Grief and the Dreaming

What was supposed to be an overnight vet visit to stabilize some low blood pressure readings became something of an emergency situation, which at midnight last Sunday became a very difficult decision we had to make.

Chloe, my wife’s beloved cat of 15 years went to sleep that night and didn’t wake up, and now our house feels very empty and in want of a small, inquisitive face peering out from the shadows or from some corner of the back garden.

It was a pretty good death, all things considered. She was at a point where she was only going to get worse as the night went on, but she was awake and tired and aware of her people around her, giving her gentle pats as she got to close her eyes and nod off. It’s the kind of passing I wouldn’t mind for myself one day. It was a case of making all the right decisions, as the vets confirmed for us, but life throwing a wrench in the works at the last second. The initial prediction of 4-5 months wasn’t wrong because it wasn’t the initial illnesses that got to her, it was a random bug that hit her weakened immune system and caused a chain reaction. There’s nothing we could have done, even if we had tried different treatments earlier this probably still would have happened.

Strangely, all the logic and rational thinking in the world doesn’t make it any less painful.

I feel worse for my wife than I do for me, obviously. I was only in this cat’s life for a little over a year, she’s had her for nearly half her life and their bond is as strong as any mother and daughter you could name. She’s holding it together much better than I would have anticipated, and we’re both acknowledging that there’s no one at fault but nature, and after a week the pangs are still sharp but not enough to leave someone bedridden with grief.

It’s really weird how different people process it, though. Personality-wise we’re definitely in the opposites attracting category, and beyond the shared interest in keeping ourselves distracted with movies, and television, and books, it’s tackled in such different ways. She’s grieving in what I would definitely call a normal way, how I’d expect someone to grieve for a lost pet.

I find myself thinking back on a page from the very end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics where Shakespeare is lambasting Morpheus. Earlier they had made a deal that the latter would help the former become a world-changing playwright, and at the end of his life William is coming to understand the repercussions of that deal:

Sandman_75_p40.jpg

I saw Gaiman speak a little while back and he talked about how he’s always had a hard time with processing grief, because it’s filtered through a lens of wanting to capture exactly how it feels, how to put that down on paper, how to make other people feel it by reading those words as a shared grieving, a way of forcing empathy and emotional connection and drawing the reader in. He mentioned that he felt that way when Terry Pratchett passed away; the immediate shock, followed by turning inside and carefully documenting that shock and the following emotions as they happened, adding them to a toolbox to be pulled out later if necessary.

I totally get that. I’ve never heard someone so accurately describe how I experience mourning. I’m sure part of it is the toxic guy “bury-your-feelings” process I grew up surrounded by, but my immediate response to feeling so awful is to try and figure out how I would translate that to a piece of fiction, locking it away not because I view the emotions as shameful or bad, but because someday I might want to write a scene where I want to evoke the same kind of feeling.

It seems to be a running theme with writers both professional and hobbyist, but it feels strange to examine it and to be aware of that routine even as it’s running.

On the plus side, it kind of frees me up to help with others whose grief is rawer and more immediate, which I view as a blessing. If I can take that step back and observe even my own sorrow as a bit of a third party, it means I can take care of things that can’t be stopped just because we’re mourning.

We’ve started idly looking at other cats now. We’re not in any rush to adopt, but neither of us has been in a no-pet household for more than a couple of months. It would be unfair to “replace” a member of the family because you then project a lot of expectations on the new adoptee, and we’re both hyperaware of that, but we also find ourselves in a position where we could do something like adopt bonded pairs that might have more trouble finding homes, or black cats that have a notoriously difficult time due to lingering superstition, or eventually even a puppy that we wouldn’t have been able to get with an elderly and then fragile cat. So from these particular ashes we’re certain a Phoenix will rise and we’ll move on, just with new scars for us.

 

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