That’s what we say when we don’t hear whatever it is we were waiting to hear: “Crickets.” As in, gosh, it’s so quiet that even a one-inch bug thinks it’s time to fill the silence with a bit of leg-sawing.
You’ve likely heard a whole rock band of crickets if you’ve been tuning in to the Wiseheart blog channel lately.
It’s been a hard season here at Wiseheart Cottage. We lost our beloved Zoë the evening of July 17 after a months-long journey through illness, fragility, and depths of love and grief and joy that I had not expected to experience, despite a lifetime of dearly cherished pets.
I loved those other cats, too. Certainly, I adored my dog, Buddy, gone three years now. Lucikate, a sweet grey tabby, was so close to me that I called her “Daughter” when no one else could hear. I bawled like a baby when Merrirose died three days after Lucikate passed away, unable to face life without her sister. When my kitten Sassafrass died at 9 months of one of those awful kitten diseases, I thought I would never stop crying. And Cougar. Oh my heart, my tiny babycat Cougar, whose death still has the power to wake me from sleep, my face wet with tears.
And Sparrow. You don’t hear me talk about my Sparrow much. Yeah. There’s Reasons.
(That’s Sparrow up in the right-most corner of my main banner, rolling around on top of a cabinet. Sparrow was littermate to both Zoë and Dusty; lost at age five from an incredibly fast-moving horrible cancer. And to this day, that’s it. That’s all you get, about Sparrow, anyway. Can’t tell you Sparrow stories…yet.)
But this one, man-oh-man, as we used to say in the coastal California of my childhood. This one. This Zoë. Losing this one tore up something inside me. A corner of my spirit, probably. A whole suite of rooms in my heart, certainly, rooms once inhabited by a lively ball of opinionated calico attitude, rooms now just walls and floors where her toys rattle endlessly around the edges, as though looking for their lost playmate.
That’s how this loss feels to me. Empty rooms, where once there was a whole party of a cat. And I’m the first to admit, despite my lifetime of animal companions, how shocked I am at the depths of my grief.
After all, Zoë was, as some might think, and a few have actually said to my face, “just a cat”.
Just a cat.
She is so “just” a cat that living with her, and having the privilege of knowing her and caring for her over the past ten months or so has changed me—no, wait. Not changed. Made me more me. Made Sandi more the person I have been becoming all along. Made me more the person I wish to continue becoming.
And yet: Just a cat.
We do not hesitate to nod our heads in understanding when someone describes the impact that a cherished grandparent has had on us. And once one knows one is safe amongst like-minded animal people, it is a relief and a solace to be able to admit out loud and at length to the crater in our hearts and souls left by the death of an animal who has shared our lives.
For some audiences, however, mention that you are still grieving a small 8-pound critter with a tail and without a voice and you might be met with…crickets. And not the friendly sort of crickets, either. The kind that say, well, now, isn’t that being just a bit overly dramatic? It’s not as though she was a person, after all…
Just a cat.
All summer long, because of those three words, I’ve been stuck, unable to write much of ANYTHING, let alone some sort of blog post, update, or description of whatever yarn is tangling up my needles at that particular moment in time.
Because: Just a cat.
All right, yes. Someone did say those words to me, someone who meant well, someone who does not know me well enough to know how sharply those particular words cut. She didn’t know that in trying to make me feel better by “putting things in perspective”, that she had actually made me and my grief-riven heart feel ashamed and foolish.
Weeks of nights spent sobbing my eyes into swollen onions over my lost furry girl have taught me that if this is foolishness, then let me be foolish about more things in my life. Let me set aside my shame and, in my foolish heart, honour all that is joy in the world, all that is life in the world, all that is love in the world.
If Just A Cat, then: Just Joy. Then: Just Life. Then: Just Love.
At the same time as I’ve felt unable to write about Zoë, I’ve also been feeling stuck because I can’t go forward without writing about Zoë. How can I just start chatting on about the fourth sleeve I’ve knit this summer (all for the same hoodie, you understand), or the seemingly endless self-frogging socks, or my sewing machines, or any of that stuff—because, dammit, it is all just STUFF and I lost my CAT. I lost my GIRL. I lost my Zoë, my heart, my sweet kitty-girl, so how am I supposed to jot down a paragraph or two about how cute she was, show you a couple of photos, and then skip two lines, make a new heading, and then let’s talk about what you all are going to knit for fall?
I can’t, that’s how.
JustACat or no, this 16+ year relationship nourished me and challenged me and comforted me and overtook my heart so much so that now I’m also stuck because I can’t write about it, not just yet anyway. Not the way I want to. Not in any hope of doing justice to it.
There are so many things I want to say about this life–this furry life, yes, but this one life, this one small spark of joy and fur that I named after the Greek word for “life” when she was barely two months old. (Turns out that never has a being so lived up to her name in my knowing.) Swap out a vowel or two, and “life” becomes “love”, a short word, a small word, yes, indeed. In size, small; in impact, so beyond quantifying that we use the word itself as the unit of infinity: As long as love shall last. To the height, and depth, and breadth of one’s being: love.
Just a small cat. In size, not so much. In impact, on me at least: As long as love shall last.
Oh, my Zoë. My heart. On this unbelievable gorgeous day nearly six weeks after we parted (for now), your love still makes me see all of life with more reverence, more respect, more wonder, more awe, more joy. And more love. Of course, more love.
But still through rainbows of tears, my sweet little one. Oh Zoë.
How well you loved me, oh my JustACat.
How well you loved all of us lucky enough to be in your tribe.
How much I miss you.
How much I will always miss you.
How grateful I am to have known you.
How grateful beyond words—on beyond all the words I do have and onto those I do not have and thus cannot write, yes, beyond all those and more–how grateful I am for your love, for every whisker and paw, every purr and cuddle, every sweet black ear tuft-tip and every small meep and mew and m(e)ow; for all the songs you sang to me, songs just for me and to me and with me, songs that shaped each day and bid each night goodnight—how grateful I am, for all of that and more, for all the love and life, every day for 16 and a half years.
Thank you, sweet girl. My girl. My beloved Zoë girl.
Oh, the love we did love, my Zoë and me.
(You may point out that I have just done what I have said I could not do: Write about my girl. Perhaps. Or perhaps the above is just a sketch, just an outline, just the barest ghost of a draft of what I might, what I could, what I would write, if I were able to really write, to really tell you about this JustACat, this small life, this Zoë-of-my-heart. My now calico-coloured heart.)