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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lessons in Grief

Three years back my daughter teamed up with a mentor and collected items for the Humane Society. She decided that we should adopt a cat. I wasn't too enthusiastic. I knew who would end up looking after this family pet. The four of us went down to the closest Humane Society, but it was Zara who chose Kit Kat. Cybelle was the name she came to us with, but the lady at the Humane Society told us that cats respond to tone. They do not recognize names as such and so we decided to rename her.
The first few days, she spent in my son's bed, hiding under his quilt. And then took to sleeping curled up in the crook of my neck, her face buried in my hair. She followed me around all day; in the washroom, lying on the bath mat while I showered, sleeping on the rug in the kitchen while I cooked, jumping into the laundry basket as I sorted the laundry, sitting in my lap while I wrote.
But what she loved most of all was being outdoors. Each time the door opened, she made a run for it. We chased after her, brought her back. Months went by like this, until I finally gave in. We live close to a ravine. We routinely see deer in our backyard. We hear the howl of coyotes at night. We were scared for her, but she seemed so content sitting on the chair on our deck, watching squirrels in the yard, that I figured that to keep her indoors, was cruelty. Her life would be richer for being able to enjoy the outdoors. I love being outside. I have to spend at least an hour or two outside everyday, no matter what the weather, just to feel alive. I could not imagine a worse life than one cooped up indoors.
She, generally, spent a few hours outside, but returned often to eat, drink, and use the facilities. Sometimes, she would return just to look at us through the screen door. She often ran off when asked to come in.
On Thursday night, she did not return. We all felt uneasy. I repeatedly went out to call her back but could not spot her in our yard. I slept in the living room, facing the deck door, so that I could let her in when she returned. Around eleven at night, my husband and son, heard the howl of coyotes close by and went outside with lights to look for her. They returned disappointed, without Kit Kat. My husband joined me on the living room couch. At three in the morning, we gave up, and went to bed. At six, he and I got up for our daily walk, and realized that she was gone. She would not be coming home.
I know it is absurd to grieve so deeply for a cat. Kit Kat, herself, hunted. Just two days back, she brought home a snake. She liked to play with her prey. She returned with birds, voles, and the snake. Yet, the thought of her falling victim to a pack of coyotes had been killing me for the past couple of days. I wish I had picked her up, that last evening, and brought her indoors. I wish I had run out at the coyotes' howling, but I fell asleep on the living room couch. I never heard the yelping. I was surprised to see my son and husband outside with the lights.
I miss the trust with which she would cuddle with me. I am home on my own for most of the day. She was my companion. My buddy. And now without her I feel bereft.
Just the week before, I read C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. I thought I learned a few lessons on bereavement. I thought I was preparing myself for the blows life deals out. In actuality, I learned nothing. I cry hiding in the garage, in the bathroom, out on walks on my own.
I am a loner. Quiet. Loud people give me headaches. I am sensitive. Other people's words hurt me and I read displeasure into their silences. Kit Kat's independent, yet physically affectionate love was the perfect balm for me. If I took too long to serve her food, because I was busy, she vibrated her tail at me. I knew when she was annoyed at my lack lustre service and I loved her even more for it.
Love is hard. With other people, there are always words that wound. Minefields that explode in my face, mostly because of my own shortcomings. I am terrible at love. I don't know how to love properly. I oscillate between either embarrassing others with too much expression or being cold, too self-contained. I stumble. I fall. I try to be better, but with Kit Kat, there was never any faltering. She demanded my attention when she wanted it. I gave without thinking.
I am grateful for the years I had with her. For once, I wish I believed in an afterlife. It would be a comfort to imagine her frolicking in heaven with prompt food service. But magical, wishful thinking never made sense to me. Perhaps that is why there are so many tears. Kit Kat is dead. There is no reason for me to hurry in the morning to give her food, clean her litter box, let her out.
I never understood people who seemed to love animals more than humans. I thought they were silly. How could anyone compare a child to a pet? Yet, here I am. Another lesson in love. It is not reasonable.