Three years ago this past January, our loving bengal cat Kaylee passed away. She had developed a chronic kidney condition that went undiagnosed until it was too late. Chris and I were beside ourselves with grief. They say the pain of losing a beloved pet can be equal to if not greater than losing a close family member. I can understand why.
At the time, we recognized that the grief we were experiencing wasn't a pain that you could easily shake off. We realized we would need to go through the full grieving process before we could go back to some semblance of normal functioning... normal, but with a cat-sized hole in our hearts. I wrote a blog post complete with a memorial video in tribute to Kaylee as part of my grieving process. It helped me make sense of my feelings of loss and try to remember the love and lessons that came from her life.
Going through the Motions
Only a month after Kaylee's passing, we adopted another cat. We weren't ready for it emotionally, but we did it to help Kaylee's half-sister River, who went through her own depression after Kaylee passed. She would meander around the house calling out to her. It broke our hearts every time she did it. Yes, it was emotionally challenging for us to go out looking for another cat. After all, no cat could replace Kaylee. It felt a like we were betraying her somehow. But River clearly needed feline companionship, so we made it our mission to find the perfect friend for her, which led to us adopting Ezri.
A few months later, the pain started to lessen. I gradually stopped tearing up whenever I stumbled across a toy Kaylee loved. I stopped expecting to see her greet us at the top of the stairs when I got home. Even though the daily pain had eased, I would still occasionally dream of her. As Ezri became more comfortable with me, she would snuggle up with me in bed in the middle of the night, purring in a similar way that Kaylee did. I would dream it was Kaylee and if I woke up from the dream and realize it wasn't her, I would start crying, as though I had lost her all over again.
Moving Beyond the Grief
Now that it has been 3 years, I recently realized that I am able to look back over the entire experience and see it differently. I have been taking acting class over Zoom with Michele Partridge, a local acting coach, to help with my film performance work. One of the exercises we did involved telling a story to the class that would evoke a particular emotion. The goal was to use the story to bring that emotion to the surface, to experience it fully, so we could learn to use it as a tool to perform that emotion in our acting. I decided to tell the story of Kaylee's death.
Two years ago, even last year, I might not have been ready to tell this story to a group of strangers, to experience the feelings of loss for the purpose of performance. I would have worried that it would re-open the wound that had only just scabbed over and that I would go back to having the pain as my daily companion if I "let it out." I realized that I was okay with allowing that sadness to come back to the surface. I was able to see it as a gift, a reminder of the love we shared, and in this case, even see it as a tool that I could use to help connect with the world through the shared pain that comes from the impermanent nature of life through story-telling and performance.
As I told the story of how it all went down, tears started streaming. As the story came to it's sad climax, I was full-on bawling, allowing the full depth of my pain to come out as I shared. As I finished, my acting coach re-emerged from the blank screen, eyes welled up with tears (she too had lost a cat in recent years), and they moved on to the next story. I admit that I needed to take a moment before I could focus on watching the next couple of story-tellers. I instead went to Chris, embraced him and shared my tears with him so I connect it with someone who felt the same pain.
Even though it hurt to allow myself to feel the full depth of my sadness again, I later realized I was able to bounce back from it quickly. I was able to see that sadness as a gift, a reminder to love and cherish each moment I have with all my loved ones, but especially my kitties. Each of my three cats (yes, we adopted a third one, a semi-feral named Jimmy) has their own unique personalities, but they also all have little quirks and behaviours that bubble up occasionally that remind us of Kaylee. It was something that used to make me sad, but now it just makes me smile and remember the love I shared with her.
I sometimes like to imagine that some part of her spirit is in our other cats somehow, and that this is her way of reminding us she still loves us even though she is no longer in corporeal form. Some might see this as pointless sentimentality, but honestly, I need it. I need to feel like I am all part of something greater than myself, greater than anything any of us can experience in our puny little lives, to know that we are and always will be connected to those we love and lose, in life and beyond. This reminds me to appreciate the life I have for the ephemeral gift that it is, and love each day and love fully.
The “Secret” to Getting Over Grief
I would love to tell you there was some secret formula to how I got to a place where I remember the love and no longer feel sad. The truth is it simply isn’t the case. That deep sadness will always be somewhere in my heart. This was shown to me having done the acting exercise that I went through. And I don’t ever want to lose it. The only thing that is different is that I was eventually able to find a place for it in the back storage room of my heart, rather than having to trip over it at every turn in my life. The only thing I can say is that I simply had to allow myself to go through the full experience of my grief over the months and years following Kaylee’s death, to allow the tears to flow when they needed to flow, to embrace those who who loved her, as well as those who love me at times when I needed comfort, to not deny myself the joy and pain that are the gifts of grief. And, one day, at your own time and pace, the pain will lessen and the days will start to seem brighter, and you’ll be able to put your grief away in a special place, somewhere you can easily access it whenever you feel the need to revisit it. This is when you’ll have come full circle with your grief.
Have you lost a beloved pet and come out the other side of the grieving process? I invite you to share your story in the comments, to help those out there who are still going through their own journey of grief, letting them know that things will get better.