If you read this blog then you know I was a funeral director for five years. I followed my dad into the “family” business right out of college. I was lost and didn’t know what to do with my life so my parents provided me with a steady job while I worked out the details. I mention this because I am in the depths of grief over something that I never thought would be a big deal.
On Monday, I had my precious cat (Bastet) put to sleep. She was a wonderful companion for nearly 18 years of my life.
Her death rocked me to the core.
I always joked that Bastet had lived with me longer than anyone (even my wife). For some reason this sweet tortoiseshell persian picked me as her “person.” In fact the night we first got her, the little rascal (no bigger than a rolled up sock) lay on my chest and promptly bit my nipple! I was her “go to” her “god,” her everything….
Which is what made Monday so damn hard.
As an OT I see loss daily. Usually I encounter a patient’s loss of freedom, independence, function…but recently, I came across something which took me back…
It occurred during an evaluation. I was in a hurry and only had a chance to glance at this patient’s medical history which showed:
Fx (fractured) humerus resulting from MVA (motor vehicle accident)
A broken arm? Good! I love working with shoulder patients. (This is how we therapists think–strange I know)
When I arrived at the address, I stumbled into a spacious apartment, where beautiful antique clocks and tables filled every crevice. A reserved, frail woman, silently beckoned me with a wave of her hand. I sensed her unease so I began with some small talk.
“Looks like someone likes antiques…”
“Yes, my husband was fond of clocks.”
“He had great taste.”
Pressed for time, I jammed through the evaluation, hitting all of the major areas of concern (safety, doctor’s orders, pain management…the works). I was wrapping up and feeling pretty good about myself when I asked,
“How long have you lived here?”
“Oh, we were planning to move here for quite some time…starting a new chapter of sorts, but my husband was killed in the accident…”
My heart dropped to my stomach as she began to cry.
I felt her grief…thick….gnawing, numbness that sucked the air out of that beautiful room. It hit me in the chest and my eyes began to water.
I’ve said this before…and I’ll say it again…my job is to support the client NOT crumble with them. My goal (just as it was in the funeral business) is to provide strong guidance that encourages healing. Well, as I started to lose myself in this lady’s grief, I tossed all of that “heady” stuff aside and hugged her. I won’t lie…it was awkward. I didn’t even know this lady and yet we cried together…but I truly couldn’t help it and my client didn’t seem to mind.
This woman experienced grief–real grief. So why does a cat’s (Bastet’s) death upset me so much?
Initially, I though it was because I had a hand in her death. I was the one who authorized our vet to euthanize her. I still think this was the main reason for my distress, but there’s more to it. Bastet’s death was my loss on several levels. In fact both Reece and I could feel an emptiness following her death. It was as though part of our family was cut away leaving a void in its place. But more than that, I think Bastet’s death reminded me how fragile life is. In a matter of 24 hours, a pet whom I loved, cared for and nurtured nearly half my life was gone forever. The comparisons began to flood my brain and I began to see (in a small, small –fraction of a way) how devastating death and loss can be.
Ekart Tollie puts it this way:
“As people around you pass away, you become increasingly aware of your own mortality…Many people still, in our civilization, deny death. They don’t want to think about it, don’t want to give it any attention.”
My first real experience with this was when my grandma died. Mom and dad had left me in charge of the funeral home, therefore I was forced to make heart crushing decisions.
Should I pick grandma up and bring her to our funeral home?
Should I call dad right away? How am I going to tell him?
Who else should I call?
What arrangements should I make?
My brain drowned in emotions blocking any semblance of rationality. When you work as a funeral director, you learn to block out the grief. For some silly reason, I thought this same ability (to numb the pain) would carry into my personal life. I was sorely mistaken.
So there I was, sitting at the vet with Bastet in my arms…hoping a definite sign would reveal itself. In my heart I knew it was over, but I held hope that something would happen…a test, treatment…anything to give me a clear course of action. But nothing happened. If anything, the waters became more muddy as our vet rifled through scenario after scenario.
“She’s very dehydrated so we can administer IV fluids to make her feel better….or you could leave her here overnight while we run more tests…we don’t know if anything will make her feel better but if you’re looking for options….”
I didn’t want options. I wanted clear-cut answers. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. Here was my sweet Bastet, looking into my eyes then burying her head into my chest…with one decision holding her life in balance.
My wife says, being an adult sucks sometimes because you have to make THE decision. The decision as I saw it was that Bastet was not going to get better. Her condition was chronic and after some IV fluids, we would be right back where we were. It was time.
It was time.
In the end, I sat alone with Bastet, in some back room, waiting for the doc to return for her final shot. It was the hardest part because she kept trying to fight and get back into her cat carrier. She wanted to go home…but she never would return home and it crushed me. When the doc finally arrived, I wrapped her in a blanket and she calmed down. As I cradled her, I looked into her wide eyes and told her how sorry I was…how wonderful she had been…how I wished I could hold her forever…how I wished I could see her through this.
Bastet was just a cat, but she was so much more than that. I’ve heard the belief that attachment (to anything) is wrong because it causes pain. Attachment does indeed cause pain, but the pain I experience over Bastet’s death is well worth all of the love, joy and tenderness she gave me in her short life. I love you my Bastet…and I can’t wait to meet you again at the Rainbow Bridge.