I've been wanting to write this post for over a month now. Its a difficult post to write because its about loss and grief - so I've been putting it off, then whenever I tried to write a more upbeat post it didn't seem as important as this one so nothing has been written for a while.
About 7 weeks ago we let Stripey the kitten outside in the morning, and we haven't seen him since. I didn't notice on that first day that he wasn't around - he was often out for several hours at a time or sleeping somewhere inside or out for many many hours, so it just didn't click that I hadn't seen him at all. That night, and for the next several days, we called and searched everywhere we could think of. I did night time walks around the dam and through the vines, I tried to get Buckley to sniff him out (he had a lovely time chasing rabbits on our night time wanderings) and we looked through all the sheds and in the trees...
I was worried from the moment I realised he was missing and worry soon turned to devastation. The kids were a bit worried but were sure he was coming back. Caitlin and some friends of mine who had had cats disappear then turn up later kept my hopes up for about a week, but I was still grieving pretty hard during that time and for the week or 2 afterwards. Now I feel more of a dull ache when I think about him and what a wonderful kitten he was - one of the best cats I've ever met and it feels so unfair that we had him for such a short time.
Its been interesting to watch the different ways the kids have managed compared to myself. I was in a fog of grief and cried everytime I thought about him. The kids all had a brief moment of tears because they missed him, then went back to assuming that he's off having fun somewhere else and he may come back one day. Well, the girls assume that, Liam started packing his things away after his tears because 'we don't have a cat anymore'.
They do still miss him and will sometimes wish he was here, but they seemed to process their grief more effectively and it hasn't impacted on their lives negatively. One more emotion that they are experiencing among many, rather than the overwhelming way in which I seem to experience grief.
I wonder if this is because they have always been free to express their emotions, both positive and negative, so they are so much more present with how they are feeling and don't feel any need to pretend - so feelings are processed as they occur. As adults I think we can sometimes spend more energy pretending to be fine and so the emotions come out later in other ways and need to keep coming out until they have been fully expressed. I hope that the 3 of them continue to feel comfortable enough with their emotions that they are always able to be present with and true to what they are feeling. And I hope I continue to learn from them how to do the same.
I think that the fact that Stripey is not the first loss they have faced also helped them put it in perspective. They know that animals and people do not live forever and sometimes we find ourselves saying goodbye before we are ready. Since Caitlin was born we have lost animals, (this is the first beloved pet though, the others were goats and chickens - although the loss of our baby chick and her mum was pretty upsetting), family members, unborn babies and of course lived through the loss and devastation of the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. Sometimes it hurts me to think of how much these kids have taken on in terms of loss and grief - but then I look at how they handle it and it has given them a very real perspective and understanding of death and as it has always been part of their lives they aren't frightened of the idea of people dying. They are not insensitive about it, they still have moments of being very upset about Tony's Mum and Stripey and the babies... but they also talk about them very matter-of-factly and accept the deaths/disappearances as part of their life.
I think that's the key. They don't 'move on' as if these things didn't happen, they seem more to absorb them into their lives, cry about them when they need to, talk about them when they want to, and its now all part of who they are. I know that last year when I really took the time to grieve about my lost baby I processed it so much better than other times when I have tried to pretend I was fine, and now although I am still sad every day that he's not with us, the grief doesn't consume me and I can be around other babies, other pregnancies, and not feel like I'm missing out on something.
I hope I can continue to remember that. That the baby, and Stripey, and the other people we know who have died were an important part of our lives and have enriched us, and we can grieve for them for as long as we need to, without having to become bitter or resentful or depressed, and we can continue to live joyful, content lives even while experiencing grief.
And Caitlin and Millie still talk about Stripey in the present tense and are patiently waiting for him to return. And who knows. They might be right.