partner about her. I’ve set up a place for her on my akhu shrine. While I’m still grieving I know I no longer have to be anything I think I need to be. I am allowed to feel what I feel. It doesn’t make me a weak person. It makes me someone who’s grieving a loss.