One of the most painful things about the death of a beloved is not how much difference it makes in one’s days afterwards, but how little. My sweet 14-year-old cat, Urdwill (a.k.a. Burd), was as much part of my day and night as any close family member might have been; but I still have to get up in the morning as usual; shower as usual; make my basic three daily meals as usual; go to my Twelve Step meeting, counseling sessions, and supermarket as usual. I spent part of this week repotting sweet peppers and tomatoes I am raising from seed; shmoozing with my landlord’s sweet American bulldog, Julie; accessing and returning my friend Lee’s car, all as usual. How, I ask myself, could I have gotten over my pet’s demise so quickly? “You never really loved him, that’s how,” the Accuser whispers.
Of course that is not true. The mourning that began with wails of grief has simply shifted, that’s all, downsized itself, gone largely underground. My rented room feels empty, now, without him. When I am out chatting with a friend I think, “Oh, I had better get home now, Burd will need his dinner,” then remember that Burd’s dinner is no longer my concern. When I come back to my landlord’s house and unlock the outer door, I automatically check the area around my feet to see if Urdwill is crouching there, ready to spring past me into the street. At night, whenever I would wake (and I wake up several times a night), Urdwill would be there, ready for affection, action, food; I sometimes nearly tripped over his black-furred body, invisible as it was in the darkened room. The relaxation of my hypervigilance concerning him—the relaxation issuing directly from his death—has been a relief. But it has also been a source of enormous feelings of guilt. How, I ask myself, could I be so heartless as to feel relief over Urdwill’s passing? “You never really loved him, that’s how,” the Accuser whispers again.
Such accusations would have no power to affect me were there not a long, old history behind them. In Ireland, where they had lived for six or seven years, my mother died of alcoholism in 1991, a year after my younger brother Jeffrey, her caretaker, died of AIDS. I hated my mother for having emotionally and sexually abused me, and I felt as liberated by her death as I had felt devastated by my brother’s. It took years before I could acknowledge my love for the part of her that was good and kind, and feel any grief over her passing. “You could have saved her from drinking herself to death,” the Accusers whispered at the time, but this was a lie easier to shrug off; I knew by this time that alcoholism is a progressive illness, and that she had not been willing to do the 12 Step work that could have helped her find relief from it. The Accuser’s other whisper, “You could have saved Jeffrey from dying of AIDS by insisting he return to the USA for treatment,” was harder to shrug off. At the time in Ireland, so strong were the laws against birth control that one needed a doctor’s prescription even to buy condoms in Ireland; AIDS treatment was even more primitive and limited by public prejudice than it was in the US, where our present cocktail of meds had not yet become available.
In the end I have been forced to the conclusion that my brother, my mother, and my beloved cat Urdwill had their own paths to follow, their own stories, and their own Higher Powers. I have been asked by Spirit to accept that I, like they, am a student of Love rather than a master; and that no matter what the Accuser says, I could no more have rescued my little brother from AIDS than I could have cured my cat’s cancer. The only power I have is in the here and now: the power to choose Love right now, today. •