Our cat was highly sensitive, and we were still learning how best to care for him. Before he stopped eating, we had finally thought we had found how we could help him to thrive in our home. It seemed like his best years were ahead of him; and this was the most heart-breaking reality.
I tried my best to comfort him in his last days, hours, and minutes. Yet, I found little solace for myself in recognizing his immanent departure from the world we know.
I desperately wanted to see him recover, to grow even closer to our family, to share more joy, love and appreciation with him. Yet, over the last few days it continually dawned on me that there was nothing I could to to alter his fate- which ultimately we all share, albeit in unforeseen circumstances.
In our cat I saw reflections of myself, my own sensitivity to others, my own desire to feel comforted and soothed, my fear of not being ready to let go, but not having a choice.
As I sat with him the day before he was euthanized, I prayed that he would die there in my lap so that I could assure my presence with him. I thought perhaps this might assuage the guilt of euthanizing him, and again I realized that I could not control the situation that was developing in front of me, but I could be with it.
After the deed was done I placed our cat outside on a table, with blessed Tibetan incense that a friend gave to me just a few days prior. I hoped this incense would help some dakinis find him to lead him through the bardo, but really I don't know what happens after death. I found comfort in thinking that he was not alone in facing whatever was next for him.
One of the most painful things about this situation for me was my inability to save our cat, my inability to take away his fear, and my inability to make him not be in pain. This caused me a tremendous amount of grief, and yet this grief was so important.
As I kneeled with our cat next to the hole I dug for him, I sobbed and said "I don't want to bury him," yet paradoxically there was nowhere else I would have rather been in that moment. I had the privilege of being with him, and letting him go physically. Also, it simply was what I felt was "the right thing" to do and thus in that context there was nothing else I would have rather been doing (despite there being millions of other things I would have rather done).
My grief was for him and for myself, it revealed my utter attachment to wanting events to happen in a way that they simply could not happen. Yet, attachment here isn't a "bad" thing, it is utterly human, indicative of our existential and sentient realities. Of course, in Buddhist traditions attachment is oft attributed as the etiology of dis-satisfactoriness- which personally I also believe. Perhaps it is just the therapist in me, but I don't think repressing or dissociating from attachment actually helps the process of going beyond it.
My experience today showed me something that may be common knowledge for people who work with grief, and yet it hit me deeply, profoundly. Grief is the severing of attachment, but in this context attachment isn't something we need to try and "get rid of." Life has already built this severing of attachment into our existence.
In this severing a natural grief flowed through me, I weeped and I didn't know when I would stop doing so. And that was okay, I didn't feel like there was something else I should have been doing. The heartbreak I felt, while intensely painful, also felt healing. While this grief is related to the severing of attachment, it is also related to the profound sense of appreciation for what our cat shared with us. By grieving our cat, I acknowledged how much his presence meant to me.
Grief is meaningful. It directly connects us to the reality of our existential sentience, and to our aliveness. It has the potential to reveal both the deeply empathic desire within us for others to be free from suffering, and our own aversion to the reality of pain and loss. It shows us our ultimate inability to control the processes of life, which include inevitable death for all of us and every being we know.
Grief is not something that ought be repressed, avoided, or shamed. Rather we all have the potential to embrace it with honor, gratitude, appreciation, humility and respect- because those aspects of our existence are really what grief is representative of.
I knew that our cat MoMo was teaching me something in his illness and his passing. Not only did he mean so much to me in his life, not only do I still wish he were here, but his death too was meaningful. When we repress, deny, disavow, and/or shame our natural grieving processes we lose the opportunity to experience the learning and growth that they offer us.
When we grieve we are deeply bowing to what it means to be alive: the impact others have on us, our love for them, the meaning we create together, our attachment to them and ourselves, our fear of loss, our desire for other beings to be free, our desire to control circumstances of life and death, and our connection with every sentient being.
Thank you MoMo. You will always be a part of me. I love you, and it is my sincere wish that you are free. I am sorry for any and all of my short-comings in our relationship. I am sorry that you have felt scared and in pain. I love you. It is my sincere wish that you be free.
May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.
May all beings know peace.
May all beings know love.
Dedicated to Romeo "MoMo" Menasco.