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.

Similar Posts:

Music and Sadness [en]

Musique, émotions, larmes.

[fr] Musique, émotions, larmes.

This is a post I wrote over a year ago, in December 2014, but never published. It’s still quite true today. Since his death, I’ve been listening to David Bowie. I was very unfamiliar with his music and wouldn’t have listed him as an artist whose work I “liked”. Now, I’m discovering that there is actually quite a lot of his stuff I do like, and that I am finding an interest in the rest, even if it’s not my favorite kind of music. It feels like a different way of appreciating music from until now.

Emotions have always been hard. As far as I remember. Especially one, which all the others seem to hang on to. Sadness. Grief.

I can have trouble connecting to these sometimes difficult emotions. We all do, to some extent. Maybe? I’m not sure. Well, I have trouble connecting.

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve realised that there are two things that I do to help me connect, to help me feel: listen to music and watch fiction. Reading sometimes does it too, but less — I suspect it’s the music connection. Movies and TV series have music, in addition to a story.

Until about 18 months ago I was singing in a local choir. Too much going on, I had to make the difficult choice to stop. Since then, I haven’t been singing much. I got a car again earlier this year, and I sing in my car, when I listen to music.

Singing while commuting is what made me realize how important music was to me. When I was a teenager I would drive to school on my motorcycle, singing at the top of my lungs under my helmet. If I’m alone in a car, I’ll sing along to whatever I’m listening to.

Over the last year, despite the car, I have been listening to less music. I’ve been listening to podcasts, or more recently, audiobooks. Or I just haven’t been listening to much. The cable to connect my iPhone to my music player in the car is shot now, so I drive in silence. And I find that I’m not even really singing.

This year has been a difficult year. There will be more — much more — to write about on that topic. I have been keeping myself busy. With work, of course, but not being too much of a workaholic, with other things too: helping people around me with their problems (a big favourite of mine it seems), consuming fiction and non-fiction in various forms, and having an active social life, online and off.

And now that I’m stuck on a plane with my headphones in, listening to music because I’m tired and don’t trust myself not to fall asleep while listening to a podcast, I am taken over by a big wave of sadness. It’s not even very specific, sadness about this or about that. Oh, about a bunch of things, but it moves around. I don’t try to catch it. It’s just there.

And music brought me back to it.

Similar Posts:

The Right to Grieve — And That Means Being Sad [en]

[fr] Avez-vous remarqué comme personne ne veut qu'on soit triste? La tristesse est néanmoins une émotion nécessaire, celle qui nous permet d'accepter une perte, d'en faire le deuil, et de pouvoir continuer à avancer à travers et au-delà de la peine.

Have you noticed how nobody wants you to be sad? Tell people around you that you’re sad, and immediately they’ll want to cheer you up.

Sadness is not bad. Sadness is necessary. It is through being sad that we are able to accept our losses and move on. That is what grieving is.

Our friends don’t want us to feel sad, because they don’t want us to suffer. But refusing to be sad and to grieve brings along a lot of suffering — certainly more, in the long run, than the pain of sadness.

Sadness is not depression. Unprocessed grief can lead to depression, though.

Sadness is the feeling of loss.

A person who is experiencing loss needs the courage to feel sad, and in a world which wants to shove sad under the carpet at the first opportunity, that can be far from easy.

What is valued is staying strong in the face of loss, grief, catastrophe. Not collapsing. Not showing how much pain we’re in.

But what we need when we’re sad and in pain, most of the time, is support so we can dare to feel all this. A safe place to be heard, recognised, and not judged. Love and acceptance that does not desperately want to save us from our emotions, but on the contrary, regard them as part of ourselves and our journey through life.

To grieve and to move on from all the various losses in our lives, all the nevermores, we need to be able to be sad. It is a good thing.

Similar Posts:

Bagha: One Year, Coming Up [en]

[fr] Bientôt un an sans Bagha. Retour de tristesse.

In a couple of weeks, it’ll be one whole year since Bagha died. I’m feeling sad these days. Memories of my last weeks with him. Life with my old cat, wanting to make the most of my time with him, but not knowing how short it was going to be.

I realized how close we were getting to a full year when eclau turned three early November. Eclau’s second birthday led to the first Jelly there, and the photos I took that day are some of the last ones I have of Bagha.

I did take some photos after that, actually, but hadn’t put them online. Here’s the last photo I have of Bagha, just two weeks before his death. I was actually playing about with my new camera, and imagined I had all the time in the world to shoot great photos of Bagha with it.

Bagha tucked in 1010095.jpg

You haven’t seen many “dead cat” posts here lately, because mostly, I think I’m done going through the worst of my grief. Time does heal. So do tears and pain, actually. That was a new idea for me — that feeling pain was part of the healing process. Writing about what I was going through helped, too.

This summer, I realized I was slowly starting to be ready for another cat. Or cats, actually — I want two. During my latest trip to India, I got to hang out with a couple of Indian cats (Ebony and Cookie), and remembered how much I missed feline presence. I miss having a cat. I want to have a cat or cats. The timing isn’t good though, because with six weeks in India coming up, I’m going to wait until my return (this is something I’ve had planned for a long time now: cats after India).

So anyway, not so much to write about. I’ve been settling well in my catless life.

But right now, it’s coming back. I’m leaving for LeWeb tomorrow — it was my last trip away before Bagha died. Christmas is coming up. My friends and I were cooking Christmas biscuits when Bagha had his heart attack. My last interaction with him, before the attack, was to invite him over to lap up a broken egg from under the table. Then he went back to my room to resume his nap on the bed.

I miss him more now than I have these last months.

Christmas was a blur. Bagha died on the 19th, and I was beside myself with grief during those days where I’m usually winding down for the end-of-year celebrations, preparing presents, looking forward to spending some time with my family. Christmas approaching, and my departure for India just after that — they remind me of how horribly sad I was at that time.

I wish I could go back a year and have my last weeks with Bagha again.

These days, like last year at the same time of the year, I feel I have pretty much managed to get back on my feet and regain some balance (some days better than other) after what has been a pretty difficult year. When I lift my head up these days and breathe this new air, I remember that last time I felt like this, and the air was cold and the nights were dark, Bagha was here with me.

I miss him.

Similar Posts:

Tears Do Heal — But Slowly [en]

[fr] Un retour d'Angleterre un peu difficile, des vagues de chagrin qui vont et viennent depuis trois mois que Bagha m'a quittée. Mais le chagrin, c'est notre réaction à la douleur de la perte. Le sentir, c'est avancer sur le chemin de l'acceptation.

I’ve had a handful of pretty miserable days upon my return from England. Feeling very sad again about Bagha’s death, and some other losses 2010 brought along with it. But this last couple of days have been better, because tears do heal, and spring is here.

Pencil Effect Sunday 26

Three months after Bagha’s death, I’m thankfully not bursting into uncontrollable tears in socially awkward settings anymore. It comes and goes. I might spend a week or ten days with hardly a tear, and then a wave hits and I’m going through stacks of tissues every day. I’m getting used to it.

I know I need to though, so I dive into the pain and grief when it comes — and when it’s appropriate to let myself do so.

When I’m “in”, it feels like my life is over, like it hurts so much that I’ll never get over it. It feels like some part of me will forever refuse to accept that he is dead and gone, refuse to accept that there is nothing I can do about it, and refuse to accept too that nothing will bring him back. It feels like I will never manage to move on and open my heart this much again, like I will be stuck in grief forever.

Of course I know this isn’t true, and outside of these moments of intense grief, I’m living my life pretty normally these days, despite my heavy heart.

But what I’m starting to understand — and understand really because I’m experiencing it — is that these moments of pain where I am so adamantly refusing to accept that Bagha has died, and I now have to live without him, are actually the very thing that is helping me accept it.

When I was told this it made immediate and perfect sense to me. I feel pain and sadness because I am facing the fact Bagha is dead. Even if my reaction (defense mechanism) to that pain is a futile refusal to accept that which is causing the pain (clearly a flavour of denial — “I want my cat back, I don’t want him to be dead”), it remains that if I am feeling that pain it is precisely because I am realizing or accepting a little more that my life from here onwards will be without him, and I have no choice in that matter.

That is why sadness and tears heal: they are the expression of a step forward in accepting a difficult reality. And though it feels sometimes that the steps are small and the road long, I know I am making progress, and that my heart will heal again.

Similar Posts: