"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
I am reading My Cat Saved My Life, which means my nose is a little plugged up.
Last night when I arrived at the chapter where Alice dies, I put the book down. I did not feel ready to face it. Yet it had already been awakened, the grief I still carry for Phoebe, and I knew I wouldn't be able to just switch gears. So I picked the book back up and let myself cry through the chapter. It's been over a year and I guess I still have some grief to work through. I thought at this point I could consider Phoebe's remembrance journal abandoned, but now I feel the need to finish her story after all.
Sometimes I feel guilty that Phoebe's death is my truest touchstone for grief, that I somehow feel her departure from this world more keenly than that of my Aunt Marian or my grandmother, such lovely souls, both. Reading My Cat Saved My Life is somehow reassuring, as the author has lost both is parents--their deaths pushed him into a depression that his cat pulled him out of--and when she died, he felt her loss so keenly that he had to pay her tribute in a book. Here is a man who has lost his parents yet still does not see the loss of his cat as a small grief, so perhaps there is nothing wrong with me for feeling Phoebe's death so keenly.
I think there are a couple issues at play here--one is that it is possible to wrap our heads around the entire life of an animal, so that when we mourn, we mourn every moment of her existence. A long human life is harder to comprehend--we can only understand those moments where it intersected with our own lives. I have a jumble of disjointed memories of my aunt and my grandma, but I did not live out the entirety of their lives beside them as I did with Phoebe. Because of that, it is easy to "forget" that they are gone from this world. It just feels like I haven't seen them in a while.
But when Phoebe died, she left a hole in the day-to-day fabric of my life--if I forgot she was gone, such forgetting only lasted a moment. Her sister's presence in bed with me each night served as a reminder that her weight against my legs was missing, as did the ritual of filling just one bowl at feeding time rather than two.
Also, I was responsible for Phoebe's time in this world in a way I wasn't with the humans I have lost. I made sure she was fed, watered, vaccinated and cared for when I was away. I was her advocate and her voice in the world. And I was even the one who made the decision to let her leave it. I met her mere weeks after her birth, and I stood beside her with my hand on her body at the moment of her death.
I feel this is a blasphemous comparison, but perhaps the deaths of animals hit us so hard because they fill a role like children* in our lives--they remain dependent, we must nurture and care for them, they love us without question or complications ... and then they are gone, and all that love and nurturing that went into giving them a good life floats free, with no idea where it should land.
* I do not mean to suggest that the death of an animal comes in any way close to the devastation of losing a child. I only mean that I think animals speak to the same parts of us that children do, and that they awaken many of the same protective and nurturing instincts.