And Sometimes, In Hindsight, We Find Evidence Of This
C.S. Sherin, January 21, 2020; edited 22 Jan 2020
In hindsight, we sometimes realize, that within this existence there seems to be an undeniable, unique and perplexing way that seemingly disparate events, intentions, actions can conspire together, and become a pivotal moment that changes the course of our lives, hearts, and thoughts…from that vital moment, and onward.
Our youngest cat, Gilbert, wanted some attention and cuddle time from me today for a few minutes. This isn’t something he ordinarily will do, unless he has missed morning cuddle time before we get up from bed, which is rare. In sitting with him today, I began to reflect upon how he ended up in our lives in the first place. The second anniversary of our adoption of him is coming up soon, at the beginning of February. My mind wandered back to that day, as I held him and he gazed up at me. This led to me realizing that, our dog, Samantha was the reason that the adoption of Gilbert ever happened. As I realized this, Samantha, who was sitting right against me as I held Gilbert, peered at me with her beautiful universe-like eyes with a quiet, calm receptivity. As I write this, they remain on the couch together, with a respectable foot of space between them.
Two years ago, February, Samantha had been nervously chewing on her feet for some time. We had tried many ways to get her to stop (toys, sprays, CBD oil, Rescue Remedy, massages, Reiki, etc.) As a last resort, Jeff and I made a run to Petco to get her some indoor boots to protect her feet. Upon getting there, we discovered that it was Tabby Town adoption day. Tabby Town is a local no-kill program for homeless cats. We adopted our oldest, Wesley, through the same organization, which is mainly run through foster homes. Normally, I would have been happy to see this. But, we had, a year before, lost our not quite three-year-old ginger cat, Winnie, due to serious illness. We did everything to save her that we possibly could. I had fed her liquid food, and injected IV fluid under her skin for weeks to keep her alive, with the hopes that she would recover. We spent $3,000 in treatments (way out of budget). She simply wasn’t able to recover from the mysterious illness that resulted in an ominous jaundice. We took comfort knowing that we had thoroughly loved her, and given her a good home. Yet, that kind of loss, of a young cat, really has a rough impact. That was compounded by having had other losses of elderly animal companions, a few collective years before that, in a short amount of time. So, when we saw the kitties for adoption, I wanted to protect my broken heart. I didn’t feel capable of opening it to another cat. Yet, we were irresistibly drawn to look, even as I told Jeff that we could not seriously look.
When I think of Samantha chewing her feet back then, it makes sense. She is a sensitive dog, with a tendency to be high-strung at times, who had been through a lot before we met her. She struggled with abandonment issues.
Winnie had been her best friend. From the time they first met, they got on like they had been born together. And Winnie was such a beautiful, sweet, and wonderfully mischievous girl. We were all grieving her. Even a year later, Samantha felt her own, and everyone else’s grief as well. It makes sense now. But, going through it…? Well, we do all sorts of things to avoid grief (when it isn’t actively asserting itself) in order to keep going through life. We turn away from, and close things that we need to, and at times, we overlook obvious coping mechanisms (that are being used to deal with grief), or casually misname them as annoyances. Everyone grieves in different ways, of course. Just as everyone copes in different ways. Some people bite their nails. Samantha chewed on her poor little back paws.
I am mindful of four main thoughts as I process and write this:
- One, I haven’t been able to talk about Winnie in a public way until now, and it is good to finally be able to.
- Two, losing a young cat is not like losing a human child, and I wouldn’t, nor would I think for anyone else to compare the two in a real and actual way. At the same time, like many, my animal companions are family, and it is a real and valid loss on its own.
- Three, my mother lost a baby who lived only three days, and I was born two years later.
- Four, a friend of mine, who had lost a baby, once expressed to me the inability to adopt an animal, like a cat or dog, because of how traumatic it was to hold and bury the body of their baby. I cannot (and most parents do not want to even) imagine the pain and heavy grief of losing a baby/child. I have experienced other losses and hardships, and I have held and buried six animal companions (cats and a dog) in my lifetime already. All but Winnie had lived within life expectancy… more or less full lives. Through those hard experiences, while I cannot imagine what it is like to live with the loss of a child, I can understand the inability of a bereaved parent to go there, in taking on the lifespan, death, and heart connection of an animal companion. That friend had shared this with me, because I was encouraging an adoption of an animal companion, and I didn’t know what was holding them back. That was something I had never considered. I apologized for not getting it at first, and offered my acceptance and support.
In general, there is no comparison, nor any need to compare losses or other hardships. There is always someone with greater and different experiences of both loss/hardship and joy/abundance than us, and always those with less, no matter what. The reason that I am emphasizing this ethical line is to establish proper context for my process and story. You see, these aspects are in my mind as I write this, because of what has happened to my heart since we adopted Gilbert. Let me explain…
Sometimes we gain insight and true understanding and/or compassion through experiencing something of life ourselves. Until we have that experience we aren’t able to access the insight, compassion, or perspective….even though the capacity for it is within us. Sometimes, we cannot know or begin to really comprehend certain things about people and aspects of life, until we have experiences that build us up and/or break us down into new comprehension, vision, and being. Losing Winnie and later, adopting Gilbert, was one of those life experiences for me.
Samantha’s grief and nervous habit led us to a place where we found Gilbert, all alone, waiting to be adopted. His mother and four siblings had all been adopted in the months before. When I picked him up, he immediately rubbed his cheek against mine and cuddled me. That was not enough to convince us, surprisingly. My heart was too broken. I could not make that decision this time. I could not make the choice to adopt, even if he had just chosen me/us. I told Jeff as much. We left. We drove away, heading into town to get groceries, but both us remained haunted by little eight-month-old Gilbert, alone in that cage. We both kept thinking of him. By the time we got home we decided that Jeff could call to see if he was still there. We had not decided to adopt him, we were only calling to see if he had been adopted or not. And then, we would talk about it. I stood by and heard Jeff’s end of the conversation:
Jeff talking on the phone with the Tabby Town person at Petco about Gilbert:
I am wondering if he is still there….
He is? Oh. You are? Okay. Yes, we are…
Yes, we do.
We will bring a carrier. Yes, we can be there in 15 minutes.
As I listened, my mouth began to gape open, knowing that he had claimed Gilbert for adoption. It was so unlike Jeff to make a decision like this without asking me, without really discussing it. Looking back, I know that he had to be the one to choose. His heart was ready. He was feeling strong, and sensed the importance of Gilbert already.
When we arrived at Petco for the second time that day the woman told us that if had we called one minute later, a man and his grandson would have gotten Gilbert. The man and his grandson ended up adopting a cat that looked almost exactly like our Wesley instead…an older farm cat looking for a forever home, where he could finally live out the rest of his years inside from the cold. At that point, in knowing how close it came to not getting Gilbert, I felt my heart warm and strengthen. I felt the importance of these events that were neither planned or expected.
What happened in the first year of life with Gilbert, is that he opened up a new dimension of love and healing to me, and my heart and life, and to the rest of the family — but in a special way to me. I have never in my life met an animal companion who is so consistent and persistent in pouring on love and affection every single day, to one person, as he is to me. E v e r y morning that I was home that first year, he would lay upon my heart and neck, nuzzling down, purring, and falling asleep. Having been a Reiki practitioner since 2003, I know powerful healing energy when I feel it. This cat healed, and heals my heart. And, like every animal we have ever adopted, he brought joy, love, humor, and a sort of heart resurrection for each person in my family…our other cats, our dog, me, Jeff and our daughter, Samara. Jeff and Samara exclaim all the time how he is my baby. And, looking at us, you probably would too. He comes to my heart every day, if not in the morning, at some point in the day, and rests there with love and purrs, and if there is time…sleeps there. It is the most soothing thing in the world. And, there has not been one day that he has missed doing this (when I am home). That is remarkable! I wrote a poem about it early on, called “Each Morning.” So, over the course of these two years, I really can see, feel, and appreciate the amount of healing that has come to be, because of this relationship.
About a year ago, in the midst of this process of knowing and loving Gilbert, the panda cat (so much like Po from Kung Fu Panda), I felt the grief for Winnie, but it wasn’t so raw and hard, or heavy. It was tempered by healing. And a realization I never had before, came to me. I now had the faintest idea of how it must have been for my mother to have me after her baby had died. I have a little context now, of how and why she may look at me the way she does. This is something I never considered before. Sometimes I have been annoyed at how my mother raves about me, and thinks that I was born against all the odds, because that is what she felt at my birth. Me? I am just a regular, ordinary, average human born here, nothing special, or…no more special than any other person here. But, yes, it makes more sense now. And my heart has grown tender for her in a new way because of this insight. A little more patience, a little more depth of knowing has grown in me. My heart has opened up to a perspective of who I am, or was, for my mother, when I was born, that I could never have known before. Would things have been fine if I never got a glimpse of understanding? Sure. But, I appreciate learning and knowing more. That is joy and fulfillment for me. Would I like to take paths with less heartbreak from now on as well? Yes. For sure. Yes….and…..
An adorable, young cat who broke my heart did that. And, a little cat who helped me to heal my heart did that.
Life can be odd, and the sacred Mystery of it can be so mind-boggling. We would never wish these kinds of paths to wisdom and understanding upon anyone. We would never wish someone loss and hardship in order to understand our own. I am a big fan of learning from other people’s stories. That is one of the reasons why I tell personal stories. Sometimes, in the telling we can bring new understanding, healing, and perspective to others, while sparing them the pain of actual knowing through experience. We can’t always do this, but when we can, it is so good to do.
Even beyond this intention though, is the wonder and joy I felt today in realizing the far-fetched events that led to bringing such a courageous love-and-peace-warrior-cat like Gilbert into our lives. And, there was also the gentle brush of the sacred upon my head today, in a way, in taking the time to sit with a cat and dog, and allow them to inform me in new ways through their presence.
So, Gilbert wanted my attention today, at an odd time, Samantha gazed into my eyes, and their presences led me to ponder, how all of this happened, and it led to this story being shared.
And yes, we got Samantha her boots that day, two years and some weeks ago…but she didn’t need them for long. As it only took two days for Gilbert to charm and entrance Solomon, Wesley, Samantha, and us humans…so, Samantha stopped chewing on her feet so terribly pretty soon after that.
That would have ended this story nicely, but there is one more thing to say. What I saw in Samantha’s eyes today was that she was still missing Winnie. Of course, she always will. And we do too. But the roughness of it has given way to a softness that grants me a strong and sure ability to send her well wishes and warmth of love, to wherever her spirit traveled to after life on this plane, with more confidence and trust. I told Samantha that it is okay. It is okay to feel ongoing grief for a loved one. And, it is okay to be happy with what is now…at the same time. As much as the human world seeks to compartmentalize and dismiss such things, we are and do hold a great and vast ability to sit with all that is…in honesty, complexity, simplicity, peace, love, grief, and loss.
The two most hopeful things I have discovered in the midst of it all today is:
- The ability to heal, regenerate, persevere, and to find renewal in the most unexpected ways….even after feeling and being broken, perhaps for the second or fourth time or more.
- Seeing that events and choices we would most often ignore or dismiss as unimportant or trivial can be a key part of a confluence of waves and movements that are conspiring to help, and even heal us.
That is the kind of hope that makes me certain and rooted in positivity and optimism, even in the face of terrible odds and circumstances. I hope it does for you as well.
As I sign off for today, Wesley, our 10 year old Maine Coon cat is in my lap purring, pleased with my progress today. He and I have been on a long road together of meditation, companionship, loss, grief, love and healing. He has been a part of it all. And he only wants to add this:
We all grieved together. We all love together. Different kinds. Different ways. Just like you, I didn’t know that love would outweigh everything. Now we do. We’ve lived it…are living it. And I am so happy it is with you. Purring, purring, purring….we purr and blink our love without end…evidently this is true, you know, you feel the fire in your heart, you feel our loved ones, living on in there…~ Wesley Sherin, the ginger Maine Coon Cat
And his words, transmitted, unleash tears in me. I am weeping now. For a little bit. And it is okay, and right, it is love, and honoring of love…it is beauty, folded in love, and flowing.
C.S. Sherin 2020@ WildClover.org