Holding Tight and Letting Go

The night of November 14th we lost our cat, Roo.

My husband wrote this:

“Our boy. Our sweet little Roo.

His full name was Arcturus. He had 59 lives and twice as many nicknames.

Under the super moon he crossed the rainbow bridge.

He loved us. We loved him.

We love him still.”

I actually couldn’t write anything more or anything else. And as I am sitting here nearly two months later, I am crying “Rotz und Wasser” — which is my mother tongue’s way of saying, “I am crying my eyes out” but literally means, “I am crying snot and water.”

Can’t be any clearer about why I love the German language. It is direct. To the heart. And completely raw. If you connect to its true poetic depth. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that is for another time.

We lost Roo. And my heart broke. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus. And I felt I let my writing partners down by being a completely unreliable mess over the holidays. They were both very understanding.

Most people I know understood, by the way. Even though we always want to apologize for grieving for a pet, people get it. Because people understand loss. And if they don’t — they will.

I lost my mom in 2002. Cancer. Brutal, fast cancer. She was 61, which seemed disturbingly young at the time. Now it seems like very “The Pit and the Pendulum” — a ghost in my mind chanting, “Get it done. You’re gonna die.”

My dad passed in 2005, too ill to attend my wedding (I never thought I’d be a bride) only three months before. My dad was 81. Seemed like a ripe old age at the time. But guess what — now, not so much.

We learn that death is a reality when it keeps happening around us. My Homeric Imagination professor at university, Kathryn Hohlwein, a lovely lady and astounding scholar, taught a rebellious and impatient twenty-year-old me that at some point we all learn that we are going to die. And then we learn that we are going to live.

What she couldn’t teach me then is that the lesson circles back again and again.

After losing my parents, I thought I knew the depths of grief and regret. But I didn’t know that grief and regret reside in a space in our minds that we return to over and over with each loss, as if it were a country we travel to, getting our passport stamped each time we cross its border.

You are never prepared, whether you know it’s coming or not. It’s always different. And it always changes you. At first, there is the loss of the loved one, all the things you wanted to share with them and never will be able to, the finality, the not knowing, the worry, the longing, the empty space where vibrant, living love used to reside, but once you get past all of that, there is another heart-wrenching element. The thing that takes your breath. The thing that freezes your inside. The thing you just can’t allow yourself to think about: The undeniable knowledge that this will happen to all of us.

This will happen to me.

I will die.

What do you do with that? What does it mean?

I don’t have an answer. And even if I did, like all things intangible and larger-than-life, the answer would be intensely personal and wouldn’t translate to anyone else. Not really.

But sometimes, something resonates.

Ray Bradbury said, “Writing keeps death at bay. Every book I write is a triumph over death.”

And for what it’s worth, I am writing as fast as I can.

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