I was all set to write about how 2014 had been a transformative year for me. The lessons I've learned. The newfound practices I've cultivated. How I was going to make these things my lifestyle.
But then my cat died.
It was on the evening of New Year's Day. My dear friend from high school was visiting me for a week, and we enjoyed a half-day outing of a five-mile walk followed by dim-sum in Chinatown and dessert in Little Italy. It was an invigorating start to 2015, and our plan was to stop at my place to change clothes before hitting a comedy show in Greenwich Village.
I unlocked the door and called out with the usual, "Schatzi, I'm home!" When she didn't appear immediately, I went to find her in the bedroom. She was all snuggled up at the foot of the bed, awakening from a cozy nap with a great yawn. I sat down next to her, petting her and talking to her. She licked me. PURRRR. PURRRR. PURRRR.
Then I headed to the living room to join my friend, figuring Schatzi would follow me as usual. From the couch, I heard her claw grip the carpet in the hall -- as if playing with a toy -- but her body fell to one side and she let out a terrible screech with all paws fully extended. I rushed to her, thinking it was a seizure of some sort, and she moaned in pain. It felt like several minutes yet it was seconds. I talked to her, pet her head, and sang her favorite tune ... then her eyes dilated. I kept singing and petting her. She had passed.
My little darling went from purring to passing in mere minutes.
Today is the first day I can talk about it. And not just because the swelling has receded from weeping over the last three days. I think it's because I have wrapped my heart around the idea of this beautiful spirit that was all love and I've wrapped my head around the idea of how to unstick myself from the pain of grief.
Missing Schatzi. It's not easy and I can burst into tears at any moment or thought, but I am trying to use my love (and hers) to the positive. I'll explain.
Ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test? There are four factors that combine to show how someone's perception is formed, based on his or her personality. Each factor has two style indicators -- such as "Extrovert" or "Introvert" and "Thinking or Feeling" -- that provide a "personality type." (Click here to complete this free exercise. It's fun to learn about yourself, but some of the questions are very tough. You cannot fail. There is no wrong answer, it is simply personal preference. Try to think objectively about your thought patterns.) You'll end up with a "type" that provides insight on your personality. This is based on Carl Jung's theory of psychological types. Everyone is different -- some driven by emotion and intuition, and others by sensory information (intellectual data).
According to Myers-Briggs, when I completed this exercise in college, I am an ENFP: Extrovert (E) who focuses on the outer world and uses iNtuition (N) to interpret data that's presented to me. I generally make decisions by first considering the Feeling (F) I get from people and circumstances (rather than simple logic), and I'm comfortable staying open to new ideas (Perceiving) instead of getting to a decision quickly.
I remember being torn in two on some of the questions because the fact is that I need to make sense of things both emotionally and intellectually before I commit -- whether it's an outlook on my world, a review of a restaurant or an opinion in a debate. My friends will tell you I'm an over-thinker and that I have a high EQ (emotional quotient).
So, when Schatzi (who I adopted from the Connecticut Humane Society four years ago, when she was four years old) passed, I needed to "figure out" how I was going to "make sense" of this.
DISCLAIMER: There are no guidelines to mourning loss. I believe we each have to feel our own way through it in our own time. I don't believe "time heals all wounds," but I do believe we learn how to live with those wounds. Those wounds may be special people we no longer have in our lives or situations that never came to be or situations that have changed. This particular story is about the passing of a pet -- a loving companion -- and I realize this is a natural occurrence and not a horrific injustice or tragedy like those we read in the news every day; I am not equating these.
So, I have wrapped my head and my heart around losing my Schatzi by doing these:
- "Remember the Love." This is my mantra. When I walk in the door quietly, instead of singing, "Schatzi, I'm home!," or when I have to remind myself it's bedtime because that cutey cat isn't fetching me with a "meow" to do so, I recognize the feeling of sadness and deliberately switch to Remember the Love. I think of how she transformed from the shy cat -- who sat under my bed for three days when I adopted her for fear of her new environment -- to the playful companion who had conversations with me and loved to walk on my terrace (and the neighbors'!), 14 floors up from the non-stop noise of taxis, ambulances, and college students on Third Ave.
- Honoring Her Beautiful Ways. If she comes up in conversation, rather than recount how or why it happened (is it possible for a fit cat to have a heart attack?) or how I am feeling, I will use that opportunity to talk about how great, loving, playful, and cute she is. Yes, IS. I believe love is forever and spirits are energy. Schatzi slept next to me with her head on the pillow. She loved when I sang tunes composed just for her. She collected her toys (my ponytail holders) and deposited them in her dish as thanksgiving. She never clawed anything. She always used her litter box. She never jumped on the dining room table. She always kneaded my tummy and licked my hand.
We can do this with the people we love who have passed. Shouldn't we?
My friend, who thankfully was with me during this transition and helped me through this process, said there is a culture that CELEBRATES a person upon their passing in a joyous manner. In the Western world, we generally have solemn rituals. In my experience they often end up with storytelling that brings laughs, but I'd like to learn more about the culture or religion that focuses on celebrating the person in a positive way. (If you know it, please message me or COMMENT below.)
The Humane Society of New York was closed on New Year's Day, of course, so I planned to call them on Jan. 2 to find out how I could handle her body. I learned I could bring it there because they worked with a crematorium. It was a tough task, but my friend and I hailed a taxi and drove in silence uptown. I entered the small lobby and went up a couple stairs to the check-in desk.
I couldn't believe it -- a godwink appeared in front of me -- on the wall was painted a mural of Schatzi!
The next night I was in my apartment building's laundry room, waiting for the dryer to finish, when my eyes were drawn to two books on the end of a bookshelf. There are about a hundred books, but I walked over to see what was pulling me: The spines of these adjacent books read, "Best Friends: The True Tale of the World's Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary" and "Fooled by Randomness."
Another godwink! "Best Friends" is about caring for abandoned animals; Schatzi had been abandoned and she became by best friend. The concept of "Fooled by Randomness" confirms that things happen for a reason; and, lo and behold, there is a white cat on the book cover!
I am learning again what it means to come back to a lifeless apartment. Pets and people make a home. I need to find a way to bring that feeling here, but I can't give any mind right now to several friends' suggestions about adopting another cat. No one can replace her, and I don't want to compare another pet to her.
Time needs to pass, they say. There are other animals who need a loving home, they say. I don't know if I'll get to that point, but for now I do know I want to celebrate the gift called Schatzi.
I've pondered our time together -- how she transformed from that scared kitty frozen under my bed for our first three days together to the relaxed, outgoing, happy, loving friend on top of my bed in her last moments. PURRRR.
How did she get that way?
Pets reflect back the energy they are given.
People do, too.
It's another reminder to me that while it's easy to be kind to the ones we love, we should be kind to those we don't love or don't even know.
This is one more way to honor Schatzi.
I have wrapped my head and heart around it -- I'm going to do it in this New Year!