A Few Words on Grief: We Need to Share It

On Sunday 26th October 2014, I got a phone call informing me of the sudden death of someone I loved. We raced to her bedside where she lay, still warm.  She had been hit by a car and died in the arms of our neighbours, who through sheer coincidence happened to drive past and see her laying there – albeit this taking place half a mile from our home. She didn’t have a scratch on her.

Echo after death

Echo after death

I should mention here, that she was our beloved 18-month-old cat, Echo.  People sometimes struggle to understand the impact of losing an animal that has become a loved one. Some people have never and will never experience the wonder of connecting with a non-human – and I feel for them, because it can be truly beautiful.

When they die, particularly in such sudden circumstances, it is every bit as devastating as losing a human being you have formed a close connection with.  I loved her, I laughed with her, we hugged, we kissed, we had in-jokes, she brought me immeasurable joy every single day of her short life.  And now, she is gone.

I made the choice to put my grief out there.  Partly because pretending I am fine when I am not is an approach to life I have never found any solace in.  To suffer alone, hidden from view, behind a mask of superficial normalcy is about the loneliest experience a human being can go through.  But I also realised it could be a service to others.

We struggle with grief, which is all the more strange because death is such an inescapable part of life.  Everything living dies. You will die, I will die, and so will everyone we love and care for.  This is it.  That’s a little too much reality for most of us to withstand on a daily basis, so we wrap it up and bury it from view – thinking about it only when death strikes.

In our sanitised western culture where many people may never have even seen a dead body, and where we rarely, if ever, discuss death in a personal and vulnerable way – being hit by grief can be an isolating experience.  You are thrown out of the fairytale of permanence, and you’re adrift with a weight you cannot shift.

What does grief feel like?  For me, the news was like being physically hit.  I collapsed in a heap on the floor and cried ‘No!’ repeatedly, while tears streamed down by face, like a scene from a tragic movie. When I went to her, I held her body and called her name, I whispered in her ear for her to wake up, I looked around as if in search for some authority figure to whom to bring this issue:

‘Look, there’s been a terrible mistake.  Somebody in the Life and Death department has really fucked up here.  Just bring her back and we’ll speak no more of it’

And then, while matters of cremation were sorted, life had to go on.  I wrote a poem which captures my lived experience since then:

Everywhere You’re Not

You’re not wrapped heart-shaped on the bed.
You’re not tip-tapping round my head.
That room, empty and full of you, hurts.
The absence of your staccato pizzicato across the headboard, hurts.

You’re not arched lapping, right paw steeped.
You’re not curled in your seat asleep.
That chair, empty and full of you, hurts.
The thought: ‘How did the water in that bowl outlast you?’ – hurts.

You’re not akimbo in the hall.
You’re not love-squawking at my call.
This house, empty and full of you, hurts.
The anticipatory breath, held futile and determined, hurts.

The void, the part of me that opened to share this mighty love, hurts.
It was the frame of the house we made, the struts and the beams
A place where our love lived; vital, expanding, love.
Now it aches, creeks, our dead laughter echoes in hallways

Our home must become a museum;
Our toys become relics,
Our jokes become anecdotes.
We cannot make anything new, you and I.
You are gone, and I am here
Remembering,
Everywhere you’re not.

And that is grief to me: the absence, the weight in my chest that literally aches, the sense of acute unfairness, and the incessant noticing of everywhere they are not.

It is really OK to grieve.  In fact, we can do grief better together.  We can let ourselves be vulnerable, and sad, and acknowledge our loss and our love. We can let those wonderful people around us in, let them hold us while we cry, let them share with us their past and present grief, we can deepen our living relationships in these moments.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and care not only of my family and closest friends, but by so many people who got to know Echo through my pretty constant Facebook sharing of her hilarious escapades.  To know that people were out there, crying for her too, meant the world.  It meant the opportunity for shared grief, and grief is an experience best made communal.

Your grief will be personal, and unique.  No one can tell you how long or how deep you will feel it.  Only you know the value to you of the life lost.  But by avoiding the urge to be tough, invulnerable, and resistant, you can open a channel between your personal grief and the experience and love of others – the same channel that will bring you back into the world.

The acute period of grief is passing for me now.  In the last 24 hours I have started to accept she is gone, and she is never coming back.  The tears are still never far from my eyes, but I can see a glimmer of normal life without her in it.  I know I will miss her forever, and I am starting to be able to smile at the memories as well as cry.  I am going to be alright.

So I wanted to share this with you, because you will have experienced, or you will experience this too – and you may not know where to put the feelings which come at you from all angles – be them external or internal, explosive or quiet, public or private.  If you love, you grieve.  Love is a gift, grief is an acknowledgement.

So here is my tribute to Echo, my friend, who died. Feel free to use the comments section to share your own stories and do grief better together.

34 thoughts on “A Few Words on Grief: We Need to Share It

  1. And I love Echo and the soundtrack, and I am not turning down my sound system for anyone :)

    I lost my own cat Kerry (!) she was too old to go with me to my new home so she stayed with my old home, and then she was so old and her back legs and mind (random crying out, probably arthritis) were failing and causing her pain so we ended her suffering with dignity after 19 years. It’s so hard but we humans have to be compassionate gods to our beloved non-humans….That is the duty we take on. We love them all, and we take on that responsibility, no matter how painful it is for us.

    Echo rest easy, your life was too short, but I cannot think of any better humans to have taken care of you. X

  2. The beings we love keep oscillating around us, as we will one day reverberate around those who love us. You are a trully beautiful human being, and you are not alone. Ill say a prayer for you tonight. And i understand your aching heart completly.

  3. as much as I feel sorry for your loss.There is no comparison to the loss of a human.Ive lost pets and been really sad,but then I lost my son the grief is indiscribeble.

    • There is no comparison, the loss of a child is always with you. You never get over it, you just learn to live with it. A loss of a much loved pet causes grief at the time but we move on, when I think of my past pets and look at their photo’s I still shed a few tears but it’s not a burden that is carried constantly. I am so sorry for your loss, as you say it must be indescribable.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. Echo was very lucky to have so much love in such a short life. May her little soul rest in peace.

  5. so sorry for your loss, our pets have a special pure love. Our family cat Puboo, named by my baby daughter in 1969, disappeared in 1986, age about sixteen. 25 years later I heard a man tell of his pet cat who was no longer alive, contacted him and awakened him by meowing loudly in his dream. He awoke to find there was a gas leak and he had been inhaling carbon monoxide. That same night I was thinking about my cat and talking to her and in a dream I felt her at the foot of the bed, kneading the blankets as she did in the old days. It was very very sweet. Love is so strong from our pets.

  6. so sorry for your loss, pets have a special place in our lives, the love is so pure. It reminded me of our cat
    Puboo, named by my daughter when she started to talk as a baby. Puboo disappeared when she was 16, in 1986. A few years ago I was thinking about her, and talking to her. Later that night I felt her on the end of my bed, kneading the blankets as in the old days. It was very very sweet, and very very real. Love is strong.

  7. About twenty years ago we had our pet dog, Duchess (a Doberman) put to sleep – she was very old and it was too late in her life to operate so the decision was made to have her put to sleep and it broke me. I was 18. Reading your words has brought a lot of the sadness of loss back to me tonight but I thank you for that because with it comes all of the good memories too. The imprint an animal can make on our lives is truly incredible and I am very sorry for the loss of your cat.

  8. May the mighty love you shared, in innocence, help you fill the void from Echo’s departure and keep you writing – touching people’s hearts.

  9. Thank you. You put it all perfectly, the unbelievable pain and loss felt and how important it is to acknowledge it and share it. I lost my beautiful little Tabitha tabby cat 7 weeks’ ago and the pain is still raw as hell, in fact it took me 3 attempts over the last 3 hours to get to the end of your blog as I kept bawling my eyes out and having to stop. Tabs was old and died of old age related illness (& was suffering at the end, had to have her put to sleep) but I’ve also been there with the beautiful feline girl Paprika who got run over – the phone call, the body, the utter disbelief, the denial, and oh the pain the pain….the pain fades but never goes. I’m so so sorry for your terrible tragic loss of one so young still, your gorgeous Echo. Never forgotten, always in your hearts. Thank you again for this xxxx

  10. I lost my dear sweet Theo to heart failure, it felt like I lost a child, the floor came up and hit me and I died a bit myself. I feel your pain. hugs and love

  11. So sorry for your loss ladies. Cats have a special place in my heart, I grew up with them, all my girlfriends had them, and I’m not sure that’s totally a coincidence. I love how they are such quick, graceful and efficient predators… And don’t they just know it!

  12. A few years ago my pain (of loss) was so great I could never have read your page or watched your brilliant video. Now I look and have warm memories of the love I shared with my menagerie of dog and three cats (and partner). All gone now, but (mostly good) memories remain. I wish you well.

  13. Kerry i have the highest respect and admiration for what you do, for the kind of person you so obviously are. What you recently did in Gaza was amazing. But it’s a sad indictment of our apathetic and sick culture that far too many people are more easily moved to sentiment and action in regard to animals than they are their fellow human beings. I am not advocating the ill treatment of animals, no, never….I have had my share, and believe anyone who ill treats an animal is lacking the capacity to demonstrate real love and compassion towards anyone. It’s so evident on the ‘news’ pages how the ”animal lovers” are out in force in defense of which ever animal happens to be mentioned, no matter the context, never wasting an opportunity to disseminate their affections, while so very often ‘passing by on the other side’ in regard to human tragedy. Far too many people value animals above their fellow human beings, this is an abomination. It’s a matter of record that Hitler ‘loved’ his pets, wept openly at the demise of one of his dogs….genocidal psychopaths can be ”animal lovers”, yet without a shred of compassion for others. If we believe we live in a Moral universe this cannot be right. A matter of perspective and priorities that’s all.

    • John – please remember than many people who appear to value animals above people have been abused and rejected by people all their lives. Animals do not abuse them, or judge them, or bully them- the love is straightforward and unconditional.
      As for animals right campaigners – many have human concerns too. Vegans for example know that their diet choice, if adopted widespread in the Western world, would hugely benefit humans – there would be decent and affordable food for everyone.
      I don’t disagree with you entirely, but bringing Hitler into the discussion I feel was unnecessary.

      • Ellesar,
        Thank you for the measured response to what i wrote. Whilst there are certainly people who have had their trust and emotions pretty much destroyed by unfortunate experiences(my close friend wrote a book on hers ”Nowhere to belong”), and do indeed find solace and acceptance in their pets….that in no way invalidates my point. I made no mention of ‘animal rights campaigners’, on both counts you appear to want to shrink my far wider perspective, although i don’t think you do so deliberately. I am no Cynic….i would rather cite the prevailing culture we all swim in, fashioned from the ‘top’ down, self serving, transient, indifferent, apathetic, nationalistic. I think my mention of Hitler is a very pertinent one. A matter of priorities as i said.

    • I agree, I’d been thinking the same about this comment. I don’t disagree entirely either but at a time when people are grieving for their animals and sharing their grief on this page, it seems rather insensitive to me to be saying this here and now. There’s a time and place. Please, right now, can we have this space for those special little souls who we’ve loved and have left us, whoever/whatever they were? x

    • Who do you think more capeable of compassion and empathy, one who loves an animal so keenly or one who thinks themselves separate and apart from other beings.
      You cannot measure grief. It is not relative. Take your moral indignation else where friend.

  14. Lost it when I read your poem Kerry-Ann. As the proud lover of 4 cats and 1 dog, my animals are my world. My Bengal had a tumour removed from his kidney earlier in the year, so the thought of losing my beloved boy was beyond comprehension. I wish you peace and love at this time, be kind to yourself, and remember that Echo will always be with you in your hearts and minds x

  15. Thank you for sharing and so sad to hear of your loss. Your phrase ’empty, but full of you’ really resonated with me, and you’re right, we need to grieve, openly, for all our losses.

  16. Very, very sad for you. It never gets any easier. Animals are our dearly loved friends too and not everyone understands that. XX

  17. I feel so deeply for you been through it many times with my beloved animals, your poem is beautiful brought a tear to my eyes. Remember the happy times you shared together. X

  18. I feel your pain, have lost cats and dogs although none because of an accident and not so young. The pain is acute but it does lessen with time and happy memories take over.

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