Two Deaths [en]

[fr] Deux décès, l'un humain, l'autre félin, et mes réactions assez différentes aux deux.

Two heart attacks, even. The first is Bagha, you’ll have guessed. Jean-ChristopheThe second is Jean-Christophe, who was deputy head in the school I taught at and with whom I stayed in touch over the years: fellow blogger and lifter, I enjoyed our lunch-time conversations about social media, web technology, education and the various things of life. He was a really friendly, genuinely nice person. I didn’t know him very well, but we did hang out once in a while. He wrote a very nice piece about me for Ada Lovelace Day in 2009. He died almost exactly a month after Bagha.

I was very, very shocked by Jean-Christophe’s death — and remain shocked. You don’t expect young, healthy people around you to drop like a stone and die in the middle of a basketball match (he was 42, a regular player, didn’t smoke…). I was also shocked by Bagha’s death, but the grief was so great that I just couldn’t stop the tears for days on end, and it took over.

Two deaths, one human, one feline, one of a being who shared almost every single day of mine for 11 years, the other which I would see a handful of times every year. Two different reactions on my part. On a slightly “clinical” level, I’ve found it interesting to observe how I’ve been processing both these deaths. Beyond the obvious animal vs. human difference, I’ve realised that what really counts is the role they were playing in my life.

Jean-Christophe was a truly lovely person. His death pains me, and even though he was somebody I trusted (to the point of collapsing in his office during my first year of teaching when things were not going well at all) we weren’t close. He was somebody I knew and appreciated, a part of my network (our discussions revolved primarily around work and common interests, not each other’s lives). If I think of his family, my heart breaks for them, but I am not touched as if it were my family.

Not seeing Jean-Christophe is the normal state of my life, so beyond the shock of the announcement, I am not confronted much with his death. A couple of times I’ve thought “oh, I should ask Jean-Christophe if he knows somebody who…” and caught myself. Beyond the shock and discomfort of seeing the sudden death of somebody who is just a few years older than myself, and of knowing that a wonderful human being is no more, the impact of Jean-Christophe’s death on my life has been pretty minimal.

Maybe this minimal impact (compounded to the fact I was in India for the funeral so couldn’t attend and therefore share others’ grief) has allowed me to stay in some stage of denial — or maybe the fact he was a rather “weak tie” in my life simply makes the whole grieving process less painful and visible.

Eclau oct 2009 24Bagha, on the other hand, even though he was “just a cat”, was part of my everyday life for years and a primary emotional attachment. His loss is a huge disruption in my life, all the more because he was an elderly cat who had started to require care — some parts of my life were organized around him. Making sure somebody was there for him when I travelled, coming back home to give him his meds, being available to take him to the vet when things weren’t quite right.

Except when I was in India, I have not been able to “forget” his death much. The flat is lonely without a feline presence. Another cat naps on the couch at eclau (I’m happy about that, though). I’m still surprised that I can stay out when I hadn’t planned to. I can leave stuff lying around in the flat (even food) and nothing happens to them. Open cupboard doors are not important anymore. I’m not woken up at 6am by somebody furry who wants to be let out.

When somebody asks a group of people “who has a cat?” I have to keep my hand down now. I don’t have a cat anymore. I’m not a cat-owner. I’ve had a cat since I was nine, even though my first cat, Flam, lived at my parents’ for three years when I moved out, and I was briefly catless between her death and the moment Bagha officially became “my” cat. But being a cat lover and owner has always been a big part of my identity, which I feel I have now lost (risky parallel: does it feel like that to long-time smokers who give up the cancer-stick?). Of course, I will have cats again (after India early 2012 is the current plan), but right now, I’m part of these petless people.

Almost everything in my life reminds of his death. I still have a photo of him as background image for my iPhone, because I’m not sure when the right moment to change it would be, and what to replace it with. Though I’m slowly rebuilding a layer of habits and memories of my new life without him, I feel his loss almost every day — some days worse than others.

This makes me realize that in a way, it is less the intrinsec value of the being who died (who would dare put a cat’s life before that of a human being?) than the role played in one’s life and one’s emotional attachment that determines the amount of grief. Sounds obvious, uh, nothing new under the sun here. But it has another taste when you’ve reached the conclusion all over again by yourself.

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2 thoughts on “Two Deaths [en]

  1. Dear Stephanie
    Your article got my emotions messy. Please know that I am feeling with you.
    Keep strong!

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