Two weeks ago we had to put Frankie, our giant orange tabby, to sleep. Although he had been ill since before Christmas, we weren't expecting to make that decision as suddenly as we had to, and there's a part of me that remains mystified that he's really gone, so great was his presence. The fact that I can replay the scene where we pet him, crooning to him, as he fell asleep and died seems to have no real impact on that desire to wish it weren't so. If I feel this, after all the deaths I've dealt with, it's no wonder that Rosie can be reduced to inconsolable tears at being told we'd brought Frankie's ashes home today.
It's been a weird two weeks--being sick and spending a lot of it separated from everyone else, in bed and asleep has made it doubly so--I feel disconnected, disjointed, out of it. Bobby and Lily deal with death differently--they bounced back resiliently, and neither had made any mention of Frankie in the last two weeks. After the other losses this past year, I understand that they hurt, they care, they haven't really forgotten, but that it's easier for them to not think of it and not dwell there. I hadn't raised it because it seems incredibly tacky to bring something up just to check and see if they are feeling something--to impose sadness for one's own reassurance is cruel. Besides, Rick hasn't talked about it, either, and I would never presume he isn't in pain over it simply because he doesn't talk about it.
In our culture, we don't tend to talk about death, bring up our feelings about it, share in any great detail with others that we are hurting. Grief is something we are taught to wall off, distance ourselves from, and mourning, something our culture once took seriously, is not something we tend to engage in if we can avoid it. We gloss over it all, wanting to return to the normal rhythm--to experience grief-that peculiar pang of the heart that leaves us gasping for breath and certain our heart has shattered--this is too hard an emotion, and we have taught ourselves to find some way to distract ourselves, numb ourselves from the loss we feel.
So we replace pets--which is not a bad thing--we brought Daniel and Jack home four days after losing Frankie--so that we will not be alone, will have a distraction. Why should we be surprised when people enter into new relationships soon after losing a mate? Replace, distract, move on as fast as possible. That's not all bad, but it's certainly not all good if we do it to numb ourselves from our loss, as a way to avoid the tasks we must perform to integrate the loss into our continuing existence.
Kubler-Ross has us, as a culture, certain that we have but to move through the stages as fast as possible and we'll be good as new (not her fault, of course, that people took her stages too literally). We wonder at people who seem to linger in their loss, their pain always visible, and we grow impatient, but the reality is that although we may be sure our job is to move on with our lives, our dead left behind, we are far better off if we find a way to remain in relationship with our dead, to carry them with us, our love for them remaining in the present.
Death may separate us, make it harder, cause tremendous pain, but it does not mean we must go on without our loved ones. We just have to find a way to carry them on with us. A favorite perfume, a watch, a piece of jewelry, a favorite meal, a sweater: so many ways we can carry our loved ones along with us, honor them and their continuing impact and influence in our lives. Task models of grief are more helpful, both to the individual, and those who are in support roles.
Frankie's gone, and I miss that giant orange cat. Bringing his ashes home today hurt, caused the tears to flow, but there's still humor to be found. His ashes were lovingly placed in a gift bag with a poem and tissue paper. I pulled his box out, and saw in gold-plate "Fannie" and busted out laughing. To think of my Frankie, that giant of a cat with a soul as wide as the world, as a Fannie was just the thing I needed. The vet will get us a new plate with the right spelling and in the meantime, Frankie's on top of the fridge waiting, but instead of crying when I see the bag, I will smile and think of him as a Fannie.