I don’t know if I could have lived through the recent death of Carolyn, my best friend of 29 years, if not for two beloved kitties who paved the way and whose deaths acquainted me with the architecture of grief:  Turtleman in 2009, Sonny Gray in 2011.

This is how it begins: a squeezing, sickening tug in the gut that, if allowed to continue, will sink me to my knees.  The only way to stop its progression is by taking deep, labored breaths. My spine goes rigid, I’m afraid to move. It can’t be true. Maybe if I don’t move it won’t be true. Maybe if I stick to this spot right here it won’t be true. 

But then, somehow, the dreaded words sink in: “Turtleman’s cancer has returned. Surgery won’t help.”  “Sonny Gray is old, his kidneys are failing.”  “Carolyn died this morning.”

The sharp intake of breath, the dizzy near-swoon, the tears, unattended by relief.  And later, the panic of nothingness that swoops in at 3:00 in the morning.  The kitties are gone. Carolyn’s gone, and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing.  My cherished longing to fix things thwarted.

More tears, fought back at first.  If I cry, it’s real; if I don’t, it’s not.  I light a candle next to their photos.  I say aloud how sorry I am, so very sorry, over and over and over again.  I hope they hear me.  I listen for a sign.

The fiercest element of grief is the void.  No more cuddles with Turtleman during his treasured bedtime ritual with his Daddy Steve and me, his Mommy.  Ten years of conversations between us about our beloved boy, no more.  Our home is now an empty pit of sorrow.

No more sweet greetings from Sonny Gray during my rounds at the homeless cat colony I’ve cared for these past 17 years.  No more giving into his demands that I pet and talk with him before he will eat.  No more loving rubs against my leg.

Those darling boys gave me more in the way of love and fun when they were alive than I could ever hope to repay.  Losing them initiated me into the tribe of mourners, smacked me down into the ways of grief.  

After each loss, I went to bed for hours and read my favorite thrillers.  I cried with Steve as we held their photos. We lit candle after candle and talked about the good times. “Remember how Turtleman used to snuggle between us on the bed and extend his paw out to me?”  “Remember how Sonny Gray didn’t like to eat until we listened to his stories and petted him?”

When Carolyn died last year, I was already familiar with the contours of heartache.  I took solace from my furry boys whose passing taught me well. 

Before she died, I sat at Carolyn’s bedside, holding her hand, telling my comatose friend how much I loved her.   Her adult children and I consoled each other in the exchange of sweet and amusing stories about our dear Carolyn.

Later, at home, I lit a candle by her photo and took to my bed to read a thriller I had just gotten for her.  She’d think that was funny.  

Turtleman, Sonny Gray, and now Carolyn:  locked in my heart forever.

Rosie Sorenson, MA, MFT
Award winning author of: They Had Me at Meow:
Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow
www.zazzle.com/theyhadmeatmeowfor t-shirts, mugs, greeting cards, etc., using photos of the cats of Buster Hollow


This piece appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in May 2013 and appears here with the express permission of Rosie Sorenson.   

Rosie also wrote My stalker and me which is in the Cat Chat section

A Cats Purr

"Cats make one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: they purr ...

A purring cat is a form of high praise, like a gold star on a test paper. It is reinforcement of something we would all like to believe about ourselves - that we are nice."

Roger A Caras

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