Tounsi: Hope Is Easier Than Grief [en]

[fr]

Une réflexion sur l'espoir et le deuil. Souvent, l'espoir est ce à quoi l'on s'accroche par peur de souffrir. Il vaut mieux faire face à cette souffrance, mais garder de l'espoir dans nos actions. Par exemple, en acceptant qu'un chat malade risque de mourir, mais en faisant tout ce qui est possible pour le sauver. Ou qu'un chat disparu est peut-être mort, tout en étant actif dans nos recherches.

On n'aime pas que les gens soient en peine, on veut leur proposer un remède pour les en sortir. L'espoir semble pouvoir jouer ce rôle. Mais il vaut mieux peut-être simplement les accueillir dans leur peine.

This is what I was thinking, after dropping off Tounsi at the Tierspital, our national animal hospital and veterinary school, at 3am just before New Year’s Eve.

I have noticed that in the face of hardship and pain, many want to offer hope. But I think we need encouragement to grieve, rather than hope. Even though I am pessimistic by nature, I find it easy to hope. It’s something you can cling to to avoid the pain. Depending on the shape it takes, it can even be fodder for denial.

Grief, on the other hand, is hard. It takes courage to dive into the pain. You need to trust that it is the way out, or at least forward.

When I got the preliminary diagnosis for Tounsi, I knew it was very bad. I know there were high chances he was going to die. There was still hope, though. Sometimes it is possible to dissolve the clot, and depending on how far along the underlying heart condition is, the cat can go on to have a few more months or years with decent quality of life.

I could have refused to grieve and hang on to this hope with all my might. This is what people around me wanted me to do. Don’t be sad! Don’t consider him dead already! You have to hope!

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m not superstition. I don’t think that hoping or giving up hope per se has any incidence on an outcome. I don’t think telling your friends about a job or flat you’re hoping to get will jinx it. I do accept, however, that our internal state (hope or not) influences our actions, and can in this way have an impact on an outcome.

Understanding this, I did what I think is the most sane thing to do in this kind of situation: separate emotions from actions. Let me explain what I mean by that.

  • Emotions: there was a high chance Tounsi wasn’t going to make it. I knew it. So I grieved, already. Trying to suppress my grief and hold on to the meagre hope he would be OK would have made me extremely anxious. Often, it’s better to face the pain and deal with it than have to deal with the anxiety that comes out of trying desperately to avoid it because you’re scared.
    I cried so much in those two days Tounsi was in the hospital. I stopped on the motorway to cry. I cried at home, along with Quintus. I cried when I visited Tounsi, and when I got news that there was no real improvement. All this crying helped bring some acceptance to the very serious situation Tounsi was in.
  • Actions: there was a hope that Tounsi could beat the clot, with the help of the medications he was getting. This chance was not so small that it was not worth putting him through the discomfort he was in. So when it came to my actions and decisions about him, I bet on hope. I could have put him down immediately, and we discussed this with the vet. As his pain was under control, we decided it was worth it (and ethical) to give him a chance. To hope.
    And when the situation changed (another clot to the kidneys that sent him into kidney failure), I was more capable of accepting it, because I’d been processing my grief in parallel, and making the decision to end his suffering, although it ripped my heart out. I did not find myself in the situation I have seen some cat owners, where the decision to end the cat’s life is the obvious one, because there is no hope left, but they just can’t let go, because they are unprepared.

A parallel “cat situation” is when a cat is missing. Emotionally, it is important to process fears that something bad has happened to the cat. These fears may be rational or not, it doesn’t matter: they are there. They are the fears of pain and loss and grief, and the earlier one faces them, I think, the better off one is.

It doesn’t mean that one should consider one’s cat dead as soon as it doesn’t show up one evening. But if a missing cat puts one in an immediate panic, as it used to do to me, it might be worse facing the fact that pretty much whatever happens, we’re at some point going to have to deal with the cat’s death. I remember the time when I couldn’t even entertain this idea.

Cats are there so we can love them, and they die so we can grieve them.

When it comes to actions, however, one must hope that the cat is not dead: call the shelters, the vets, put up flyers, talk to neighbours, call, search, ask people to open garages and cellars. Even if the place one is emotionally is facing the possibility the cat is dead.

I think loving a pet can teach us a lot about grief and loss, if we’re willing to listen.

So, next time you see somebody who seems to have abandoned hope – maybe they don’t need to be encouraged to hope more, but supported in their grief, so that they can free their actions from the weight of fear.

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This American Life Episode Selection [en]

[fr] Quelques épisodes de This American Life qui valent le détour.

I had my worst “forgot something on the stove” episode today. No fire, but I came back after three hours away to find my flat completely filled with smoke. I had to hold my breath to open the windows (everything was closed). My pan is dead (I’m not even going to try). Quintus was outside but Tounsi was inside, and was exposed to the smoke for all that time. One of the first things I did after opening the first window was throw him onto the balcony. He seems fine. Vet say to keep an eye on him for the next two days or so, as symptoms can be delayed.

Now my whole flat stinks of burnt smoke. Good thing it’s not January, as a friend noted.

Some podcast episodes for you. (And me, maybe one day). They are from This American Life, which I listened to a lot at the chalet. It’s really great — I should have started listening years ago.

  • #536: The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segarra: a chilling first-person account of the culture of complacency in the world of finance regulation.
  • #525: Call for Help: remember this story that was making the rounds, about a family that had to be rescued at sea because of a sick baby? and how a lot of the (uninformed) public opinion was up in arms about how irresponsible it was to go to sea with a baby, and then ask the coast guards to bail you out when things got rough? Well, as you can guess, there is much more to the story than that…
  • #555: The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind: so, one of the studies this episode is based on has been retracted, but it remains interesting. First, to note that people rarely change their mind, particularly on ideological matters. And then, and this is something I think about a lot, what makes people change their mind? We do have anecdotal evidence that knowing somebody who is gay (or trans, or kinky…) can turn us around on those issues. And I think that people’s theoretical stance on an issue can be somewhat disconnected from what they would think, or how they would react, faced with a real human being they have a connection with and who is concerned by the issue.
  • #556: Same Bed, Different Dreams: for the very moving story of the two kidnapped South Koreans, the actress and the director.
  • #557: Birds & Bees: how do we talk to children about race, death, and sex? Some very good questions about consent and its “fuzziness” (I personally don’t think we should have to say “is it OK if I kiss you?” and wait for an enthusiastic verbal “yes” — seriously?!), how you can’t escape the question of race, and a moving segment on a grief counselling centre for children. If I could go back in time, I would take my 10-year-old self there. Sadly, we weren’t quite there yet 30 years ago when it comes to grief and children.
    By the way, this episode brings me to Death, Sex & Money — a podcast about all these things we don’t talk about.
  • #562 and #563: The Problem We All Live With (two parts): how do we reinvent education to get poor minority kids to perform as well as white kids? An exploration of the solution that works, but that we’re not putting much energy into implementing: desegregation. I found this episode both fascinating and infuriating. Fascinating because issues of race are not on the forefront in Switzerland as they are in the US, and infuriating that such a simple elegant solution is not given the attention and resources it deserves.

 

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Pourquoi j'ai attendu avant de reprendre un chat [fr]

[en] Why I waited after Bagha's death before adopting cats again.

Depuis la mort de Bagha, j’ai vu bien des gens de mon entourage perdre leur chat également. J’ai été frappée par une réaction courante mais totalement étrangère à ma façon de fonctionner: reprendre un nouveau chat sans perdre de temps.

Du coup, je me dis que ça vaut peut-être la peine d’expliquer pourquoi j’ai attendu plus d’un an avant de chercher à adopter.

Pour moi, c’est important de dire au revoir correctement pour pouvoir bien dire bonjour. En d’autres termes, faire son deuil avant de pouvoir s’attacher à nouveau. Je crois que rien ne fiche en l’air une relation aussi bien que de ne pas avoir bien bouclé celle qui la précédait. On connaît ça dans les relations de couple, dans la problématique de “l’enfant de remplacement“, et je pense que c’est une loi de la vie assez générale.

Le deuil est une question qui m’intéresse beaucoup, très certainement à cause de mon histoire et de mes croyances personnelles.

Quand Bagha est mort, et même avant qu’il meure, je savais deux choses:

  • je reprendrais des chats un jour (oui, “des”)
  • ce ne serait pas pour tout de suite.

Je voulais prendre le temps de pleurer le chat qui avait été à mes côtés depuis plus de dix ans. Je ne voulais pas adopter ce qui aurait été pour moi un “chat-sparadrap”. Je voulais prendre le temps d’être “bien dans ma vie sans chat”, et reprendre des chats parce que je voulais en avoir, et non pas parce que je souffrais d’avoir perdu le mien.

Bagha est mort en décembre. En octobre, j’ai commencé à avoir le sentiment que je serais prête à ravoir un chat. Je savais que je partais six semaines à l’étranger en hiver, donc j’ai attendu mon retour.

Même là, elle a été dure, la première semaine avec Tounsi et Safran. Mais la douleur a vite passé et je me suis bien attachée à mes deux nouveaux poilus.

A la mort de Safran deux mois plus tard, je n’avais pas non plus l’intention de reprendre un chat tout de suite. Je voulais prendre le temps d’accuser le choc sans y mêler un nouveau chat. C’était très différent de la mort de Bagha, mais dur quand même. Je n’avais eu Safran que deux mois. J’avais l’impression d’avoir échoué, de lui avoir fait faux bond.

Quintus est tombé du ciel parce qu’au moment où j’apprenais que Safran était malade, Aleika apprenait que son mari avait reçu l’invitation qu’il attendait de l’université de Kolkata, et qu’ils allaient déménager là-bas. Elle était un peu désemparée par rapport à Quintus: le prendre et lui faire subir une ville indienne ou une vie d’intérieur? Trouver quelqu’un pour l’adopter, à passé 10 ans?

J’ai dit que si elle décidait de ne pas le prendre, et qu’elle ne trouvait personne pour lui en Angleterre, je le prendrais. Un jour ou deux plus tard, après avoir vérifié que je ne regrettais pas mon offre, sa décision était prise. Un mois plus tard Quintus était dans l’avion avec moi.

Alors voilà. Dix ans avec Bagha. Quinze mois sans chat. Deux mois avec Tounsi et Safran, un peu plus d’un mois seule avec Tounsi, et à ce jour, 16 mois avec Tounsi et Quintus.

October Cats 20

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What Made Bagha Such a Special Cat For Me [en]

[fr] Un pas de plus sur le chemin du deuil, alors que je m'apprête à éparpiller les cendres de Bagha dans le jardin où il passait ses journées. Tentative un peu laborieuse d'identifier (et de trier) ce qui dans la douleur de la perte de mon chat est proprement la douleur de sa mort, et ce qui est simplement la douleur de la solitude retrouvée.

I started writing this months ago, not long after Bagha died. In India, to be precise. As a way to help me come to terms with his loss, I spent some time trying to write down what made him special for me. What is it exactly that I’m grieving, through him?

Bagha's Floppy Nap 3

I actually tried to blog this once before, and that ended up being the article “Sorting Through Grief“. Like all painful things, it’s tempting to postpone this kind of exercise — but now that I’m preparing to take Bagha’s ashes out of the back of my cupboard to scatter them in the garden he loved, I feel it is time to pick up this list again. I need to move forward. These last weeks, or maybe months, I’ve slipped into a not-too-uncomfortable limbo somewhere along the road of grief. There was a little sideroad somewhere with a bench, and I sat down.

It’s time to start walking again.

What follows is a little raw. It’s also not “perfect” — meaning that I’m aware I’m failing at sorting through some of the things I was hoping to sort through while writing this. That’s the whole point, I guess. Otherwise I would just sail “happily” through grief, if it wasn’t that difficult for me.

So, what made Bagha such a special cat for me? Quoting from my previous post, here’s what I’m trying to disentangle:

  • what it means for me to now be living completely alone (ie, “petless” => by extension, what having a pet — any pet — adds to my life)
  • what made Bagha special, as compared to other cats (his personal caracteristics, pretty objectively)
  • what made Bagha special for me, in terms of the relationship we had and what he meant to me

I’ll start by setting aside the obvious: what kind of cat Bagha was, outside of the relationship I had with him.

Physically:

  • he was big and strong
  • he was a beautiful animal
  • he had a mashed-up nose and ear tufts
  • he had a long non-twitchy tail
  • he slept on his back with his front paws crossed
  • he was long-legged and slim with very sleek fur — had the body of an Indian cat
  • he was a spotted/striped tabby with lovely eyeliner

New Year Bagha 1And also:

  • he slept on his back, front paws crossed on his chest
  • he had a very girly high-pitched meow which was kind of comical for such a big boy
  • he snored gently in his sleep and made little moaning noises when being petted

Character-wise:

  • he wasn’t fearful
  • he liked people and people liked him
  • he was smart
  • he was communicative
  • he was dignified
  • he had an attitude
  • he was cuddly without being needy
  • he was patient and tolerant but not out of fear
  • he had a strong character
  • he was very territorial and peed on all the bushes

It's MY computerThings he did (I’m aware we’re in the anecdotal department here):

  • he opened the fridge
  • he drank out of the toilet
  • he gnawed on drawer handles
  • he played with sticks and chewed them like a dog, holding them between his two front paws
  • he would creep into cupboards the second the door was opened
  • he opened drawers
  • whenever possible, he would rest his head on a pillow (proper or improvised — a laptop would do)
  • he would deftly knock over glasses of water to drink it
  • he would knock things off my bedside table if I didn’t wake up fast enough

The cat and his humanHow he was with me, bearing in mind that this is pretty standard cat-behaviour:

  • he loved having his belly rubbed
  • he liked being carried under one arm
  • he liked being cuddled curled up on my chest
  • he’d sleep with his head and paw resting on my arm

More about his behaviour and interactions with me and other humans, which is maybe a little less “cat-standard”, but not yet the stuff that made my relationship with him so special:

  • he would come back home all by himself, right into the flat, and come and say hello
  • he trained the whole building to let him in and out
  • he would patiently let me give him his meds or put his collar on before going out
  • everybody who met him liked him and saw he was not an ordinary cat

Here we are, now. The cat-companion. This is what the emptiness of his absence is made of.

  • he slept with me every night
  • he would follow me discreetly from room to room
  • he’d sit on the table while I ate
  • he’d wake me in the morning to go out with just one meow
  • he would come and lie down where I patted my hand
  • he would come and cuddle when I watched TV or worked at home

Taking some rest

Trying to rise above the mundane details of daily cohabitation (even if they’re important), here are some of the deeper roles Bagha played for me:

  • he would be waiting for me, always happy to see me
  • he kept me company every day
  • he helped me connect to people in my building and neighbourhood
  • he connected me to India and Aleika
  • he was a constant through all the changes my life went through these last ten years

Of these, I guess the fact he kept me company and was happy to see me are more pet-generic than Bagha-specific.

But the role he played in helping me find my place in my neighbourhood, the connexion to India and Aleika, and the ten years of my life that he saw me through — those are things that are uniquely linked to Bagha. No other cat will ever be able to give me that again. He was a living, breathing, purring witness to these things, no lost forever. I carry those years and that part of my life completely alone, now.

Along the same lines, here are two more things I’d like to add:

  • he made eclau a special coworking space
  • he brought me closer to some of my friends who lived in my flat to take care of him when I was away

Eclau will have other cats, and be a “special” coworking space in that respect in the future. Salem, my upstairs neighbour’s cat, has already taken quarters on the couch, and will probably soon have his own page on the eclau website. Some time next year, I’ll be ready to have cats again, and they’ll come to eclau too. It will always be a kitty-friendly coworking space — but Bagha was the first, and his constant presence in the office was soothing for those who worked there.

The fact that quite a few of my friends cat-sat at some point or another when I was travelling over the last ten years made him a connexion between me and them — connexion which is now gone, like some of those friendships. His absence makes their pastness a little more present.

On a more emotional level:

  • I loved him and cared for him
  • I gladly gave up some of my freedom because I loved him
  • I accepted some risks (like losing him to a car accident) because it gave him a better life

These are things I learned for life because he was my pet, and will treasure for ever. His legacy in me. Traces of his life that his death cannot erase, and which — I believe — make me a better person.

I believe there is no meaning in the world other than the meaning we put in it, consciously or not. Beyond the meaninglessness of life and death, we choose to make sense of our lives so that we can keep on growing.

Maybe Bagha’s biggest gift to me, beyond the ten years of precious companionship he gave me, is in his death. I got to say good-bye. Not at the moment of my choosing, of course — death rarely gives us that — but did get to say good-bye properly. I am saying good-bye.

So here’s the meaning I choose and which makes perfect sense for my life, almost as if it were provided by some intention bigger than and beyond me:

Bagha let me love him for a long time and with all my heart, so that I could learn to love and grieve properly.

Amongst all this, I wonder, what is just the pain of finding myself “alone”, or catless? What does it mean to me to have a cat? I’ve tried to break it down into “plus side” and “minus side”, because part of the grieving process is also greeting the new good things in my life brought about by this loss (I have a blog post draft sitting in WordPress titled “The Bittersweet Freedom of Catlessness” — I will write it someday).

Having a cat means:

  • having company to sleep with me at night
  • having somebody to care for
  • having somebody waiting for me to come home
  • having somebody to communicate with and keep me company
  • having cuddles and affection handy when needed
  • having an attraction for visitors and a topic of conversation to make friends amongst cat-lovers

But it also means:

  • giving up some freedom (no unplanned trips)
  • expenses (food, vet, etc)
  • having to cat-proof the home
  • having to get up to let the cat out, or change the litter
  • worrying that it didn’t come home (or might not)
  • negotiations with neighbours/concierge if it causes any trouble

The pain of losing Bagha is still very present, nearly five months after his death. There is still a terrible pit of sadness in my heart, but it doesn’t overflow with tears anymore when I don’t want it to.

I sometimes try to imagine my future cats, who are maybe not even born yet — I fear that I will not love them as much as I loved Bagha, or that they will not be quite so extraordinary, and I know that I still need to spend some time walking down that road.

Bagha arbre 1

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On Grief and Losing Bagha [en]

I’m in India. I’m in Pune. I’m in IUCAA. I’m where Bagha was born, where I started to love him. It’s also the place where I spent a short year with Aleika, Somak and Akirno, and the Shindes, and all the other people and beasts who were part of my Indian world. That world is gone forever.

So as I grieve for my cat, I also grieve for these other pieces of my life which are lost and gone, never to return. Being here makes it all the more raw — also because I’m so happy to be here.

Pause à l'eclau 7

I’m still terribly sad about losing Bagha. I’ve been crying every day since he died. I didn’t have much time to myself between packing and traveling and arriving here, and it’s all been piling up, because I’ve been forgetting. Completely forgetting, because there has been so much positive excitement these last two days.

But now I’ve been remembering. Remembering that I miss Bagha not because I left him at home to go on a trip, but because he is gone, gone, gone. And it hurts like hell.

I don’t believe in any afterlife. I don’t believe in any spirit hanging around. There is no more Bagha, except in our photographs, our memories, and the changes he might have brought around in our lives. In mine, in any case.

I hinted that I would be telling you more about what I’m going through and learning these days. I actually started writing about what I was discovering about grief the other day, but got lost somewhere in the middle.

Grief is a weird state: it goes back and forth, up and down.

The first days after Bagha’s death, I would find myself going from a kind of numbness in which I’d “forgotten” he was dead to the horrible realization it was true even though I “couldn’t believe it”, and then devastating sadness in which my world seemed to have come to an end, and from which I had the feeling I would never emerge. And back out and back in again.

I would wake up crying in the morning and go to sleep crying at night. I had no trouble sleeping, however, to my surprise: I discovered that it is not sadness but anxiety which keeps one awake all night, mind spinning, too wired to slow down one’s thoughts enough to fade into sleep. For me, at least, grief seems to tire me out.

I put most of his things away over the first few days. Not in an attempt to make all traces of his presence disappear — more as a way to try and accept that these bowls, pieces of string and old expired meds would not be needed anymore. It took me a long time (until my imminent departure, actually) to touch his spot on my desk, though: I could still see the shape of his body on the pillow, and feel myself hanging on to this very physical trace of him.

Cleaning the flat was very hard. Tidying up. Removing the subtle remains of his presence in my life. The first time I hoovered without him trying to run out of the flat. The first time I changed the sheets without him trying to get under them. The first time I washed things in the bathtub without having to worry about him drinking the soapy water.

That cat was everywhere, all along my days. Watching TV: a break comes up, where’s the cat? I get up from what I’m doing, “to find the cat”. All these reflexes which are now meaningless.

My one consolation right now is that my grief is simple. I did everything right with this cat. He was a wonderful pet. I have no regrets. He lived a long life (14 years is not exceptional, but as Aleika put it, he probably outlived all of his litter-mates by at least 8 years) and even died pretty well (if one can die “well”). I don’t feel guilty, there’s nobody to be mad at, I knew he was going to die someday, and I treasured the time I had with him, specially these last few years.

It doesn’t make things easy, but it makes them simple. Even when it hurts as much as it does right now, I know that what I’m going through is normal, and that it will get better in time and tears, and that I will probably be ready at some point for new feline companionship.

So here it is: the one pain I’ve spent my whole life being so afraid of. I’m in it, it’s dreadful, but I’m still alive and happy to be. I have plans, I want to do things, I laugh and I smile. Life goes on, it really does, I know it for good now.

It hurts, but it goes on.

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Steph+Suw Podcast: First! [en]

[fr] Suw et moi avons enfin enregistré le fameux podcast-conversation dont nous parlons depuis notre première rencontre, en mai 2004. C'est en anglais et c'est assez long, mais on s'en est pas trop mal sorties pour une première!

Each time [Suw](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/) and I meet, we talk about recording a podcast together. [We met for the first time in June 2004](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/06/08/uk-trip-report/), and if I believe the [Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/03/23/podcasting-and-beercasting-thoughts/) I wrote a little less than a year later, that was indeed when we first started talking about using audio to record conversations.

I’m definitely sure that we talked about it at [BlogTalk 2](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/07/blogtalk-20-compte-rendu/). I don’t think Skype was in the air then, but we talked about hooking up our phones to some audio recording device, and left it at that. At that time, people were getting excited about “audioblogging” (did we already talk about “podcasting” back then? It seems a long, long time ago) and we agreed that were audio really became interesting was in rendering conversations. (See the [Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/03/23/podcasting-and-beercasting-thoughts/) post for more about that.)

Anyway, now we have [Skype](http://www.skype.com/), and [Call Recorder](http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/) (which reminds me, I need to write up a post about the ethics of recording audio conversations), and we finally got round to doing it. It’s a bit long-ish (40 minutes — not surprising if you know us!) and has been slightly edited in that respect, but honestly, it’s not too bad for a start.

Here is roughly what we talked about.

– [San Francisco](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/12/im-really-liking-san-francisco/), web geek paradise
– City sizes (see this [London-SF superimposition map](http://flickr.com/photos/dotben/362322811/))
– Segways
– The cat/geek Venn diagram ([Twitter error message](http://flickr.com/photos/factoryjoe/355210755/))
– I really want a Wii
– IRC screen names
– The difficulties of pronouncing S-u-w
– When geeks name children: A unique identifier or anonymity?
– Stalkers and geoinformation
– Perceptions of security
– Giving out your phone number and address, and personal boundaries
– Airport security ([background…](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/15/airport-security/))
– Risk and expectations of risk
– Death, religion, and the medical industry
– Naming our podcast… something about blondes, apparently
– Clueless marketeering from the Fabric nightclub in London
– The repercussions of having a blog that people think is influential (even if
you don’t think it is)

Let us know what you liked and didn’t like! [View Suw’s post about this podcast.](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/1/23/2675001.html)

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Human [en]