On Grief at Three 

Many of you know that a few weeks ago, my fat, old, beloved tabby cat crossed the rainbow bridge.  The loss was – is – very, very difficult.  I adopted Pookie just two weeks after moving to this coast; I was 19 years old, on my own, and when I passed him during an adoption drive at PetsMart, I couldn’t resist.
Pookie was three years old when I adopted him (although our vet placed his age at 3-5 years, Pookie was always young at heart) and the last 14 years of life together has been the absolute best.  He was by my side through not only all of life’s happiest moments, like marriage, buying our first home, and the birth of both our sons, but also through life’s most difficult, like the loss of friendships and the passing on of my sweet grandmother.  And so, to say that I was sad when Pookie began growing old, slowing down – that’s an understatement.  To say I was upset when Pookie was called home – it doesn’t do justice to the enormous grief I felt (and still feel).
And that’s just me, an adult, processing grief and sadness and loss and pain, knowing that all things grow old and eventually pass on – a time for everything, right?

And it’s hard; it’s damn hard, processing those feelings.
Yet I’ve found the most difficult part of this came not my own acceptance and understanding, but in the need to tell Miles what had happened. I spent a brief time wallowing in my own tears, and they quickly vanished once I realized I must also tell my oldest son.  How does one, at three years old, understand and process such a thing?  How long could I put it off, telling Miles where Pookie was?  Could he just forget about Pookie, and I’d never even need to broach the subject?  Of course not; he’s an exceptionally bright kid, and honesty (in all its sometimes-difficult glory) is a key pillar of our home.
I waited a full day, hoping I could be calm and peaceful in our discussion.  I had Hallmark movie-worthy conversations in my mind, and I knew exactly how this would go.  I was super-prepared, even if I was only semi-ready.
After bathtime, before we read our bedtime stories, I sat down with Miles and told him that I needed to share something very important with him.  He knew Pookie was getting older, winding down, so I thought that understanding would lay the foundation.  Here’s where we have the Hallmark conversation, with mild tears and large smiles, and we hug at the end while sharing banana splits. Right?
Ha.
As soon as I said the words, “We need to talk about Pookie…” the waterworks began.  And then, because Miles is truly his mother’s child, his reaction to the awkward outpouring of emotion was to laugh.  Not in a spiteful way; not in a “mom looks silly when she cries” way, but in a way of coping.  I do this, too.  I remember when Evan and I were saying our vows during our wedding, and I was so overcome with emotion that when our pastor got to, “For richer or for poorer…” I just laughed.  LAUGHED.  (although sometimes I tell God that I totally get the joke, now)  So, I get it.
Sometimes your mind’s defense mechanism is unique and inappropriate; we are weird creatures.
But, his laughter broke my tears.  It gave me the bittersweet feeling I needed to carry on with the very difficult (to me) conversation.  I explained to Miles that as things grow old – animals, people, plants, everything – they may begin to feel tired.  They may move a bit slower, seem a bit quieter.  And when things have reached what is usually a very old age, they may grow so tired that they can no longer be here on earth.  This is what happened to Pookie.  He was very old, and very tired, and just not feeling his best, and because of this God said, “Pookie, I know you would love to stay with your family forever and ever, but I do think it’s time you came home to me, to stay in Heaven.”  And Pookie said, “God, my family will be sad that I am gone, but they will also be happy that I am with you, that I can run and play and jump and roll in all the catnip I want.  So, if my time here is finished, then I will come home to you, God.” (I like to think he also had a Fancy Feast clause in his agreement to go heavenward)
I explained to Miles that Pookie was very happy here, but also ready to feel good again, and so it was time for him to go to heaven.  I told Miles that he will most likely (scratch: absolutely) see me cry from time to time, but that it’s nothing for him to worry about; I will feel sad, because I miss Pookie so very much.  But I will also feel happy, because Pookie can run and play again, and one day, we will see him again.  I told Miles that we would plant a flower bush for Pookie, something that would let us think of him every time we saw it.
“Mama, I will pick a beautiful pink raspberry flower bush for you, because you love raspberries and flowers, and that will make you smile!”
And there were more tears, of course, because I feel so very, very blessed to be the mama to a boy as kind and sweet as Miles.
We buried Pookie in the front yard (the boys don’t know this – while we are incredibly honest in our home, the thought of a cat buried in your front yard might be a bit much for a three year old to comprehend) and we planted a gardenia bush; our “Pookie Bush.”
Occasionally, Miles will ask about Pookie, usually if something happens that stirs a memory.  If it thunders, Miles might ask where Pookie is because he remembers he was afraid of thunderstorms.  We’ll have the heaven talk again, and he’ll carry on with what he was doing.  Sometimes Miles will mention that he misses Pookie, and we’ll talk about some of our favorite moments together, or I’ll show Miles pictures of Pookie laying on his playmat with him, when he was just a little baby, and we’ll laugh and smile and get misty-eyed together.
Then, this past Saturday, Miles asked a question that stopped me in my tracks: “Mama, when can Pookie come back from Heaven?  I think I’m ready for him to come home to us again.”
The minds of children are in constant motion; even if they’ve stopped mentioning something, it can be guaranteed that they still think of it often.  After two weeks of little conversation about Pookie, this was an unexpected question for me.  We talked about how Heaven is your forever home, and that Pookie would not come here, but that one day, a very long time from now, we would be there with him.  My answer satisfied Miles, but it brought a new river of grief through my heart.
When you are a parent, your minutes, hours and days are spent caring for others.  It is a part of life that is joyfully exhausting; there is nothing else I love more than being mama to my boys (wine is a close second, followed by chocolate) but there is no level of tired like that of a parent.  It’s not just a physical sense of tired; it’s mental, and it’s emotional.  When something tragic happens in your life, like the loss of your most beloved cat, your own grief is placed on hold while you tend to the grief, tears and needs of others.
And so, day after day, I find myself in a quiet moment of solitude sobbing endlessly over the loss of my cat, because as a mom I’ve learned that much like shaving my legs, ironing a pair of pants, or cleaning out the produce drawer, the time to grieve comes when it’s least expected and sporadically.
I remember when each of the boys were just tiny babies, swaddled safe and snug in the crib, with big blue eyes looking out at the world, and I thought to myself, “God, let them always feel safe.  Always feel warm, loved, protected, cared for, wanted.  Help us be their fierce protectors and endless huggers.  Let us follow your desire for our home; let our boys know a love like no other.”  Because it’s a bit scary, having such great responsibility for these tiny people.  They are little for such a brief period of time, and then suddenly they’re aware and conversational and they must learn about things in life that are difficult, and you lose just a bit more innocence each passing year.
It was hard to lose Pookie.  Really, really hard.  He was not just a pet; he was my friend and companion, a constant source of joy, a member of our family.  Having to tell Miles about this loss was equally hard, because it meant we were reaching a new place in life, where he needed to know about death, although not in those exact words.  But hearing my sweet boy console me, I know we’re doing something right.  I know we’re teaching him love and empathy and caring, and even though this has been a difficult time, I find the bittersweet moments to be perfectly comforting.
Like a pink raspberry flower bush.

 

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Crazy Cat Boy

I read an article on Huffington Post yesterday about a pair of moms who are designing and creating dresses for girls that feature things like dinosaurs, aliens and trains.  This was seen as “unconventional” in the world of fashion for young girls; I’d have to say, I agree.  Just walking through the aisles of the toddler section at Target, I’m bombarded by either pink-ruffles-pearls-princesses or ninja-super-alien-fire truck.  There is no gray area in terms of clothing for young children; it’s either very blue, or very pink. 
 
A few months ago, one of the boys in my son’s class had a birthday, and cupcakes were brought in for all the toddlers to enjoy (because toddlers totally need cake and frosting at 3pm on a Tuesday, right?) There’s an even split of boys and girls in Miles’ classroom, which this student’s mom had noticed.  She brought in eight blue cupcakes and eight pink cupcakes. Each was adorned with some sort of plastic trinket on top, with the blue cupcakes having soccer balls, and the pink cupcakes having Hello Kitty rings.  The plastic choking hazards were removed prior to cupcakes being served.
 
As each student left for the day, one of the teachers invited them to grab one of the plastic items from the basket they’d used to collect them.  Two moms who arrived at the same time I did chose for their children: soccer ball for a boy, kitty ring for a girl.  When it was our turn, I let Miles choose.  And do you know what he picked?
 
kitty
 
OH YES.
 
I instinctively prepared to defend his choice, thinking his teacher might suggest a soccer ball, but she just smiled.  Miles happily took his kitty ring, and we were on our way.
 
He didn’t choose Hello Kitty because of its color or cupcake association; Miles chose the cat because we have four cats at home, and by default Miles loves cats as much as his crazy cat loving mama. 
Not a day passes where he doesn’t give at least one of them a “big hug” (read: squeeze their internal organs).  Most car rides home from school involve some sort of discussion about Frankie or Patches or Blueberry or Pookie.  He loves these little furballs.  He also loves our dog, and if the choice were between plastic dog ring and plastic cat ring, I’m not sure what he would have decided (catcatcatcatcat).  And he really really loves dinosaurs, so if the decision fell between cat and T-Rex, well, that would be an obvious choice for him.  He simply chose what he liked.
 
Kids don’t see things the way some adults do: pink or blue.  Kids see things the way they truly are: fun or not fun; yes or no; want or don’t want.  It’s very simple for them. 
 
Example:
FUN.

FUN.

 
NOT FUN. Thank you, RHONJ.

NOT FUN.
Thank you, RHONJ.

 
So, boys can like cats and girls can like rocket ships, and life still goes on.
 
Kudos to the mamas thinking outside of the pink and heavily glittered box.
 
 (BTW, they are officially sold out until July!)

FACT: You can have children AND be the crazy cat lady.

I love cats, a lot.  I love them more than cheese fries and brownies and fried pickles and all the other things I secretly eat then feel guilty about later.  I love cats so much that as a young child I not only subscribed to “Cat Fancy” magazine, but I also had one of those t-shirts with a chorus line of cats coming and going (you know, whiskers on the front and poopers on the back). 
You wish you had one.

You wish you had one.

With total disregard for my lameness (not lame, totally cool, no one else got it) I proudly displayed my feline affection.  Oh cats, how I love thee…let me count the enormous stuffed animal (all cats) collection in my childhood bedroom to number the ways.  CATS ARE THE BEST.
 
We always had a small herd of cats growing up, and all of them were rescues.  When you’re raised in a small farming town, and a pet passes on to Pet Heaven, they get buried in the backyard (this is not weird, stop looking at me that way).  So when I tell you we had a multitude of cats through my childhood and teen years, realize that also equates to your furry best friends growing old and passing on to that great cat tree in the sky.  I have always imagined that if the current owners of my childhood home ever decided to put in a pool, and they dug up a certain corner of our backyard, they would be deeply concerned and/or horrified at the number of cat skeletons.  Maybe they’ve read Pet Sematary by the great and powerful Stephen King.  And maybe they moved out instead of putting in a pool.  That would make for a great novella one day, right?  Poltergeist meets Pet Sematary meets Cat Fancy.
 
Anyway.  Rescuing cats.  It’s a genetic trait for some of my family members, me especially.  I want to save all the cats.  In May of 2003, I moved into my first apartment.  Less than a month later, and with total disregard for my then-roommate’s cat allergy, I adopted a fat tabby cat.  His name, proudly displayed on the tag of his kennel, was Binky.  In my 19-year-old brain, I decided that Mai Tai was a much more suitable name.  He is most often called Pookie, because I’m one of those really awesome people who gives a pet a name, only to call them exclusively by a series of nicknames.  Pookie will be fourteen years old in May.  He has guaranteed he will live to be at least 30 years old, though.
MY FIRST LOVE.

MY FIRST LOVE.

 I am in the 90th percentile for Crazy Cat Lady potential.  People will tell you that this can be avoided by getting married.  WRONG.  People will also tell you this can be avoided by having children.  DOUBLE WRONG.  If you have the potential, it never leaves you.  Maybe that tiny, crazy voice is quieter at certain times (or being drowned out by the sound of your toddler sliding the dining room chairs all over the house) but the voice is there, lying in wait.
 
Three years ago, a sad looking  tortoiseshell cat started hanging out on our front porch.  Pookie was not amused, as he sat near the living room window, peering out at this ragamuffin.  I was intrigued.  We began feeding her (did you know all tri-color cats are female?  THANK YOU, CAT FANCY MAGAZINE).  A few days later, a gray and white ragamuffin showed up.  A week later, a black and white super sketch ragamuffin showed up.  I recall texting my husband after work one day with, “WE ARE SURROUNDED GET HOME NOW BEFORE THEY EAT MY FACE.”
 
After months of feeding them, getting them to accept my overwhelming love and then giving them names, we knew we had reached a crucial point: they needed to be spayed and neutered, and they need to be adopted.  Watching them out the front door window, all three snuggled up together on the giant dog bed we’d given them, I realized that these three siblings couldn’t be separated…and in my heart of hearts, I just knew that no one would adopt three cats (which we had affectionately dubbed “The Wild Bunch”).  And so, the decision was made for us by the furballs on the front porch.  We crated them (that is an awesomely insane story for another day) and took them to our local PAWS to have them all snipped, clipped, chipped and vaccinated.  WELCOME HOME, KITTIES.
Three fatties.

Three fatties: Blueberry, Patches and Frankie.

 Pookie adapted pretty well for an old dude.  We agreed that four cats was plenty, and we would adopt no more.  I avoid adoption days at PetsMart like the plague.  I will cry for the kitties waiting to find forever homes.  When those stupid ASPCA commercial with Sara McLaughlin singing come on, the channel cannot be changed fast enough.  I love the ASPCA and all they do, but my fragile emotional state and internal Crazy Cat Lady cannot handle the sads.
 
AND NOW…For the past week, two cats have been hanging out in the preserve across the street from our house.  Like the Wild Bunch we adopted three years ago, these two new cats have been sleeping in the culvert.  They are beautiful, obviously cared for, and clearly abandoned based on the length of time they’ve been here.  I cannot fathom abandoning a pet (okay, maybe my husband’s parrot, but Kiwi is the Winged Apocalypse) and I cannot believe that a person would leave two pretty babies to fend for themselves.  Heaven forbid I find the person who left them.  I hope they died peacefully in their sleep, and the cats escaped the house in search of food.  If they did not die peacefully in their sleep, the will die unpeacefully in their awakeness.  TRUTH.
 
I contacted a local no-kill shelter, only to find they only accept owner surrenders.  This breaks my heart, even though I understand situations arise in which pets cannot go with you.  And I am thankful a shelter exists that will take the pets.  And I am filled with rage that the owner of these two cats did not do a little research and take the cats to this shelter; now these babies aren’t eligible.  I then contacted our county’s animal services division, and was told that their hold time for abandoned pets has been reduced to one day.  This means that in 24 hours, if the owners haven’t claimed the pet, they are evaluated to either be euthanized or put up for adoption.  That’s not a lot of time; I would pray that the cats are put up for adoption, but the reality is that they’re cats, not kittens, and the likelihood of them being adopted is reduced, with the likelihood of them being euthanized is increased.  My head and heart cannot handle the guilt of that possibility.
 
Now what?  We have four cats.  Did I think having Miles would reduce or eliminate my affinity for saving the world?  Absolutely not.  Do I think six cats would be too much for our tiny home?  Well, for our tiny home, yes…but for our enormous hearts, there is plenty of room.
 
I have posted on Craigslist, hoping to find the owners.  But for now, we’re sneaking plates of turkey and cat food across the street (my kind and lovely neighbors, who take care of our own herd of cats when we’re out of town, have assured me we do not need more cats) in the cover of darkness to avoid any backlash.  They are friendly.  I will provide a photo as this relationship progresses.
 
Place your bets now on whether I enter the 95th percentile of Crazy Cat Lady potential.
If you buy me this shirt, I will wear it.

If you buy me this shirt, I will wear it.

Home delivery available.

Home delivery available.

WANT.

WANT.

We can google image search all night long,

K