• Connie Greshner

RIP Simba Cat

My cat Simba died on November 5. My funny cat, my boy. I never met a cat with such a sense of humour, and we loved each other very much. It was unexpected…I’m not sure what happened, a neighbor found him. I couldn’t cry. My husband cried, my daughter cried…I just took care of him, and felt empty when I went to bed. Simba slept curled up behind my knees and thighs every night (thus the nickname, “Crotch”). I would give him a kiss and pet every time I got out of bed, and sometimes he’d lick me and other times bite my nose (thus the nickname, “Bite-face”). I have been having a hard time sleeping, missing his warmth, but I didn’t cry until I was alone with my other cat, Luna. Miss Lu is an aloof girl, but the other morning she uncharacteristically jumped up on the bed where I was laying, emotionally and physically paralyzed. She began meowing and snuggling and purring all over me. Oh boy, then I cried. Ugly-face, my-eyes-hurt cried.

Since then, I have been journaling about death. Moving back and forth between Reasonable Mind and Emotion Mind, the rational and the irrational. I am not unaware that death is a tricky concept. I have had an intimate awareness of death from a very early age, and I know that for me, experiencing death from violence and emotional illness had a specific impact on my value system and beliefs.

Existentialism is a vast field of knowledge that addresses our conscious and unconscious awareness of death, and how this awareness influences individual and societal anxiety. Yet many people remain ignorant of death’s influence on their lives, until it is right up in their face with a personal loss. But death influences our emotions and choices more pervasively, in the everyday way we conduct ourselves, our value systems, and our attempts to understand, control or avoid death. Reflect for a moment on Covid. Enough said.

Working in mental health, and working through my own grief, I understand the pain associated with loss. I understand how it throws someone into Emotion Mind, which can distort perception, create rigid thinking and prevent discussion, connection and compassion.

I understand how that happens. I am currently in the “anger stage” of grief, feeling bitter, thinking “nobody understands, everybody is stupid and I hate them,” and having the urge to run away. I recognize that this is because I am grieving my cat, but also my brother Bruce, who died only ten months ago. And I miss Steve. And my mom and dad. This grief stirs the cumulative losses that have occurred in my life. I guess I’m reaching that stage of life where more and more loved ones have died, and the toll feels heavy. But staying in that anger stage is not healthy nor sustainable.

I am trying to use the DBT model of mind and skills to cope effectively with my grief, so that I don’t implode or explode. First, I recognize that emotions skew perceptions, and I am trying to minimize lashing out (thanks to my best friend Jennifer, gently squashing the first draft of this blog which surely would have rained down justified judgment on me). Googling “how to deal with the anger stage of grief” made me want to throw my phone across the room. So I allow myself to be quiet, I hear the echo of what I often say to clients: “No one else has to understand. You understand. And you must give yourself compassion first.” I recognize this as Wise Mind, the part of me where compassion lives. I draw deep to remind myself of the belief system which I worked so hard to develop, and I say to myself:

if you choose to live, then live the way you choose. If I am only alive for this short period of time on this earth, then I choose to live in love and joy. Love means vulnerability and risk. Love means I will lose and I will hurt. I choose to believe that it’s worth it.

My time with you was worth it, Simba Cat. Rest in peace.

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