“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson
There are many skeptics who discount the feelings of non-human animals. I have been doing research for a book I am writing about animals and in doing so I came across an article in the Smithsonian where a story is relayed about an orca, Tahlequah, who carried her dead calf through icy water for 17 days before dropping it. The story ended with these words: “The question is not “Do animals grieve?” but “How do animals grieve?”
As you may be aware, my almost 20-year-old cat, Tazzie, passed away Monday morning. This has left such a huge hole in my heart with her physical absence, although I know her spirit is still right beside me. What I am observing now first-hand is the grief that my other cat, Gizmo, is exhibiting. He will be 19 in a couple of months and he has only known a world where Taz was there every day of his life. He has always been such a rambunctious cat, very vocal and extremely active. He is now very obviously depressed, crying, and has thrown up twice today. He has eaten very little, which is unusual for him. He has searched the entire apartment looking for her, especially her hiding places where she would go for peace and quiet. He looks out the windows to see if she is outside. He will not leave my side. We are grieving her together, comforting each other. I know it is confusing for him and I am doing my best to give him as much attention as possible while dealing with my own grief and other health issues. Gizmo is a very intuitive cat and I know he understands that I am not in a good place emotionally right now. I’m facing some huge decisions about my health and he keeps snuggling beside me, telling me it will be okay. I’m trusting you to know that buddy. We will get through this together but it may take awhile for us both.
My friend Karen is my co-author for our book, A Time For Animals Love Revolution. She has helped me over the last couple of days with words of comfort including the phrase “grief is love.” There are no rules to grief just as there are no rules to love. It just is and it is different for each one of us. There is no pattern to follow, no set timeframe to work through. I’m learning to be gentle with myself and allowing the tears to flow with no judgement. I’m learning that it is okay to let others see me cry. I’m learning that my grief is changing me every day, making me stronger as I focus on why I am grieving. It is because I loved so deeply and I would not trade that for anything. I loved my little girl with my whole heart and received even more love back from her. She gave me the most precious gift I could ever receive by allowing me to spend her dying moments with her to feel her last heartbeat and hear her last breath. She died hearing the words “I love you” coming from me, her constant companion for her whole lifetime.
So as scientists keep trying to figure out if and how animals grieve, I’m living with a grieving one and he is teaching me so much about how very deeply he feels the loss of his precious sister. If you believe in prayer and a higher power, we could use all of those we can get right now.