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.
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.