The problem with grief is not any of the things which we usually talk about when we are suffering from it — it is the hole. The almost palpable hole that appears in our side (more on that in a minute) and the hole that appears in our expectations from the world around us. Grief is attached to a loss of something physical which was in our environment — the physical body of the person who has died which we could see and touch and interact with. So suddenly, there is dead matter where we look for that person to be — a dead pillow, where there was once an expectation of a pillow which someone could lay on, or dead air where they should be sitting.
This lack of a beating heart – this hole where we expect a warmth and a responsiveness is what feeds grief.
About six hours after turning Puffy’s body over to the hospital for cremation I started to see his spirit moving around my feet, moving in the corner of my eye, on the stairs. I’ve had some truck with spirits, so this didn’t jar me as much as it might have. A spirit is something that you can comfortably think of as being a very slight figure ground reversal of the hole we were just discussing. It is possible that I can see them because I am slightly schizophrenic, because I am spiritually sensitive, or because I have done a lot of work to observe my own subjective input to my sensations — your own metaphysical perspective will supply you with the answer to that question — I don’t posses one. It is a phenomenon in my environment — so I interact with it.
I observed at the same time that I felt an almost concrete stabbing sensation in the region of my solar plexus — only more diffuse — as if it was extended over my entire diaphragm muscle. It felt almost like a cutting sensation in my right side. At the same time I was aware of this movement, almost like a rippling in the air which I couldn’t quite see.
Attempting to tie the two sensations together I pictured taking my hands, and scooping out an area of my chest, just over my abdomen — an area composed of heart and lung tissue, across which my diaphragm hung. I could see him crawl into my side like he used to crawl under my covers, and curl up on my diaphragm. I thought to myself “OK — that will work. I can just carry him in my chest until I die and the problem will be solved.”
And almost immediately it occurred to me that wouldn’t work so well, because several members of my family, not the least of which being the other cats, were also grieving for him — and it seemed that it was selfish of me to carry in inside my chest, where only I could interact with him. Besides which — Puffy has been sick since he was a kitten. He never had the strength to really go out and play like the other cats. And we live in a dangerous world, he was a very expensive cat and was at risk for being stolen, or killed by a raccoon or dog. So we kept him in much more than he wanted to be in.
It is very possible that, on being freed from his own sick body, and the contingencies of the physical world, that he would want to enjoy the opportunity to romp around without the weight of a failing heart, and to go in and out as he chose, and that my drawing him into my chest would confine him, or make him feel obligated to sit near me and not roam around like he wanted to. Besides which, not having died I don’t know what other doorways are available to him, and I wouldn’t want him to feel bound.
So I focused on him and told him that he was totally free to go — that he had a good opportunity to see and feel some new things, and that he shouldn’t feel obligated to hang around me. There were other people to visit, he could finally go all the way around the house if he wanted, he could go down to the water, and he didn’t have to be afraid of the train or the cars any more.
Immediately after going over all of this I had a very concrete feeling of how large and foreign the world is – and I worried that he would feel abandoned and alone — that he had to go out into unexpected and unknown things all alone, and couldn’t count on me any more to look out for him, or put food out for him, or defend him, or warm him up when he was cold. So I tried to express a compromise — he should feel free to go wherever he wants to go (and especially to go look at the train, because now that there is nothing to be afraid of it is really quite incredible) — and whenever he wants to come back and sleep in my chest, there is a warm bed there for him which is open 24/7 — and if he wants to run around my feet when I’m walking that is fine also. He won’t ever have to face not being able to find me, because I will never forget him, but he doesn’t have to hang about if there are more interesting things to do. And the ache in my chest isn’t really pain, it is the open place I have made so that he will always have somewhere familiar to bolt to and hide or sleep in. He will always have someplace where he belongs.
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