The Lifespan of Grief

family catsI don't know if raw grief has an endpoint. But surely there must come a time when you can think of a loved one without a lump in your throat?

I readily admit that I've had it easy in the grief department. My grandparents passed away when I was fairly young, so it didn't hit as hard. And I've been lucky to not lose any other close family members except my husband's grandmother. I did love her - she practically adopted me when I started dating the Engineer and I soaked it up. Her passing was sad, but now the memories just make me smile.

I have not been so lucky with the loss of my cat Captain. It's been a little more than three years now and the choked up feeling in my chest and the number of unshed tears never seems to lessen.

Captain showed up out of nowhere when I was 11. He was just what I needed as a home schooled as a kid without a lot of friends. I'd been hoping for a pet - a cat - that I could love on and who would keep me company as I made the rocky transition from pre-pubescent to teenager. Ironically, I was allergic to cats. Itchy red eyes, skin rash... the whole bit - except to Captain. I could bury my nose in his sleek black and white fur and nary a sneeze was heard. He opened up the cat world to me. After adopting him, the family adopted three more cats and except for a brief adjustment period I tolerated them well over the years. There are only a few cats now - mostly long-haired beauties - that I cannot tolerate for long and for those instances I take an antihistamine.

After my parents divorced and sold the house, I moved out of student housing and into a tiny, converted garage for the sole purpose of bringing him to live with me. I had interned in Washington state over the summer. The day my internship was over, I drove all night to Missoula, slept at home for a few hours and drove to Kalispell the next day to bring him home. He hid under my car seat the whole way back, poor guy. I didn't have a carrier, and I imagine he felt safer under the seat than anywhere else in my tiny Geo.

The Engineer and I tortured him (not intentionally) by adopting Kanoe - a shelter cat we'd fallen in love with - and then a kitten, Toulouse. Oddly, adding a kitten smoothed things over in the household. Since we had no kids, we spoiled those three rotten. Most of our pictures between 2006 and 2009 are of the cats.

Captain being a stray - we never knew his history. We think he was a Manx mix. His hind quarters were a touch higher than his front shoulder, and his half-tail was an odd, angular lump. All the vertebra were there - just curled around and misshapen.

He was diagnosed with colon cancer - not once, but twice. The first time we were able to operate. The second time - I knew I was going to lose him. The cancer was too far inside the pelvic region to operate without breaking the bones, and he was already 18 or 19 years old. I felt that it wouldn't be fair to put him through another surgery at that age. When he stopped showing interest in fresh tuna, we knew it was time. I was holding him as they slid the needle in... I never knew so much grief could be concentrated into just a few seconds. Now I have children and I can't imagine loosing them either, without feeling the same anguished pain I felt when Captain's spirit left his body.

It has lessened, a little, I suppose. I can force the tears back, remember him for a few minutes at a time, but it lurks - waiting for an unguarded moment.  When does it end?

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