Ghost in the machine

17 05 2009

She’s been gone two weeks and I don’t feel her anywhere.

I choked up as this photo loaded on to the page, but it’s been been awhile since tears could be prompted by the thought of her.

She’s slipped right through and away from me.

Grief may be about the recognition of absence, as I mentioned previously, but what of the absence of the absence?

I can tell people I mercy-killed my cat and move on. I pull FatCat close to me and wonder how she is as an only cat. I think about getting a kitten in July or August.

I don’t think about Chelsea.

There’s a photo of her propped on top of her empty food dish (a small pot I threw and glazed in her tiger-striped coloring; FatCat has a similar black-and-white dish), but I rarely slide my eyes over the shelf on which the dish sits, so I don’t see her. Out of sight, out of mind?

It’s a relief not always to be verging on tears, but I’m discomfitted by my relatively smooth transition to post-Chelsea life. I was worried about the grief taking me over, but now I wonder about the easy sequestration of that grief.

I thought she’d be here. Yeah, I know, I’m an agnostic about all things supernatural, but I liked the idea of her, somehow, hanging around. Ms. Blithe comforted me with the words ‘Travel well, Skinny Cat,’ and I like the image of her continuing on, somehow.

Somehow. I was worried that my own disenchanted naturalism would dissipate into a cheap spiritualism, that I would be unable to deal forthrightly with Chelsea’s death and thus retreat into a moony ‘when-I-see-her-again’ wistfulness.

This is not a slam against belief. My friend and colleague J. is both ‘an orthodox Marxist and an orthodox Catholic’ (she pronounces this with her finger raised) says that ‘unlike those goddamned Protestants’ Catholics believe that animals have souls and I’ll see Chelsea in heaven. (Which is sweet, really, that she thinks I’ll make it to heaven.) I demurred and noted that some Protestants allow for this possibility, but, as with Ms. Blithe’s comment, I didn’t really take it in. It’s a nice idea that I don’t quite believe in.

I ought to be relieved: my agnosticism is not as blithe as I worried it might be! My beloved cat is gone and I don’t experience her as anything other than gone. She’s dead, as FatCat will one day be, as any other cats I take in will one day be, as my friends and family and I will someday be. Dead is dead.

Curiously, however, I am not eased by the fact that I am not eased by any post-death possibilities. I ought to be pleased with myself, insofar as I sometimes suspect that my agnosticism is little more than cover for lack of commitment. I am committed to doubt! I say, even as I think I am merely keeping all of my options open. Don’t want to be caught out a fool, doncha know.

So the unbelief side of my agnosticism holds. Whoopee.

Another stage of grief? Bargaining or whatever? ‘I want my cat back. I want her here, with me.’ And that she’s not, in any way, is a kind of small desolation which confirms the possibility of universal desolation. Is this the movement out of bargaining into acceptance? That death really does mean separation?

And then wrap this whole situation in the that whole over/underreaction dynamic I have going on, and it would make sense that I lurch from constant sorrow to a certain stoniness regarding her absence, and from there to a cosmic absence for everyone everywhere, forever.

I want to be clear-eyed. I want to remember. I want to keep open possibility. I want to commit. I want to make sense.

So Chelsea’s gone and I know that. I know that too well. I just want her here, as well.

I want something more.


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6 responses

18 05 2009
Christine

You want to make sense? Good luck with that. 🙂

I kind of felt this way after a friend of mine, whom I’d been close to in London but hadn’t seen in a few years, committed suicide. I grieved hard for her right away, and then it was over. I think part of me had long understood that that’s where she was headed. Maybe Chelsea’s advanced age prepared you for her death?

Or maybe this is just what you’re doing right now. Maybe there’s more to come. Or maybe not. But I remember also feeling a little odd that I didn’t get those pangs of grief for longer, for my friend.

We don’t know how to grieve, in this country. There’s no model for it, really. In my experience it’s normal for the tears to come and go. FWIW.

When my brother died, I did feel his presence strongly for a long time, as did others. I don’t know what that is, except memory is part of the body. So is love. But there’s other stuff, too.

18 05 2009
absurdbeats

I know, given my pseudonym, you’d think I’d know better than to demand sense. . . .

I think it’s entirely possible that this is what I’m going through right now, and that my response to Chelsea’s death might shift yet again.

If I can’t have sense, I can at least keep track.

11 06 2009
lesleykim

This is a very lovely post. About a month ago I lost a dear kitty love of mine. I have also previously lost a kitty I loved desperately for 17 years. I think grief comes in stages. I felt a version of this “absence of absence” as you call it, and I think it just might be your mind’s way of protecting you from the deepest parts of grief. The parts that come after the newness and shock of it has worn off but before the healing of time and distance can take effect. And the fact that you so desperately want Chelsea back (believe me…boy, do I understand that) proves that really, underneath it all? Absence isn’t really absent at all.

(I hopped over here from The Daily Snark. This post particularly resonated with me.)

11 06 2009
absurdbeats

Hi Lesley

Yeah, Mo mentioned that you’d recently lost a cat, one who’d been with you a long time.

I’m glad she was with me for so long, and so, so sad that she’s no longer here. When I allow myself to register that she’s no longer here, that is.

Still coming to terms, I guess. How about you?

12 06 2009
lesleykim

Ah yes. Our animals give us so much love, but in the end they leave us and break our hearts. It’s totally worth it though, don’t you think?!? I’m so sorry you lost Chelsea…her picture is SO adorable. I could tell from comments you’ve left on Mo’s blog what an animal lover you are.

I am coming to terms in an unexpected way. Oddly, I already have another cat – which was NOT the plan and rather freaked me out when it happened. But I got to talking with the woman who rescued my previous cat from the pound on his day of execution as they say, and she had another older kitty who desperately needed a home and had been through some really bad junk. How does one turn away an animal like that? (I told Mo I am clearly running a Kitty Retirement Home where all the hard-luck cases come to find a well-deserved happy ending. It’s my niche!) So now I’m working through this weird mixture of grief and happiness – ’cause the new kitty is pretty special – and realizing that there really isn’t anything more powerful and healing than love!

12 06 2009
absurdbeats

I have such mixed feelings about getting another cat—although I know I will.

How do I know? Well, I have FatCat (Bean), and I like the idea of her having another of her kind living with her.

Bean will hate the new kitty, of course, just as Chelsea hated Bean when I brought her home, but she’ll adjust—just as Chelsea adjusted.

And, frankly, I can’t imagine going through Bean’s death (she’s 14 1/2, and healthy) without another cat around. The day I took Chelsea to the vet, I brought her over to Bean for a last sniff, and Bean licked her head a few times before we headed out. It was horrible leaving home with a cat and returning without one; it would have been completely unbearable had Bean not been here.

I also think I would be having a much harder time dealing with the aftermath without Bean to pull into my lap when I need a kitty fix.

Bean’s not Chelsea, and the next cat won’t be Bean, but I find it easier to keep adding to the chain than breaking it. As you note, grief on one end, happiness on the other.

Of course, my relatively small apartment size does get in the way of my running any sort of Feline Halfway House, but if I did have a nice, big, house. . . .

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