It was just after 8pm on Saturday 29th of September 2018.
I had spent the day organising my jewellery making supplies, trying to sort beads into colour, type and size. I had organised a new set of plastic storage baskets as high as I could and labelled them my upcoming courses as a statement to my renewed commitment to my education.
I was preparing the hoover up the dust and loose beads that had escaped my grasp.
I passed the vacuum once and then twice across the carpeted floor when the plastic storage toppled over.
I let out a shrill scream and as my mum came to check on me her phone rang. Ignoring it so she could help me our home phone rang.
We have a long held rule – no phone calls after dark unless someone is sick or dying.
It has long been a way to protect our minds and to prevent burnout; both of us being empathetic and drawn to helping others.
“Let them leave a message.” I said.
A minute later the phone blinked with the familiar symbol of a voice mail.
We listened once, and then twice, the information barely registering.
I pressed the redial. “… Emergency…”
I felt myself break. I knew without hearing more that something terrible had happened to my cat, Panda.
I could not contain the yells, the tears cascaded and I fell to the floor.
Panda had been hurt. He hadn’t made it. Did we want to see him?
The last dead body I saw, was my little sister. I had held her little foot as she died and felt the incredible weight of her body once her spirit had left.
For the last week, her passing had been at the forefront of my mind. My mum said the same thing.
Next March it will be 13 years since we said goodbye to her physical form.
My mum had awoken that morning saying that she thought something bad was coming. We sat in prayer when – after checking the news – we discovered that Indonesia had been victimised by a tremendous storm. We prayed for the loss and thanked God for preparing us for the onslaught of emotional pain that we often feel after such incidents.
But the day remained unsettled and we both did what we always do when we felt unsettled; we cleaned and organised.
So, that is why I sat among hundreds of beads, as the light dimmed.
Earlier in the afternoon Panda had come in a spilt some tiny crimp beads. I told him off.
And I never saw him alive again.
I assure my heart that he knew that I loved him.
I told him multiple times a day. But that last moment… that I must process emotionally as logic is hard to grasp right now.
At that moment, as my mum put down the phone to comfort me, our good friend, and sister-in-Christ, called. The three of us have prayed together and for each other for years. She said she was going to settle at home and felt uneasy. She had felt that was most of the day but had been busy and tried to ignore it. At 8pm she could not ignore the feeling, and called.
She heard my wails and she came for us.
Initially I did not want to go the vet hospital, but now I am glad I did.
He just looked like he was sleeping, and I could almost convince myself that I felt him purr. But he was so cold, and my Panda was always my mini heater.
Seeing my mum cry shocked me into action, and though I often struggle with hugs, I found myself tightly embracing her and soothing her hurt.
Panda was born on March 10th 2016.
We didn’t know this until we picked him up in May of the same year.
As with my older cat, Taffy, Panda came into my life in the midst of a mental breakdown.
My depression was strong, my resolve to live weakening.
On March 3rd 2006, at 10pm at night my little sister died.
On March 10th 2006, she was buried beside her best friend who had sadly died just a couple weeks before. We hadn’t been able to go to his funeral because we were living in the hospital, for months my mum and I watched my little sister get sicker and sicker until a doctor callously revealed that there was no more medical interventions or treatments. That after 15 years of the most valiant battle, there would be no more fighting.
So, on the 10th anniversary of the single most painful event in my life, I met Panda.
He was a wild kid. The outdoors was his kingdom and small creatures his playthings.
He could sit on command, and would come when called.
He loved to play with toys and, unlike most cats, he enjoyed sitting in the rain.
I rarely bathed without him scratching at the door, so I kept it ajar and he would come in and want to chase the bubbles.
As with Taffy, he would sit with my when I was in pain. As long and skinny as he was, he was heavy and his whole weight would press against you and make you feel secure.
He often smelt like fresh grass.
He would waken me in the early hours of the morning, soaking wet and wanting to be dried. I have a towel by my bed for this exact reason.
This morning I thought I heard him cry. His meows often imitating that of a human baby.
I called him Baba.
As I sit here writing this, I am finding a comfort I didn’t think I would gain.
My heart aches, but my soul sings.
He is causing the most wondrous trouble with my sister, herself a wild spirit of love and light. I know this without any doubt.
I have sought solace in my bible, in the faithful sounds of the hymns written by those who have felt true sorrow but found peace.
The grief that I have held for over a decade, the tears that could not fall for my sister – for our lives descended into great personal and financial turmoil in the immediate aftermath – is being released.
Each tear that falls. Each wail that catches me unawares cleanses my soul.
One grief has been a catalyst for another. I did not realise how tightly I held my hurt.
I have long been depressed. Since childhood I have had to navigate the consequences of the imbalances of chemicals whose names I can barely pronounce.
Today, I am sad.
I don’t know if I have ever been sad. If I ever allowed myself to feel such an emotion, so scared I have often been that it would transform into the dark, yet familiar place.
But today, I am sad.
It is an awful mess. My deep brown complexion is ruddy and swollen – I am not a pretty crier.
The pain triggered migraines, another familiar friend, but, for now, the medication is working and I have learnt to get on with the dull ache.
In the past few weeks I have been focused on asking God for peace. My spirit has felt quite unsettled and no material purchase, or conversation with a friend, eased that uncomfortable sense of being unsettled.
Once again I have been asking God for peace. I do not want to lose my way on the precipice of so much positive change.
I have finally started my journey to become a counsellor, the beginning stages of personal and professional growth. I am embracing my draw to those who are hurting, the will I used to push away that craved healing, not for myself but for others.
I awoke this morning resolved that I would take to my bed. That I would allow my tears to freely fall. I am will not ashamed; rather I will seek meaning in the river of suffering.
It is, after all, a familiar place to me. What isn’t, is my decision not to fight against the current.
It is not wallowing. Rather a continuation of the search for meaning that has held me for many months.
This afternoon I came across three stories (a prayer, a presentation and a book).
It was the prayer that came first, from a cursory glance at my YouTube recommended.
The title so appropriate for my current state: “When You Are Going Through A Lot” by Priscilla Shirer. A smidge over 6 minutes that served as a much-needed morning prayer that I shared with my mum, and we both felt was sent from God.
A few hours later another recommending video, “A love letter to realism in the time of grief”, a Ted talk by an explorer, Mark Pollock and his partner, Simone George. He had become blind in his early twenties but ran marathons and adventured to parts of the world that few have ever been. That part of story was interesting but it was the fact that he sat on the stage in a wheelchair, his legs barely the thinness that I know only comes from muscle wasting. One night he had nearly died. His survival had initially been unexpected and came with the consequence of paralysis.
They spoke of their pain. The loss and grief. The tears that fell every time they thought about what had been lost, however this was not the end of the talk, merely an interlude to the core message. Among all that hurt, was hope. Not a blind, or optimistic, hope, rather a hope based in the realistic.
That we do not have to fight sorrow, or ignore our suffering.
We need to acknowledge the tension between acceptance and hope: “Acceptance is knowing that grief is a raging river and that we have to jump into it.”
They referenced a man called Viktor E Frankl, and in doing so presented me with my third story: Man’s Search for Meaning.
I have ordered the paperback, and as I write I am listening to the audiobook. It was a few minutes into my listening that I felt the urge to write this post, to allow the words in my head to spill forth without editing or an inner (often critical) monologue.
I am not going to read this back. At least not today.
I’m sure later I will return to this post to add links, or maybe an image.
But for now, I leave this here in its rawest form.
Last night I said goodbye to a friend, my heart hurts and I don’t expect it to stop aching anytime soon.
I am going to swim in the river of grief, make my way to hope by way of acceptance.
This grief, though triggered by the sudden death of my cat, became a catalyst to all the griefs that I had firmly been avoided. My fresh tears flow for him, but the deluge continues as I mourn my sister, the brother I haven’t spoken to in nearly a decade, the father that couldn’t love me, the abuse that became so familiar I excepted it as ‘my lot’. I cry for the missed opportunities and the scars that are scattered over my body, for the pain that never came when they were made.
I cry for my mum. For the twin, she never knew, but always missed. For the family that found her mere presence lacking. For the men who took her beautiful soul and tried to crush it; for the children that she has lost, and the grandchildren she may never have.
For the first time, I cry but I know that these tears will dry, as they are an integral part of this journey to find meaning in experience, to do something with it.