Where I was raised, in Upstate New York, one of the portents of the end of summer was the appearance of fields full of Queen Anne's Lace. I loved to pick it, pop it into vases of colored water and watch the magic begin. My mother always complained that it was "just a weed", but I always thought it was beautiful. I was reminded of my mom when I saw this bloom near the fountain at the waterfront edge of the Olympic Sculpture Garden. She's been gone almost 18 years now, but there are days and times when the loss is just as raw as it was the day it happened.
So it is with grief - like a tide, it ebbs and flows - washes over us at times, at others, recedes.
Death and loss are often spoken of in hushed tones, and far too often, we stuff down our grief so as not to appear weak or, well, insane. But I have met people in the last few years (this happens when you get older) whose grief has been palpable, and quite honestly, I've been somewhat envious of their ability to proudly wear it as a badge of honor and respect for the life lost.
I'm definitely the breed that stuffs it down. But when it bubbles to the surface, it can incapacitate me for days at a time.
For several years now, my husband and I have been caring for my younger daughter's cats. Three in total - Baby, Max and Shiloh. Due to circumstances beyond her control, she can not have them where she lives, and we opted not to add to the crowding of local shelters, and agreed to take them on.
Of the three, Shiloh had been the most stand-offish. Quietly independent, she accepted our offerings of food, but had, in recent months, become much more vocal about her preference for clean, cold FRESH water - practically hourly. She'd also started to become quite the snuggler, and would seek us out by meowing in the darkened room at night. Inevitably, she would be on the bed, snuggled close to one of us when we woke in the morning.
At the start of the summer, she started with a bit of a raspy breathing, so while at the vet for a regular check-up, we were told it might be allergies, to just watch and see if it got worse. It did, so we began a course of medication for an Upper Respiratory Infection. As a second course was started for a lack of improvement, we opted to have x-rays done to see if there were a structural abnormality that might be causing the distress. X-rays came back with a finding of a mass in her nasal cavity, which was deviating her septum, as well as several metastasized spots on her lungs. We were in the final stages of some form of cancer.
I have spent a long life caring for pets, from hamsters, to fish, to chinchillas, to cats and dogs. As I have gotten older, I have concluded that many times we attempt great life saving measures for our companion treasures, we are doing it more for ourselves than for the animals. I was determined this time that I would not hold on longer than I should just to ease my conscience and postpone my grief. As soon as things became a quality of life issue, we would let her go. Fortunately, my daughter concurred.
It has been just over two weeks since we released this sweet kitten from her pain. She had stopped eating, and would no longer drink. It happened far more quickly than I had hoped, and I wasn't prepared. I spent the morning I made the phone call bawling, but was able to pull myself together as my daughter and i met at the vet's office. Once again, I had to stuff it down, be strong for her. She was full of self recrimination, if she had made better choices, this wouldn't have happened. But the truth is, every living creature dies. There is no way to predict when, or how, or why.
Max and Baby remain. The feline pecking order hasn't changed much. Baby has always been the master of the universe, although Max often tries to change that. They're a bit needier - they sense the loss, and long for human comfort. Truth be told, the human needs them just as much.
We are not religious people, so many of the ways that people are comforted in grief do not apply here. Though I was brought up Catholic, some of the phrases do die hard. "Gone to Heaven" almost sprung off my lips as I was attempting to explain to my 5 year old grandson, but children, in their infinite wisdom, need tangible evidence. So we have shown him the ashes. The pawprint that was made. We have told him when our pets die, they turn into dust. It is easier to tell the truth than concoct a lie. He was sad, but satisfied with the explanation.
As it does every day, the sun set again. And every summer the Queen Anne's Lace makes an appearance. And in the winter, there will be cold rain, and maybe snow.
And grief will be a part of every human life you encounter. Sometimes you will know, sometimes you won't. Be kind out there. Life is too short.
I don't always wax philosophical. But as I've said before, there are no rules here. Sometimes we just need to speak...