Yesterday we put our sweet kitty Jerome to sleep. He turned 18 in February. His death wasn't a surprise and it wasn't sudden. His health had been slowly fading.
I thought I was ready. But I realize that I was really just holding back emotion, frightened of the flood that would overtake me if I let the grief in.
Up until January, Jerome was my constant companion in my studio. It was his favorite room in the house. Whether he was sleeping in his favorite chair, curled up in a sunbeam beside my table or sprawled out on the floor to cool off on a hot day, he spent even more time there than I did.
When the stairs got to be too much for him and he wasn't up there any more, I missed his constant presence.
Yesterday as I sat on the floor with him, waiting till it was time to go to our appointment at the vet, I kept thinking of other things I "should" be doing. Running upstairs and publishing a blog post (I had one ready). Vacuuming (nothing like sitting on the floor to get a good perspective on that). I was failing, completely, at being in the moment. Have I learned nothing? I wondered. These last months' lessons from Matthias illness were supposed to be, in part, about living in the moment. How naive of me to even ask that.
Learning to be present isn't just something you can do and be done with. Being present is a lifetime practice. It takes constant mindfulness. Constant awareness. And constant choice.
It would have been easier (at least at first) to have busied myself with chores than to sit quietly with my fading cat. I'm not even sure if he got any comfort from my being there with him. It was hard for me, seeing him struggling and feeling that mix of sadness and guilt and, yes, of joy, too. Woven through the grief were memories of the love and joy and humor that he brought to my days. He was the most affectionate cat I've ever known.
And the most stubborn. If he wanted to be on my lap he wouldn't give up no matter how many times I put him on the floor.
18 is a good long life. I am grateful that he shared his time with me.
And I'm grateful that he helped me to remember that being present is letting in the grief and the joy. Yes, I focus on joy here and in my life in general, but there cannot be joy without also grief. The joy will last after the grief has faded.
We buried Jerome in the new garden bed I've been working on.
This rose is nearby. We planted a gooseberry bush above him. That beauty, that joy, that nourishment will last. I'll remember the sadness, but I'll remember the joy and love more.
I'm sending out thoughts of comfort to you today and encouragement to practice being present, even when (or perhaps, especially when) life's grief threatens to overcome its joy.