It’s been 11 days. It feels like yesterday, but yet, it feels like it was forever ago. I still cry. I still miss her like crazy. I cried yesterday. I cried today! This is definitely the “blues” part of my blog title.
We are going to Europe for 3 weeks for a research trip, and friends are watching the dogs and the house for us while we are gone. The vet called, and said that Noire’s remains are back, ready to be picked up when I am ready, and that they will take good care of her until that time. It made me cry all over again. While we are in Europe, I plan to look for the perfect box or container to bring her home in. I have a great photo I took of her feet. It was actually a scan – I had her sit on the scanner and got a perfect image. I want to use that to create an image of her paws and frame it with a photo of her, and her collar and tag in a shadow box. The container will sit on the shelf beside the bed, near me as I sleep.
Memorializing a pet can seem overblown and dramatic to some people. Since there are people out there who think “it’s just a cat” or even don’t like cats, or who think pets are not part of the family, the gesture of mourning for a pet can seem incredibly self absorbed. This seems especially true in light of the complicated public emotional response to the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings – which happened the day after Noire passed. Though 27 people were killed by Adam Lanza, the majority of commentary and memorialization is on the 26 who died in the shooting at the school, and don’t take into account the mother of the killer. Not to mention, there is no response to his self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound, or allowance that there might even be 28 victims. This happened at Columbine, too.
But this post is not about America’s complicated relationship with gun violence, school shootings, or media representations of grief. This is still about me, and the struggle I am having dealing with the loss of my sweet girl. Even though I will be on a trip that many would envy, my heart still aches, and I would infinitely prefer to be at home, snuggling my kitten still, and hearing her raspy voice calling me awake at three am.
The days keep passing though, and she is never coming back. She is stardust, and one day, I hope to be returned to stardust as well, and united with her. As much as my academic studies are about death, loss, grief, memory, and commemoration, I am still not prepared for my own experiences with it. Is anyone? I have a friend who is a bereavement counselor, and trains hospice volunteers, and works with death on a daily basis, and even her experience as a mother of two elementary school children was a struggle this past 10 days, being present for her kids, her shock and horror at what happened, and the closeness of it (she lives in Connecticut.)
Grief is not easy. It is also not the same for everyone, or anyone. No one can predict what their own grief cycle will be, based on their own experience of loss. Losing my marriage in 2008 involved grief, but in a completely different way. The finality of knowing I was not getting an MFA involved grief and mourning, and the loss of a certain sense of myself. Even the death of family members had different response – days and days of crying when my grandmother was gone, numbness and a complete emotional shutdown after losing my grandfather, a brief shedding of tears for an aunt, and just an acknowledgement that it was sad when a cousin died.
None of these are guides for what I experience now. Not even the loss of my dog, Amber, when I was 19. She was 14, and had cancer. We knew it was coming. I had come home on Christmas day from a friend’s “after your family stuff” party, and it was late. Amber hadn’t really walked much in the last few days, but she came out of my parents’ room, and into the living room and looked at me. “Do you need to go outside, girl?” I asked her. She seemed to say yes. So we walked outside. On the walkway in the backyard, she still looked at me. She appeared to want to take a walk. So we did. At midnight, under a clear and star-filled December sky, Amber and I walked to the corner of the street and back – the length of three houses each way. It took at least 40 minutes. She hobbled so slowly, but she wanted to do it. When we got back into the house, she tucked her head under my hand for a brief petting. I kissed her head, and she went back to my parents’ room. She died the next day. I had to go to work, and my boss refused to let me off for the day (restaurant work) and even stuck me in the “busy” section, which kept me there till the end of the business day, with the most side-work. I suppose in his mind, if I was busy, I wouldn’t pay attention to my grief. That was not a good approach, and though I was on my feet for 8 hours that day, I made less than $100 in tips (where I’d easily on a shift like that bring in twice that amount.)
You can’t prescribe or predict mourning or grief or commemoration for anyone. This is partially what I am trying to say with my studies about memorials and commemorative practice. But even personally, I have to say it. It is impossible to know what will be a comfort. Blogging? Maybe. Elegiac poems? Perhaps. Volunteering and being busy? For some. Tearing fabric, sitting shiva, covering mirrors? All possible.
There is a story in my family about my grandparents meeting. In 1935, my grandmother had a death in her family, and as the oldest child, she was in charge of helping the house get set up for the funeral observance. Seeing two neighborhood boys playing across the street, she sent one of her younger sisters to retrieve them for assistance moving furniture. The boys willingly came and helped, a couple tall, blonde, blue-eyed and handsome men. After the mourning period, the boys came back, unbidden, to return the furniture to the original arrangement. A few days later, the boys came back again, and asked my grandmother and a couple of her sisters if they wanted to take a ride on motorbikes. According to the story, my grandmother liked that the older boy was much slower and more gentle while driving the bike. She didn’t like to go fast. The younger boy was reckless, in her mind.
The older boy, a gentle and lean boy from one of the ‘better’ families in town (my grandmother’s family were Hungarian immigrants) kept coming back to ask my grandmother for her time and attention, and eventually, they fell in love, and were married – all because these boys were there to help with the furniture for the in-home funerals that were part of the process of life and death.