Since Chester’s passing I’ve started listening to an American Public Media podcast called Terrible, Thanks for Asking. My cousin Rachel mentioned on Facebook that she was obsessed with it, so I looked into it. Here’s the description:
After the first couple episodes I was unclear about whether it was helpful or harmful to be listening. (I have a tendency to make poor choices about my media consumption when I’m feeling vulnerable.) I kept listening and eventually noticed that the episodes about grief felt like a cold compress on my swollen heart.
In the show I’m halfway through today, a woman named Holly is in day one of widowhood, having lost her husband after a prolonged illness. She shares that in the shower one day, shortly after her husband had become non-responsive, she melted onto the floor crying about not having written down the two recipes that were in his repertoire. He could make two amazing meals and she had no idea what was in either or how to prepare them and therefore could not pass this knowledge on to their son.
She mentions that if she were to share this heartbreak about the lost recipes with a “normal” person, they would think she was crazy. Nora, however, totally gets it and explains that we are all the sum of the many tiny things that make us who we are: our recipes, our jokes, our smiles, our quirks…so of course Holly should cry about those two recipes. That is loss. When we lose someone, we lose the many tiny things.
And that’s it. Regardless of whether we’re grieving an animal companion or a human…we miss the little things. And we miss the biggest thing: the physical presence of that particular body animated by that particular soul.
I walk into my room and miss seeing Chester’s food bowls on my dresser. I open my closet door and expect to see his litter boxes. For weeks after his death, I held a stuffed animal while falling asleep the way I used to hold him. It took me weeks to get rid of the short glass on my bedside table that provided his primary source of water. His pillow with the soft purple blanket still resides on the bed next to my pillow (though it was weeks before I could bring myself to wash it).
The Costco trips have slowed almost to a stop because I no longer buy a rotisserie chicken for him every week. When I pass the pet food store, I have to override the muscle memory that would turn my car into the parking lot to get him more of the protein and gravy pouches he loved.
Yesterday I took a short nap and my friend’s cat perched on me for a few minutes and purred. Tears ran down my face and into my ears because I was reminded how much I miss having a purring Chester lying on my body like an extra appendage.
And that’s grief, right?
I miss his smell, I miss burying my face in his chest, I miss the way he lounged atop my body like it was as much his as mine, I miss his voice (both his regular meow and the gruffy meow-yell it became near the end of his life), I miss the softness of his fur, and I miss the way he could become a kitten in the blink of an eye and start chasing his tail.
As Nora said, it’s the million tiny things that we lose.
But what can never be lost is the love.