I recently wrote an update to some friends, and I realized I hadn’t written here in a while. Again. I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m really not. Life took it upon itself to really kick the crap out of me this year so far, and to say I’m doing well would be an absolute outright lie.
I was feeling relatively decent about things when I posted in February. I even said to my husband that I thought I was going to have a good birthday for the first time in maybe a decade. Private family stuff seemed to be going well. Personal stuff was going well. Business stuff was going well. Things actually seemed… GOOD! And on my birthday, I was scheduled to go and pick up a puppy.
I mean, doesn’t that sound like a good birthday?
And then the bottom fell out of my world. It first started with my son, a very bad call about very bad things on a Monday. Permanent things, to be dealt with somehow, going forward. Wednesday, same week, my little sweet Cleo (who wasn’t even two years old yet) went in for a procedure to see if she had polyps in her sinuses, and this caused her trachea to freak out over the next day. I rushed her to the ER vet, but she died at 4AM Friday morning of that week, only about six hours after I dropped her off.
Cleo was my everything. I have never in my life had a connection like this. She slept on my chest EVERY single night, for the whole night. She was my soulmate in little mini-fluffy form.
She really, truly loved me, and I loved her with everything I had.
And then she was gone. Not yet two, in every single part of my life, every inch of this house and my world… and ripped away.
I know that to everyone else it’s just someone sad over their cat, but this is different. I have never had a connection like this, and I have had some seriously close ones over my life. Ultra-close. This is other-level, and if I hadn’t had it, I wouldn’t have understood it either. I have lost my heart. I’m soul-broken over it still, and I honestly do not expect to ever get over it. I haven’t lost anyone super close to me before. This is the first time I can honestly say that if there is an afterlife, maybe I’ll actually get to see her again. It would make dying worth it.
I went to pick up my new puppy a little before my birthday, instead of on it, with a broken heart. A new puppy that actually was in part for Cleo. Cleo so desperately wanted one of the dogs to like her, and they just wouldn’t. But this puppy, this puppy hopefully would. Cleo would have loved Dasher, and I just know that he would have loved her. I rode home with him in my lap, both charmed and tearful because it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
I turned 46 without fanfare, or really anything. Because even with a new puppy, I am totally heartbroken. I thought it was going to be this amazing day, where things were ok for once, great even, instead of the constant daily struggle (that wasn’t even my own for the most part) that it has become for years upon years.
And then my other cat, another I am super-close to, started to die. This was not totally unexpected, as Socrates was almost 17 years old. However, I did think we had at least another year. Socrates has been with me from kids in preschool up through the nightmare my life has been since 2017. I distinctly remember sitting tucked back in the corner of my closet in North Carolina, bawling my eyes out as quiet as I could, and him coming to me as he always has and just being there for me. He always orbited me, and my husband called him my familiar.
My beautiful, gentle giant, sweet Socrates who started as a rescue kitten almost the size of my computer mouse, and grew to 23lbs in the height of his health with the veterinarian I got him from excitedly exclaiming “Oh my gosh! That’s a Maine Coon Cat!!!” when he saw him at a check-up full grown.
When Socrates started rapidly declining, I took him to the vet. They had seen him three weeks prior and even done full blood tests and he was fine. This time, they did an x-ray and found a mass. A mass that there was no point in diagnosing because there was nothing they could do at his age. And so, they sent me home with something for his appetite and his pain, and an acknowledgement from me that when it was time that I could call a vet to my house. He stopped eating, and I thought that if this was the last of my time with him, he loved Christmas, so… I got out a small tree and set it up in my studio (the only place he’s really hung out for the last year.)
Socs shoved his face in the box the moment I set it on the floor, and then spent his last days under the tree.
When I put Christmas movies on, he actually started eating again for a few days. It was just an idea I had, since I remembered he used to sit and watch them with us while the kids were growing up. It mattered to him. The moment the music started from the Nightmare Before Christmas (my first movie of the season, that I normally put on while the autumn decor comes down and the holiday decor goes up), he ate for the first time in more than a day.
I know all that sounds silly, but to me it isn’t. Because I had this, with him. This past Christmas, I actually didn’t watch the holiday movies and specials like I normally do – particularly when I’m working on holiday paintings. I just didn’t have it in me. I had the trees up, but I felt kinda down about the whole season (as a lot of people did, I suspect. Everything just felt weird.) This time with Socs, I got to have a sort of mini-holiday season that I had somehow missed only a couple months prior. One last time, one last holiday.
Then he got so bad over the weekend, I worried as no vet was reachable and I knew it was time. Monday came, and there was no question, even though things had gotten a bit better for most of Sunday. He had stopped eating Friday night. And so the vet came, and I said goodbye, and then he was gone. So very quickly.
And the space he occupied was so much larger than I comprehended prior to his passing. I also learned that like with love, that you don’t reach a limit. That is the way with grief; there will always be room for more. I wasn’t done grieving for Cleo, I don’t know if I’ll ever be, and I felt numb – yet I was able to feel myself make more room for feeling even more loss.
I know this is the cycle of life, with Socs. I was so lucky to have him, and he had a long life with me. I know it was his time, as sure as I know it was NOT Cleo’s time. Still, there is a more subtle gentleness in letting him go. My heart still aches and I’m missing him terribly too, but it didn’t feel like this violent attack on my soul, as it does with Cleo. So, I have this addition of conflicted grief. I miss Socrates every time I sit here in my studio, that loving, constant presence isn’t here anymore (sometimes, I even think that it is, and then I look over and see his spot empty and it hits me.) I am conflicted that while I miss Socrates horribly, I don’t ache physically for him as I do for Cleo, and I feel guilty about that. Which is just what I needed to pile onto this whole situation. I get to feel bad about feeling bad.
And then, of course, feeling this bad about “cats” to people on the outside makes me feel ashamed somehow. But then, people make others feel bad about their grief of any sort all the time, anyway. After all, grief is extremely personal and it tends to make others feel uncomfortable because no matter how much they understand or were even involved, they’ll always be outside of someone else’s grief. Their discomfort usually makes them push back, to make the grieving person feel bad for making other people feel uncomfortable. Thus, you end up feeling bad about feeling bad, whether it’s a cat or a person, or anything in between.
After Cleo passed, I didn’t know what to do with myself except cry for days on end. Then, I painted her as a practice painting, just a quick little one. It was the first time I could feel her again. I can’t explain it, but as I painted her fur, I felt as though I could touch her again. It helped, a little.
I painted Cleo before Socs suddenly declined. So, during the mini-christmas-last-days in my studio, I started painting Socs. It became imperative to me that I at least capture his eyes before he passed, if not the whole painting. I felt pressed, as every grain of sand slipped through the hourglass. In the beginning you think you have so much time, but at the end you can feel every single second as it slips away because there are so few left.
I did not finish my painting before I had to let Socrates go, though I did manage to finish it in the days after.
It’s weird how the world keeps turning, even when it feels so wrong for it to do so. But time passes, and days slowly start turning into weeks, and then months. I lost Cleo February 12th, and I lost Socs March 29th. It’s been two months since I lost one, and three weeks since I lost the other. In the middle of the weird time-slips that the pandemic lock down has caused, it’s even stranger to me the way time is moving now. I lost them yesterday, and a year ago, or were they ever really here?
But they were here, and they meant the world to me. Now, my world is ill-fitting. Tight around my chest, but loose in the shoulders, and much too short, yet far too big.
More has happened, it wasn’t just Cleo and Socrates that spun my world of its axis, but I feel like I just don’t have anything left to care anymore. This year just seems like things are happening to me, one car slamming into another, and then another behind that one, and I’m not even driving. They’re out of my control. I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t fix it… which makes it feel entirely unfair that I am then left to deal with what remains after it’s all said and done.
And yeah, that’s all very melodramatic. But, I don’t care. I’m heartbroken in a way that you either get, or you don’t. You either understand, or “it’s just a cat”. And piling the other stuff on top of that, yeah. No, I’m not ok. I’m sure I eventually will be. I’ll find some sort of new “ok” to be, but I honestly never envisioned being in this place right now. I’m a planner, and I like to think out strategies of what I would do under different scenarios, but I never planned for this one (and this is more vague since I cannot share what other things have transpired, but they have been significant. No, it’s not “just cats”, but they were my support system, and the only thing I can share.)
So, I’ll continue to struggle to find a new normal. A new equilibrium. It’s not as if I have a choice. I hope I feel good and whole again some day, instead of 1/10th of what I used to be. I hope I fill back up. Wouldn’t that be something.