By Cynthia O’Brien
In 2016, I lost my soul mate cat. It brought me to my knees with grief. I was surprised by the intensity of something I had never experienced and I was not well for over a year. My sweet feral cat, Noname, who I had spent years taming and getting to trust me, was not well one night and I took him in the middle of the night to a veterinarian. Within one hour the vet gave him too much anesthesia that killed my cat. My beautiful cat was dead.
This put me in a deep state of shock for longer than I care to admit. For days and months afterward I could not cope. I am a 52-year-old woman with no children and this cat was like a son to me. The death of my cat took me on a long journey filled with grief, denial, alcohol abuse, lack of sleep, anger at the veterinarian, guilt for taking my cat to the emergency room, shock, post-traumatic stress disorder, reliving the night my cat died over and over again. I bargained with God, looking for my cat in nature and just for a sign from him to finally have acceptance and healing.
American culture is not comfortable with sharing deep feelings about grief. My friends and family could not understand my grief for a cat and urged me to move on. Many people told me “Well it’s just a cat.” This was very hard to hear.
When someone you love is suddenly taken from you, a darkness follows that is also a stunningly beautiful time when reality changes and one sees the universe wide open and different for a brief moment in time. I think Joan Didion said it best with the title of her book about losing her husband “The Year of Magical Thinking.”
I had many conversations with myself. Frankly, I was stunned that this cat’s death had brought me the worst grief of my life. It seemed absurd. I felt like Alice in Wonderland going down a rabbit hole with no way out. I would close my eyes and be with my cat and dream that he was still with me. It was my way of coping, but there were multiple ways that I coped the year he died.
As a way of coping, I went into my imagination to be with my cat and wrote a children’s book (Noname, the feral cat) about the five years we shared. I wanted to honor our life together. As I wrote my story it enabled me to heal and have a reason to wake up in the morning.
This year I started thinking about writing a play that explores the process of grief and sudden death of a loved one. I believe it can lead us through a variety of spaces and rooms that are magical or dark and keep us stuck. I also believe we can experience the pain and also connect with people who can save us.
In my real life I found a spiritual healer who guided me and carried me to a better place and understanding. She was able to get me unstuck in my panic and fear and helped me to see life differently. I am forever indebted to her for carrying me, through extreme darkness and grief.
Through this experience I have gained a different life’s purpose. My life took a very different turn — one I could never have dreamt of. I wrote and published my book and I am now working on a play about the process of surviving loss and coming out the other end of a changed person – more softened, grateful and human.
I have become a passionate volunteer for the Austin Humane Society and want to help animals in as many ways as I can. A large amount of the proceeds from the sale of my book have been donated to the Austin Humane Society. I know my dead cat is guiding me somehow now. I want Noname to be proud of me.
I am a more present and more awake person than I used to be, so grief does have many gifts in the end. Loving again whether it is an animal or person can bring you back to the grounded world. I found hope and reasons to stay alive. I realized I had a dear husband who was alive and right in front of me. I adopted a new kitten and he needed me as much as I needed him. His name is Henry. He has allergies, chews on wires, knocks things over, often escapes out the front door…. but he has helped heal me. Henry is at the end of my children’s book and we often sit together and look up into the night sky when the moon is out and we say hello to my dear soul mate cat, Noname. I sure hope I get to see that cat again.
Cynthia O’Brien is an award winning author of Noname The Feral Cat. She won the Next Generation Indie Book Award. Self-publishing a children’s book is a very labor intensive endeavour and not many awards organizations recognize or value self-published books, so it meant a great deal to Cynthia to have her book validated by this wonderful awards group.
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