What I Learned About Love and Grief When I Lost My Cats

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~Anatole France

Unconditional love.

The thought of my cats envelops me with warmth whenever I think of them.

Why? Because we’re so connected. It’s an ethereal thing. Beyond words. Beyond reality. Beyond rationality.

When I’m holding them, I feel so spiritually connected. They stretch out as I start to scratch their backs, signaling that they like it. A welcome sign I should continue.

They stare with their mysterious eyes. Their stares are hard to read. Yet, they tell you a lot of things. They open the flood gate of emotions. Me to them and back. They don’t need to be able to speak. I can understand those tiny meows. Those sighs. Even those imperceptible smiles. And all because of the special bond we have.

The inner joy they provide is incomparable whenever I play with them.

They may not be as active as dogs, but it’s the sweetness that melts me.

The moment I touch them, they start to meld their bodies into mine, telling me not to let go.

Sometimes they are aloof. Their snobby attitude makes me laugh. Especially when they demand something and I withhold it. I stare back. I tell them “No.” Yet their eyes impinge upon my soul. Saying “no” for long is not an option.

When I’m not feeling well, they know. They lie down next to me. They stay quiet next to me. They try to take away the illness. They’re sharers and carers.

It’s a bliss being with them! It seems to be mutual. Indeed, I can’t last a day without my fur babies. Nor they, me.

A Month to Forget

Then came that dreaded month in 2013. In October that year, my two most beloved babies died.

I was devastated. My grief was instant. It was raw. It hurt like hell.

I started to question the concept of goodness and the fairness of life. How can the universe be so cruel? How can humans cope with the onset of grief that can come upon us so suddenly? Will our lives ever be the same again? Can we ever recover from the all-pervading feelings of grief and get back to those blissful feelings of unconditional once again?

How can the source of my joy now be the source of my sorrow? How can it be that the reason for my existence is now the reason for my annihilation? How is it that my cure is now my pain?

Ironic, isn’t it?

Life is unfair.

The joy that is given to any of us is always temporary.

You may say I’m exaggerating. It’s just a cat, a pet, an animal. You can always replace one with another one.

But I tell you, that’s easier said than done. For those of us who are animal lovers and who are by themselves, having a pet is like having a miniature human. Many people won’t understand this. It may be difficult to comprehend. Hard to accept. But yes, our animals can replace humans for comfort and reassurance in many instances.

But that’s life. That’s how the circle of life evolves. One is birthed, one dies. It goes on and on and on. And it’s up to us to accept it and move on. At some stage we need to release. To let go. Otherwise we can get caught up in the devastation of loss and grief.

That’s how grieving is. It is so painful. More painful than the loss of an object or career. It goes beyond physical pain. It’s a forever thing as a piece of your heart goes with them.

Grief almost killed me.

But I realized that it’s just a phase. It’s a doorway toward a better place. It’s a key to unlock your hidden courage.

Sometimes, you have to undergo grief. To release the negativity and allow positivity to enter your life. As they say, you have to empty out so one can pour more love in.

More than a painful phase, grief can teach you lessons that will add to the missing puzzles in your life. Lessons that will make you stronger; that will make you a better person. That will eventually bring strength and resilience.

And while on this painful journey, I pondered upon these lessons that changed how I look at life.

Lesson 1: Cry if you must.

Never say sorry for crying your heart out. Most of us feel ashamed when we cry. We don’t usually like others to see us when we are crying. Society taught us that crying is a sign of weakness.

Definitely not.

It’s an outlet for your emotions. To cry is to release all the negative feelings that are killing your soul. Isn’t it that after crying, we all feel better? As if a huge stone was lifted out of our chest?

That’s what I learned when my cats died. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried every day. I almost cried everywhere. Whenever I saw cats, tears would fall from my eyes. I allowed myself to be drenched in my tears. It just seemed natural at the time.

Until the sadness is gone. Until my eyes ran dry. Occasionally, I still cry whenever I remember them. But I was never ashamed of my crying.

Lesson 2: Every being is precious.

“Don’t be a fool, it’s just a cat!”

“Don’t waste your time on those animals.”

“You can always replace them.”

These are some of the things I heard people say as I grieved. People smirked. They didn’t laugh at me outright. They thought I was insane to grieve for those beings.

“What makes them less of a precious being that I should not grieve for them?”

That’s what I wanted to shout to those who were mocking me at that time. Because for me, every being is precious. Human and animals alike. For me, whoever—or whatever being—made me feel so loved and special, is as precious as a human person.

My cats, they were so generous in letting me feel the love, the warmth, the joy. They made me feel special. Isn’t that enough proof that these beings are precious?

And because of them, I learned to see the value of each being. Whether it’s another person, my neighbor’s pet, an old person, or a child. All of these beings are precious. They all play an important role. They all add value to my being.

I believe that every person or animal we encounter throughout life adds something to our life. All those you bumped into on your life journey create an impact. They create a ripple effect that multiplies into bigger ripples, until all those who are in your circle feel the impact. We are all joined in some way, even if we don’t recognize it.

Lesson 3: Reality bites.

I was in denial for quite a time. I kept convincing myself that I’d be fine and that I’d get the hang of it.

But the moment I was home by myself, the silence almost killed me.

Where are those naughty meows?

Where are those tiny fur babies cuddling at my feet?

Where are those eyes staring up at me demanding attention?

The thought of these memories haunted me. There’s this big hole in my heart that seemed to widen as the days lingered. Indeed, reality bites. As days went by, the pain got more intense. The feeling of missing them tore me apart. Reality certainly had bitten hard.

In a painful situation, denial can make you feel good but only temporarily. Denial does not alleviate the reality of what is. It will bite you so hard and so deep that it can’t cure pain anymore. Sooner or later, you need to face reality. Feel the heartache.  Feel the overwhelming pain and sadness of loss of part of your soul. But you must not let the venom of reality kill you. You’ve got to allow a cure to surface.

Lesson 4: It’s okay to not be okay.

You don’t owe anybody an apology just because you don’t feel okay.

In the midst of this painful phase of grieving, life had to go on. I needed to go to work. I needed to go out. I needed to do my chores. And, I needed to continue breathing.

There were times I survived the day being okay, but there were times that I was stopped by the dreaded feeling of being not okay. How I wished I could just feel these things when I was safely at home. Or, during the night before I went to sleep, so that no one could see my weakness.

Most of the time, this feeling paralyzed me, to the point that I could not continue my work or what I was doing at the time. Sometimes I could not speak. If I pushed myself to socialize, I ended up offending someone. Good thing my loved ones understood what I was going through.

I tell you, it’s okay to not be okay. You’re not the only person who has felt this way. Acknowledge it if it comes. Welcome it with open arms. Then allow it to dissipate in its own time.

But here’s the thing. The feeling of not being okay will eventually be temporary. By all means immerse yourself in the feeling, but do not allow yourself to wallow in self-pity, such that you cannot recover.

Lesson 5: Grief itself is medicine.

People tend to ignore this stage. When they’ve lost a loved one, they act as if nothing has happened. They act as if they have already recovered. Well, it’s okay to have that attitude. But I tell you, it is better to allow yourself to experience grief.

Grief can be your healing pill. Just like a pill, it tastes awful at first, but as you progress, you’ll get the hang of taking it. Somewhere in your subconscious, it will register that the pill of grief really is medicine, and that it is good for you to experience what life offers in emotional enrichment. Until such time as when you’ve reached the recovery stage, and you no longer need the pill.

That’s why I acknowledged my grief. I was aware of what I was going through. I acknowledged its presence every day. And then one day, I just woke up healed and refreshed.

Lesson 6: Grief is temporary.

If there is one thing that is permanent in this world, it is “temporary.” True, isn’t it?

The reason why I allowed myself to undergo grief is that I knew it wouldn’t last forever. I thought it was just a stage of life that I had to pass through.

For those times I missed my cats, and I suddenly felt bad, I somehow knew it was a temporary feeling. For those times I saw people playing with their cats, and I would suddenly feel the envy, somehow, I knew that feeling was temporary. For those times that I can’t help but think of my cats, and I want to isolate myself from the world, I recognize that it’s temporary.

Grief is temporary. Sooner or later everything will fall into its proper place. Sooner or later you’ll get through. However, “temporary” can be a short time or an eternity.

No Matter What, You’ll Get Through

The road to recovery may be long, but there’s no other way to bypass that road. I even told myself that I would never let myself have another cat again after that dreaded loss.

Days, weeks, months passed.

Four months later, I found myself cuddling two fur babies again. They’ve been my medicine to full recovery.

I find myself back to my old self. That person who loves to nuzzle cats. That person who finds joy playing with cats. That person who regards cats as family.

I just realized that’s how the circle of life evolves. We lose some, we gain some. We love, we hurt. We become pained, but eventually, we receive healing.

I realized that I needed to embrace life as it is. Even if I take things into my hands and try to manipulate an ending, pushing myself against the tide, I will always be swept back to where I should be. Life settles these things for you.

This is grief.

This is how you lose a beloved.

This is how you fall and stand again.

Grieve if you must. It’s part of life. Of growing. Of moving forward.

And all will come to pass.

And unconditional love? Oh, it’s there again. Together with my two new cats.

About Celine Healy

Celine Healy is a stress and wellness specialist at Wellness That Works. Her five-step model for a holistic body/mind approach to wellness is based on the premise that you need to change how you respond to stress first, then deal with the other layers after that. Celine is passionate about implementing simple, easy and natural remedies to whole body/mind wellness. Celine lives in Australia with her two cats.

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