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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