On Monday the 27th of April 2015, the single greatest source of joy in my life for the last 16 and a half years, left this world.
As with most things, she rebelled against death, refusing it right up until the last minute, when I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. It seems wrong to me to decide when another should die – very wrong – and yet the alternative was to let her die slowly by asphyxiation.
It was a beautiful day. The vet gave her the anaesthetic and I picked her up and went outside with her in my arms, with her front paws resting on my shoulder, the way we always did. I was walking and speaking to her as she slipped away, birdsong and spring scents in the air. I couldn’t have asked for it to be different, better…and I’m very grateful for that.
Tig (officially Tiger, but too cute to be called that)
Tig was my teacher, my playmate, my companion, my bundle of endlessly mischievous and curious cat-joy. I have a thousand stories of hilarious escapades, a thousand different games we invented over the years, a thousand memories of tender, quiet moments of complicity, of her falling asleep in my arms, of shared naps, of mutual delight whenever we were reunited, be it after a day or a month.
In many ways, she was more of a dog than a cat; she used to play fetch with anything you threw, would dribble balls across the living room parquet like a miniature feline footballer on speed, would race you round (and round, and round…) the house (the human always lost), would search for you, meowing, if you tried to play hide&seek with her or pretend to disappear behind an item of furniture…and (when all other tricks had failed) would sit next to my head and lick my face to wake me up.
And she didn’t stop playing until a few months before she died. Even though she had a heart problem, she’d still play (less voraciously but nonetheless). She’d be the happiest little creature ever known when she got a treat. She could purr so loudly her entire body would vibrate with the force of it, just from a kiss on her head.
She taught me curiosity and playfulness, above all, and determination, resilience, defiance (didn’t really need that one but anyway), acceptance and grace. From the moment she adopted me as her human (when she was about 6 months old), until the day she left, 16 years later, we had an intense, beautiful connection.
Losing her is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced.
I read somewhere recently that grief is love inverted – and that’s why it hurts so much; because the strength of it is the inverted strength of your love.
And this ache feels like redundant love; it’s so strong but now she’s not here for me to give it to anymore.
On the third day after she was gone I became angry. Angry at a culture that has no (or few) elders, that passes on no wisdom about how to deal with grief, how to process and heal, and continue – for how to make grief a healthy part of life (as it is, and as I believe it is possible to experience it). Presumably this is different for those who are religious, but nowadays that still leaves a lot of us with nowhere to turn to.
Another completely natural aspect of life that most of us are entirely unprepared for how to deal with. Fuck maths, teach that in schools.
After a few days, when the initial shock had worn off a little and I was able to finally be quiet inside when I sat to meditate, I became aware of a clear strong presence. And no, I wasn’t under the influence of any drugs, and I am not one to fancifully (or – let’s be fair – intuitively) “tune in” to spirits on a regular basis. But I did.
And this presence was clearly Tig, but not Tig.
As in, it felt like the spirit of Tig (the willful, powerful, determined, wise part), minus the cat-properties. An immense presence, that seemed far too big to possibly be contained in a tiny cat – an actual tiger or lion would feel like a more appropriate animal for this presence to inhabit. But the quality of it felt exactly like the quality I found in Tig’s eyes in those quiet moments of being, when she was calm and still and present.
The first impulse that came from it was that she (it?) has not finished teaching me – that our paths continue together in some form.
At first I questioned it, but it was there constantly, and so strong that it started to seem ridiculous to question it. So, shoving my rational mind aside and leaning into trusting my intuition, I began to accept what I sensed.
And this presence is clearly and completely at peace with where it is. And also, very clearly, not Tig. When I connect with it therefore, it feels like connecting with Spirit; not with Tig.
And so there is a dual process; Steph mourns Tig, and Steph’s spirit (forgive the third person usage, it just makes sense to me this way) recognises (what seems like) Tig’s spirit and is completely peaceful in communion with it. Which in turn creates so much gratitude that my heart feels like it will burst from the combination of intense grief and intense gratitude.
Being human is weird.
I’ve never had an experience like this before, and have hesitated sharing it, but it’s what is true for me, and also a hugely important part of this process. To reject it would feel like renouncing not only a huge gift, but an invitation – to connect more with essence, with Spirit.
And it feels like something has shifted; like I’m opening further to the intangible. Something old and very known is awakening in my belly…something which is completely unsurprised by this experience.
Another gift to arise out of my state of the last two weeks has been what feels like a massive, engulfing wave of self-compassion. It is strong, it is fierce; it will brook no exceptions.
It insists that I give myself the space I need. That I am infinitely gentle with myself. That I watch with eagle eyes to make sure my boundaries are healthy in every moment, that I’m getting what I need. It’s a depth of vigilance I’ve never known before that is continuously checking to monitor what is coming in, and if that is ok for me in that moment.
A kind of fine-tuning into myself.
I’ve written a lot in my fledgling book (which may or may not one day be released into the world) about the importance of recognising and cultivating our relationship with our inner healer (or higher self), and this experience feels like it’s bringing that awareness to a whole new level.
And it’s a huge comfort, because I know that I can allow the hurting part of me let go, and that I’ll be taken care of by that wise, loving part of myself.
Grief is humbling.
It breaks you down and breaks you open until you are grateful just to be able to breathe again. And it is relentless in its demand for you to feel.
Every time another wave comes, you have to choose; either to surrender to it, ride it and wash out again, exhausted, or to fight it, to say ‘No’, to contract and block it. But saying ‘No’ to emotion is saying no to life – it’s saying “I refuse to be here, in what is.” And the problem with that is that it just gets you stuck where you are, with trapped emotion inside you, and it also means that joy and light don’t reach you because you’re in a closed-down, contracted “No”-space.
I’m not suggesting that we give in to each emotional impulse we experience – the lesson is to learn to tune in when emotion comes up and feel out where it’s coming from; is it a healthy, real-feeling place, or is it a tired or hysterical place? What does it really want?
If the emotion is “pure” and just wants to be expressed, then this is what is true for us in that moment – this is life, coursing through us.
To say ‘No’ then, is to refuse life.
There’s that wonderful quote from Robert Frost, “The only way out is through.” Which seems to me, particularly with inner emotional processes to be at once incredibly true, and impossibly hard.
And yet it feels like the only choice if we want to go on living, fully alive.
It blew my mind last time, and it did it again this time – the fact that it’s possible to experience intense joy at the same time as intense grief. To be able to feel the two simultaneously in your heart seems like the most bizarre paradox.
And it struck me again that we aways have two choices, whatever we are faced with in life: to contract or to expand. I even made a little video as I walked in rapture in the misty forest a few days afterwards.
“Life, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites.” – Richard Rohr
In addition, in the two days after Tig died I received 4 invitations from people reaching out to connect with lovely proposals. I’ve since met up with two of these people and insanely synergistic conversations ensued, totally lighting my soul on fire and fanning the creative flames, and opening new doorways for collaboration.
Is it a coincidence that a little windfall of awesomeness and connection came at that time?
I don’t know. I do know that I am immensely grateful for it, and for all the love and compassion and kindness that so many have extended to me. And for spring, which has finally arrived. And for life.
And maybe one day soon, even for death.
But not yet.