I’ve long believed that most of psychology is more or less unscientific babble, that Sigmund Freud would have been totally disregarded by history if he had spoken with a West Texas accent about things that were a little less disturbing but since he was talking about sex and self-harm with a German voice that struck the spectrum almost precisely halfway between “genius” and “skeevy dude sleeping on a park bench” people seemed to think he was smart AND edgy. So they said what he said in order to be smart and edgy too. Even modern psych thinks Freud was a loon and a hack but they just kept building the inverted pyramid he laid the wobbly foundations for. But I’m getting off topic. The longer I work with “professionals” in psychology, psychiatry, and mental health, the more I am shown that I was right all along and they really do not know what they’re talking about. So I don’t believe in the much-lampooned “seven stages” of the “grief process” or whatever the popular pablum of the day is. I don’t believe that grief and loss are things you “work through” and get better from like a cold or a broken bone. I will therefore not be presenting my thoughts and feelings from my own grieving process as anything but the anecdotal experiences they are. Analyze them all you want, you’re probably wrong. I figure as long as we’re on this personal notes segue way (which I expressly reserved the right to go on way back at the beginning) I might as well share these thoughts too.
I’m not interested in hearing about how a pet really isn’t worth getting this worked up over, either. Loss is loss and grief is grief, but each loss is unique. I barely shed a tear when my great-grandfather died, not because I didn’t care, not at all. There are too many reasons to even try to delve into them all but foremost are that he lived a long, full life and his death was not unexpected, and though I cared about the man and he for me, he wasn’t part of my daily life nor was I responsible for his care. Yet with George I can’t seem to stop crying. In part I think it’s because I know he was so scared and did not understand, and this was all so sudden, and no matter how much we did for him I will always wonder if we could have done something differently or something more. But the biggest thing that hurts to remember is how happy he was and how much joy he brought to our home. Those are the memories I want to keep alive, and I don’t care how many tears they bring along with them. I wouldn’t give them up any more than I would trade the last two years for the pain we’re all feeling now.
You hear a lot about “bottling up” pain and sadness and needing to “let it out” like there’s a holding tank somewhere in your soul that will overfill if you don’t have a good cry now and then. Baloney. I don’t care if you swallow gallons of tears and face loss with stone-faced stoicism or if you bawl your eyes out like a baby. Grief is not a poison you can just flush from your system. It builds up over time and it doesn’t matter how much you “let out,” as long as you have that memory that pain will be there. You just learn how to live with it or you cordon it off and lose that person forever. Not too long ago my beloved grandmother came up in conversation, who died more than twenty-five long years ago, and I got so choked up I couldn’t speak. I’m pretty good at setting this stuff aside and holding myself together when there’s business to tend to, and I’d never suggest that melting into a blubbering mess of uselessness is helpful to anybody, I’m just saying, it doesn’t get better. Deal with it how you will.
I know I’m throwing out more than a few personal details here. If you want to dox me off this and somehow manage to pull it off you’ve more than earned my scalp, which considering I’m nobody is saying more about you than it is about me.
There’s really three parts to what I’m feeling right now: sadness for George and what he had to go through, sadness for my family, and sadness for myself. For George, I’ve been running the last few days and weeks through my head wondering what we could have done differently, and this is probably my own instinct, but I’m really looking for a reason to blame myself. Put more accurately, I’m blaming myself and looking for something to hang it on. Not just for his care and protection, but for any time when I didn’t reciprocate all the love and affection he gave. I know there were times when he would climb on my shoulders at dinner time, or would sit on my work papers or try to follow me out the front door, and I would have to tell him no, you need to stay home or get down, but as determined as the self-flagellation instinct is to find a time when I didn’t love Georgie enough I really can’t remember one. I couldn’t always sit down for a nice long cuddle and nap but I was never too busy for an ear scratch or a chin scratch or even to let him nuzzle on my beard. I never ignored his chirps and happy noises in the morning and never pushed him away. I played with him with yarn and “kitty fishing poles” and bought him balloons and played with him with those too.
The old saying goes that “you never know what you have until it’s gone,” and this one is actually correct. It’s generally meant to shame people into treating their loved ones better, but the thing about it is, even if you treasure and love someone and treat them well and spend time with them, you still don’t truly know how much they mean to you until they’re gone. And the natural response to this is to wish that you’d done something differently, that instead of playing that video game or going out to dinner or writing that blog post you’d spent an evening cuddling a kitty cat. But you can’t live your life expecting that the people (and yes in this context I include pets as people) you love are going to die tomorrow and so you need to smother them. They’ll resent it and so will you. So as much as I really want to beat myself up here, I can’t. I know George lived his life here surrounded by love and affection and that I took time every day to talk to him and pet him and I played with him often. I know that when we found him he was almost on death’s door then and that if we had sent him to a shelter he would have probably lived out his days there, because no one was going to take him in. No one but us. And I know George is happy where he is now, he is not sick and coughing, and the balloons don’t ever break. Heaven became a brighter place when our little ray of sunshine arrived. I’m sure everything is awesome for him there too.
For my family, I know my wife and my stepkids are dealing with this in their own ways. I’m giving them all their space and we’re including the kids on all the final decisions from here. I honestly feel just as badly for two of our other cats. One is a grumpy hermit who George decided he absolutely loved and who only tolerated his affection when she got cold in the winter–but we have some adorable pictures of them together. She won’t have him next winter. And then there’s our kitten, who is actually three years old but she’ll always be the baby of the family. George was her playmate. The other two cats in the house are older, slower, and at least one is kinda cranky. The kitten was playing in the living room this morning and I couldn’t help thinking that the last time she did something like this, hopping about with a dangly toy, that Georgie watched with a look of wonder on his face until he got up the nerve to join in and play too. The kitten is not weeping because she doesn’t understand what has happened, but I don’t envy her. The most that might cross her little mind is a wonder about where Georgie is and why he doesn’t play with her anymore. I hope, somewhere in their minds, they can at least remember him.
So that leaves me. If you come by here because you like at least part of what I have to say, you might be thinking I don’t really sound like a “heartless conservative” right now–and you probably aren’t surprised. If you come by to troll, well, not really a good time for that, but if you want to show your colors be my guest. I’ll delete it, but knock yourself out. I guess what I am getting at is that the stages I am going through aren’t denial-bargaining-acceptance-underwater level-whatever. I’m mostly at peace with the idea that I did all I could for my beloved little boy and that he lived a good life filled with love, and that he died surrounded by his family, and now he’s not suffering any more. I’m in the same place with the idea that my family will handle this the way they will handle it, I am here for what they need. I have no idea how long it will take me to get used to this George-shaped hole in my life, but like most folks who live in the real world, it’s not the first scar I carry and it won’t be the last. Like any other permanent wound, you don’t ever go back to the way you were before. You just get used to the way you are now and live around it. And if the price of remembering all the happiness means keeping the edges a little raw, I’m okay with that.