Grief Lesson For Petless People

If you think people say the dumbest things to you when you are grieving for family or friends, just wait until your beloved pet dies. Or if you are the one saying such things to pet owners, you won’t ever again be so insensitive after you read the guest post below by Dr. Dolores Spivack. A tear might just creep out of your eye.

I Miss My Cat    

When your pet dog or cat or bird dies, nobody sends you flowers or donates money in its name to a favorite charity, not even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If you get any condolences at all, your friends will say at best “Sorry and did you see the game last night?” Some people have even said to me “Your cat died, so now you don’t have a cat.” I miss my cat.

My cat, Mel, died two months ago after living all of her eighteen years with me. She was born right into my hands after her mother’s difficult labor. No bigger than a small potato, I massaged her chest with my pinky finger and Mel took her first breath in the palm of my hand. I then helped her mother clean her and nurse her.

At the end of her life, Mel only had one tooth and was almost totally blind. Because she shook her head so much after her second stroke, her ear shriveled leaving her only one ear. She was equal to about one hundred in human years. But, she could still navigate the house, find her litter box, and jump on the table. If, and when I reach one hundred years old, I want to be able to jump onto a table just like her.

I miss Mel. I miss her faithfully waiting for me to come home, even if all she wanted was her can of food. I miss her underfoot, even though I often stepped on her tail. I miss her scattering of toy mice I would give her as holiday presents. She couldn’t catch the real mice, only the toy mice. That made me laugh so much. The toy mice only collect dust now.

I knew she was important to me while she lived. I did not know how cherished and how vital she was to me now that she is gone. I find it difficult to explain to my family and friends how much I miss her. Often, when I wake up in the morning, I think I feel her cuddled next to me. Then I remember she died. I miss Mel.

My grief for Mel is as deep and sad as any I have ever felt for any human, friend or family. Why is that not acknowledged? For almost two decades, Mel made her presence known in my house; she ate her canned food with me while I ate my meals. While I slept, she cat-napped but for many hours more than me. She greeted me and all visitors with curiosity and a welcome. She was as much a part of my life as my family and she witnessed more of my life than anyone else. Why would it seem strange to mourn her loss so profoundly? All I ask of my loved ones is empathy at best or solemn silence at least.

When Mel died, I waited until I was alone to bury her. I knew I would cry long and hard. I wanted the privacy to cry how I wished. I felt no need to be strong. I placed her in the earth with the same hands that welcomed her when she was born. I sprinkled dirt over her shrouded body and tamped it firmly down while my tears made puddles of mud on her grave. I miss Mel so much.

***********************************

Dr. Dolores Spivack started a writing group to motivate her to finish her dissertation about New York City building codes. After successfully completing her PhD in Architecture, she has gone on to write creative nonfiction pieces like the one here. The survivors include a greyhound and Dolores’s husband. They both attend a yearly greyhound convention in Gettysburg. And yes, the owners’ dogs attend too.

Advertisements

Grief Without A Home

Famous essayists can go through it too, and of course express it so eloquently—the kind of grief nobody thinks should count as “real.”  Or has no business being present. Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent and columnist for The Boston Globe Magazine, writes about grieving for her ex-father-in-law:  “My grief had no quarter. I would not be counted as a mourner [at the funeral and subsequent prayer services]. There was no prayer for a former daughter-in-law to say. When I told people of my loss, they said, ‘I always forget you were married before.’ So I wrapped up my mourning in a private bundle…I am stunned at how people interrupted my reminiscences about Milton’s  generosity. I didn’t want to be distracted from my sadness. I didn’t want cheering up. But for losses like mine, losses without standing or status, grief is an orphaned state, and lonely.”

When I read that, I longed to immediately write back to her and say, “How I hear your distress! We chaplains know exactly what you mean and want to listen and not distract or cheer you up. Just give me a ring and I will listen.”

Diamant titled her essay, “Grief, Dispossessed.” That is a much more vivid term than the official term “disenfranchised grief.” “Dispossessed” means being made homeless. Dispossessed grief is like someone throwing you out of your home after all the lights in the town have dimmed. When you grieve someone or something not recognized by loved ones or our society, such as death of an ex-spouse, a miscarriage, hopes one had for oneself or someone else, or loss of a partner in a hidden gay relationship, you get a one-two punch. One for the loss, and one for having to hide the loss or having the loss dismissed by everyone as not legit.

So if you are on the punching end, ponder how to change thy ways. Prescription : reread this post.

If you are being punched, persist until you find someone who will give you a home for your grief, completely furnished with love, acceptance and patience.

Faleeha and David: Poetry of Loss and Peace

faleehaanddavid

An Iraqi woman who I was sitting next to at a poetry reading shyly handed me her card. Her logo ran, “The Maya Angelou of Iraq.” I had the feeling I had come across someone who was out of the ordinary, especially because she and the gentleman sitting with her have collaborated to present a program at various venues called,”A Muslim Woman and a Jewish Man: Reading Poetry and Hosting a Discussion on Peace.” Both Faleeha Hassan and David Steinberg are poets who have innumerable publications and honors. Faleeha herself is said to be one of the most prolific female writers in the Middle East. I include her poem Writer’s Block in my blog  not only because it is evocative and compassionate, it also speaks to losses we rarely consider:

Writer’s Block

When I try to write
I sense that millions of readers are
Crowding the paper’s edge,
Kneeling, genuflecting, and lifting their hands
To pray for my poem’s safe arrival.
The moment it looms on my imagination’s horizon,
Gazing at the concept in a diaphanous gown of metaphor,
Young people smack their lips—craving double entendres.
Meanwhile, with piercing glances, the elderly scrutinize
Its juxtapositions and puns.
Then the concept smiles shyly, dazed at seeing them.
On the paper’s lines both young and old meet for a discussion,
But my words resist
And erect walls of critical theories.
Then the paths of personal confession contract,
Contract,
Contract.
My imagination calmly shuts down,
And the conception retreats inside my head.
At that hour, it afflicts my world with
Bouts of destruction.
Workers refuse their paychecks.
Farmer let their fields go fallow.
Women stop chatting.
Pregnant mothers refuse to deliver their babies.
Children collect their holiday presents but
Toss them on the interstate.
Our rulers detest their positions.
Kings sell their crowns at yard sales.
Geography teachers rend their world map
And throw it in the waste basket.
Grammar teachers hide vowel marks in the drop ceiling
And break caesura by striking the blackboard.
Flour sacks split themselves open, and the flour mixes with dirt.
Birds smash their wings and stop flying.
Mice swarm into the mouths of hungry cats.
Currency sells itself at public auctions.
The streets carry off their asphalt under their arms
And flee to the nearest desert.
Time forgets to strike the hour.
The sea becomes furious at the wave
And leaves the fish stuck headfirst in the mud.
The shivering moon hides its body in the night’s cloak.
Rainstorms congeal in the womb of the clouds.
The July sun hides in holes in the ozone layer,
Allowing ice to form on its beard and scalp.
Skyscrapers beat their heads against the walls,
Terrified by the calamity.
Cities dwindle in size till they enter the needle’s eye.
Mountains tumble against each other.
My room squeezes in upon me, and
The ceiling conspires against me with
The walls,
The chair,
The table,
The fan,
The floor,
Glass in the frame,
The windows,
Its curtains,
My clothes, and
My breaths.
The world’s clarity is roiled.
Atomic units change.
I vanish into seclusion,
Trailing behind me tattered moans and
Allowing my pen to slay itself on the white paper.

 

David wrote the following prayerful poem moments before his sister died. This led to his meeting Faleeha, when he presented his poem  at the monthly meeting of the Society for Poets of Southern NJ. Faleeha subsequently translated this poem into Arabic.

 

Time Grows Short

Time grows short

As the hour draws near,

Transition shall take place

Gently, ever so gently.

 

It time to let go and

Escape the earthly bounds.

Angels waiting to guide you

To the next step.

 

May the White Light

Surround you with peace.

May the Lord

Guide your spirit.

 

Your work here

Is now complete.

Face the future

With certainty.

 

It is time to rejoice

You are Heaven’s gain.

And surly we shall

Meet once more.

 

  This is an excerpt from the book by David L. Steinberg, Copyright, April 2014. “Pour Your Heart Out,” Condolences Sympathies, Concerns and Comfort. This features the 7 Stages of Loss, spiritual poetry, comforting thoughts, and breathtaking images for those who suffer loss in their lives. Permission is hereby granted to Karen Kaplan to publish it in her blog.