In the last workshop I held we focused a lot of writing to heal and gain a sense of closure. If you’ve been on the blog before by now you know I’m an advocate for writing and journaling and that I love the work that I do. So, it was great to have a bunch of women who already knew the value in writing down the things they carried within.
One particular woman was struggling with letting go someone who had died. Harsh words were spoken prior to the death of this family member many years earlier, and even though she tried to let it go, the feeling of guilt and shame plagued her. The things she said haunted her because the words spoken in anger at the time, were fighting words, word used to ‘win’ an argument and they did not really reflect how she truly felt about the person. Shortly after the family member died and the last conversation has played on her mind constantly.
What I have found to be very helpful in cases like these is writing a letter to the deceased, emptying out those feelings within, celebrating their life and reminding them of our love. You can’t mail this letter anywhere, but the act of releasing those things that are bottled can be deeply therapeutic. Another method that I have used is simply writing a reflective piece about that person and the times we had together and how they would have impacted my life. I did this when my dad died and when my pet cat Chardonnay died.
A few years ago I lost my Chardonnay. She was my fur baby, my friend for about a decade and my constant companion. Her death gutted me. It was like losing an extension of myself. To deal with her loss I wrote a piece about her. I didn’t want her to just exist somewhere in my mind, I wanted to celebrate her in words, too. So, I wrote the piece below and it helped me dearly. I went from thinking of her and feeling an extreme sense of loss, to celebrating her, honoring her and recalling our precious times together. Have a read if you please.
She came into my life in 2002 when her owners were preparing to migrate to the UK. I was never much of a cat person until I met her. To me, she was and will always be the sweetest cat there was and probably will be. She was also a beauty. A mix between Siamese and some other breed, she had grey-blue eyes that turned violet when she was about to get angry or claw at you for stroking her too hard.
When I got my first apartment she was there. She was my comfort and companion when I was just starting out in the world and couldn’t even afford a TV or a phone. When I was sad, she would instinctively know, and would just come and sit on my lap and stare into my face, silently letting me know it would be okay. When I had my first heartbreak she was there, scrunching up so close to me on the bed, kneading her paw on my tummy and making me smile because of the intense look in her beautiful eyes. She’d keep her eyes firmly fixed on mine as if she was willing me to be happy again. She was spoiled, loving and totally owned me. You never really own a cat. They own you and I was happy to be her human. From apartment to apartment, failed friendships and relationships, Chardonnay was my one constant.
We grew up together. When I moved into my first home, no longer a renter, I think she instinctively knew we would not be moving soon. She settled in and began exploring the place and it was such a delight to see her act like a kitten and a hunter, bringing me lizards with their heads torn off and other dead presents. I never really let her out when we lived in apartments. The landlord’s dogs, kids and road traffic made me to scared to let her loose. I became especially fearful after I saw what she did a neighbor’s dog one day I left a crack in the door. Poor dog did not know what happened. She just ran up on him, pawed him and flew up a tree. It was a very funny sight. Poor dog was beyond perplexed. She loved our new home and had her hiding spots, dug up flower beds, traded the litter box for the pepper garden and was a constant explorer. It was as if she came alive all over again with her new-found freedom. For many years she was happy and energetic and bossy and just Chardy and I always felt she’d remain the same.
In the last few years of her life she started moving really slow and acting like she was losing her senses. I brought her in for tests and they said it was most likely signs of old again. She was one of the longest living cats the vet had seen, being 15 in human years then. Within the last year she lost a lot of weight, would not eat and slept most of the day. I had to always keep her in the house because I was afraid she would go outside and go into the bushes and die. I heard animals did that when they knew the end was near. Whenever that time came, I wanted to be there, no matter how hard it would be. I was in a constant state of paranoia once her health deteriorated. I’d poke her if she seemed too still in her sleep and oftentimes you’d find me holding a mirror to her nose to see if she was still breathing. I just did not want to lose her.
She got worse and after hundreds of dollars in tests and many trips to the vet they said she had cancer. At first, they thought it was a thyroid issue, something that is common in older cats but then it became clear it was cancer. I was gutted. There was nothing they could do. We just had to ‘wait it out’, according to the vet. Some days she looked like her old self, other days she was really bad. No matter what, she always showed love and affection to me and it felt good to know that even if she could not remember the entire family, she knew me. And then someone drove into our yard and did not see her. He broke her hind leg. I was devastated because it was one of the rare days I let her outside. The injury was not very serious, but because her health was compromised, I think it had the effect of her being hit full force. I heard the car’s driver screaming and I ran outside and heard her yelping. It was like something was pulling out my heart.
I scooped her up as gently as I could and took her to the bathroom where I played vet and watched her fight for breath. I couldn’t do a thing. I lay down on the bathroom floor and held her on my chest as if she was a child because that is what she was to me. I cried, no bawled, as I watch my dearest and oldest and most faithful friend, fight to stay with me. I was covered in blood and fur and her poo and I didn’t care. I just wanted her to stay with me. She wanted, too. Her eyes were fixed on me then, too and looked the color of sadness.
She died on my chest. It was the saddest and still is the saddest day of my life. I wrapped her in her favorite blanket and buried her the next morning with her favorite toys.
I miss Chardy each day. My companion when I worked during the day and my friend for life. I’m so, so grateful that I was privileged to have her in my life. As long as I live, I will always remember her. She was more than a cat to me. She was a God sent and sometimes, just sometimes, I think she was an angel that came in the form of a cat. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her and the treasure she has been to me. I wish she was her now, the lie at my side, purr those annoying loud purrs she gave that kept me up at night while she lay next to me in bed sleeping away. I wish she was here to knead my side with her paws whilst staring lovingly into my eyes, willing me to believe that better things were ahead. I wish she was here to sit next to my keyboard as I type this and annoy the hell out of me but trying to sit on the keys. But she isn’t. Yet I have a lifetime of memories of her and that makes me smile, even though I miss her terribly.
Carlana Charles is the visionary and editor-in-chief of FemmePowered. She is a womanist, writer, speaker, story midwife and facilitator of meaningful and engaging conversations. When she is not working in or on FemmePowered, she can be found resting, baking, reading or scribbling furiously in her journal whilst sipping wine or coffee, sometimes both at the same time. She is currently working on her first book and hopes to release it in September 2018.