Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing. Story told, story heard, story written, story read, create the web of life in words.

Christina Baldwin

Storycatcher, 2005


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Unwrapping the Gift of Grief

June has arrived. Over the past three months, we said goodbye to several dear friends, Bob, Peter and Jack. I add my own goodbye to Lexie-Known-As-Bob, my grey cat. If we choose, each passing allows us to dip into that deep pool of grief, to give it space, and to honour it. Today, my story is about Lexie.

Alex, “Lexie,” Bob Murphy died at 4:44 pm on April 30th, 2015. Lexie-Known-As-Bob, was my most beloved grey cat. He was two months shy of his nineteenth birthday. The pain and the peace of his passing are part of his many gifts to me.

In August 1996, my sister-in-law Bev and I were shopping for fabric. I wanted to recover a sofa our Aunt Olive had given me. We found some beautiful material and were heading for lunch, when Bev stopped in at her favourite pet store. In a large wire kennel at the front of the store, was a tumbling mass of very young kittens, mostly greys and two blacks. I have never had a pet. When I was about eight, a “pet” turtle got out of his bowl and crawled up my mother’s leg, and that put an end to any pets living in our home ever again. For years, I played with and enjoyed pets that belonged to friends and family, but never adopted one of my own. Yet that day, in that shop, without hesitation, my hands and arms reached out and picked up a little grey bundle. And that, as they say, was that!
There are moments in life that are so sure and easy, they quietly amaze me. I just know: this is the next step; this, is a yes.  Saying yes to Noel was such a moment. Another "yes" came as I walked into our new home for the first time. Large and small, the knowing moments are precious. Holding that small furry grey bundle in my arms on that August afternoon, was another such moment. I said yes to the kitten, and I couldn’t put him down.

“Smokey,” whispered Bev excitedly: “Smokey would be a great name.” I looked at the store owner. “How old is he?” I asked. “The kittens were born July 1st, so he’s eight weeks old,” July 1st! Given that his birthday was Canada Day, I declared: “His name is Alexander, after Sir John A. MacDonald.” Ten minutes later, Alexander and I left the shop. I sat in the back seat of the car, holding him in my arms, singing to him. It was the beginning of great relationship, and it was the first and last day he was called Alexander. Over the years, he received many names. Alex morphed into Lexie, which in turn gave way to Lloyd, Lex Luther, Al, Cakee, Cakes, Grey-Man, and the most popular in recent years, Bob or Bobby. At the vets, he was ”Alex-Known-As-Bob,” on all his records.

I want this to be a tribute to Bob, of my gratitude for all the great and many moments we shared over the years. I want to acknowledge how Bob helped me through so many challenges and changes in his almost nineteen years. However, what is unfolding is the release of grief. I am astonished how Bob’s passing opened the door to my grief.

Our life together came to an end as it began, with me cradling Bob in my arms. Noel and I gather in the Willow Room at the vet’s office that April 30th. I hold Bob, as he gently, so gently, drifts away. Doctor Marnie Edwards, our remarkable vet, helps him on his journey. We thank Bob: for his companionship, for his crankiness, for his boundless curiosity, and for his delightful cleverness.
I look at Noel through my tears and say: this is how I want to go. Truly it was a gentle and peaceful passing, in the arms of a loved one. Bob is showing me the way. There is both pain and peace in that quiet moment. A short while later, we get into the car, drive through traffic, and the reality of the world moves back in. I return to the thrum of life.

Then I start to notice. I become aware that flu, fear and fatigue all look and feel alike in my body, with chills, headache and nausea. Now I know, it is also the same when I open the gift of grief. I find it remarkable that I can continue to function through grief. I can speak on the phone, finish some editing, I can cook, shop and drive, all through the grief. It took me a few days to realise that I was still holding onto Bob. I regretted his passing so much and thought I should have brought him home. We could have enjoyed him for a few more days, maybe even weeks. Then I realise this is regret. This is about me not wanting to let go. The holding is actually the pain, the fatigue and "the flu" in my body. But my heart is at peace. It will take my body some time to catch up.

Exactly one week after Bob’s death, we receive his ashes with a card that wraps me in comfort. It says: Grief is a gift that we hate to unwrap but it is the truest testament that we have known unconditional love. One week later, we receive a card from our compassionate vet: I just wanted to let you know that I have been thinking about you.  The notes fill me once again with peace and pain, but now, the pain is less acute. Unwrapping the gift of grief is a first step. Using the gift is now part of my journey.

A gentle June to all.

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