Yesterday I received a text message from dear friends informing us that their beloved cat Tigger had passed away. The message was a simple one: "Some last shot of our old man - he was ready to go. It's awfully quiet in our home" combined with some photos. I teared up immediately as I scrolled through. You see, I loved Tigger too.
The bond between Tigs and me formed years ago over a night of grading. Working my way through 210 exams, he was watching me carefully, answering the questions I was asking to myself with a gruff meow. At one point, I came upon an exam where the student had answered the question by drawing a picture of a coconut tree. Angrily asking "WTF!!" Tigs responded by slamming his paw down on the exam and meowing as if to say "that's right!" The next day, I turned in my stack of graded exams to the instructor, most of them covered in fur. And Tigs earned the title "Professor," becoming a beloved grading companion.
There's been a lot of emotions surrounding this news, especially with the responses to my friends. Some are kind and filled with empathy. Others say things like "he had a good run," which leaves me hurt and a bit angry. Those messages have triggered memories of comparisons of loses. The quantifying of pain.
For as long as I can remember, there's a value and definition put on love with some instances being seen as more important and worthwhile than others. The love between parent and child, love between partners, love within family, love of friends and, at the bottom, love of animals. We encourage all types of love, make no mistake. But when one half of that relationship is suddenly gone, either through death or the relationship ending, grief is immediately quantified based on the type of love. We also judge others based on the types of love they have experienced. Hence it's become a measure.
Worst yet, is when one type of love is used to silence others. In this community, we've all heard the stories about those who conceive easily informing the infertile person watching about how they can't possibly understand love because they don't have children. But the same is done time and again with losses. Early miscarriages are seen as being less painful as the potential child was just an idea. Or how never experiencing a pregnancy isn't as painful as experiencing a miscarriage. Pets come into play here often too. A beloved companion is lost and the grief is immediately minimized solely because they weren't human.
Yet I wonder, what right have we to quantify love? Speaking from experience, I know that the love I have for Grey is different than that I have for the Beats and also different from what I have for Jaxson and Daisy. But it's not less. One is not better or more important. And so it brings me back to why there's this need to quantify and qualify it. Why do people outside looking in care so much?
Years ago, I lost two beloved cats within 3 months of one another. Sawyer, a polydactyl grey tabby, was just 2 years old when he was struck by a car. He came home, laid in my roommates bed for most of the day. And when it was time, he made his way outside to his sunny spot. I found him a day later and in addition to absolute sadness, was filled with guilt that he died without me there. 3 months later, Kali ran away after Grey and I moved across town. I searched for her for weeks, filled with more grief and guilt as I knew she was trying to make her way back home.
It's been over 12 years since I lost them both. Yet the grief remains. Held in check by those who told me that losing them wasn't as terrible as losing family or a loved one. But I can tell you, after now burying my beloved grandfather, estrangement from my whole family, 2 miscarriages, failed treatments and even losing friends, it still hurts. It's not any less.
To my dear Professor Tigger,
I will miss you dearly my friend. Until we meet again on the other side of Rainbow Bridge. And if you see Kali and Sawyer, tell them I'm sorry and love them. And I hope to see them again too.
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