Do you have a cat? I do. This is the beast. There remains, cliched and predictable, the incredible value of a creature whose affection is unconditional, semi-dependant and gloriously mercurial. I have almost always lived with cats and most of my calmest memories as well as the most distraught are intimately wrapped up with them.
One of my first real memories, of which I seem to have few (my sense of time seems poor and I don’t feel an affinity for my own past) is when our first cat was killed, torn open by a larger tom with whom she had a long-running war.
I guess it was a first sense of mortality. And a lesson (of sorts, if you want to be tritely moralistic and fabley about it), in the responses to grief. I was in floods of tears, so much so that the friends who were in the garden with me playing on the climbing frame were sent home. I must have been five or six and I still recall their incomprehension of why I was so upset. It was terrible. A tiny, vibrant creature that had just stopped, or been stopped from continuing with their marvellous existence.
I’ve never had any illusions about life after death, and that some do does rather baffle me. When you see something dead that once lived both its fragility and strength in that now-ended life seem dreadfully apparent. But it’s over. A sadness and a reminder that immortality is only memory. She was a lovely cat. And I still miss her, sometimes, when I think of her.
It upset me that other people didn’t care, that they thought my grief disproportionate to the loss. Well, they would. Don’t we always? In not being each other we can’t really feel the losses of others – at best we can imagine how we might feel. But I don’t know how intensely you feel for something, or how it’s loss will make you feel. I can guess, try to model you and maybe get close. Or I can just be there for you however you react.
I’ve always grieved more for pets than for family. That feels as if I should be ashamed of it, but I’m not – exactly as above. Only I know how I feel and the closest you can get is what I tell you, or you infer from my behaviour. Maybe it’s because I spent more time, physically with the pets. Maybe because their lives are generally so short, compared to those family I’ve lost. A shock, sure. But genuine surprise that someone’s died? Not something I’ve felt. We know it’s coming. And I know that they’ve done more – it’ll always be strange for them not to be there, but they’re always going to be gone one day.
You can either cherish them and invest in those relationships while they’re alive (against the threat of death) or accept that however you know and relate to them is okay. I’ve tried regretting not being closer to my grandparents before they died. And it would have been nice, and I’m sure I’d welcome that surfeit of memories. But what time I spent with them I enjoyed.
The regret I think is when I imagine or guess how they felt about our relationship – perhaps they wanted more and I never gave it. But I can’t know that. So is it a thing to dwell on, this imagined comprehension of an unverifiable artifact of half-memories and assumptions? Probably not.
I’m mostly content for their memories to arise as they do, and what fleeting regret I feel on occasion tells me that I loved them, and that I believe they loved me. It does not diminish my memory of affection, and knowing that it is unchangeable I’m warmed by what we had.
But pets… That’s a heart-tearing loss of daily companionship for me, of dependance and abuse of responsibility in permitting harm to come to them. People are self-determining, to a point. But I feel so much more for these simple beasts we take into our homes. Perhaps this is why some friends think my values are misplaced.
It’s hard to express – I feel more for those who had least freedom. Or something. I’m confusing myself.