sorting out grief and guilt

Over the past week, I have had such a range of thoughts and feelings. Oscar has been gone for about a week and a half. What was supposed to have been a relaxing and productive vacation has become a period of mourning, both for Oscar and an uncle who also died shortly after Christmas.

The grief I feel in the wake of Oscar’s passing is beyond what I thought I would feel. Early last Tuesday morning, I arranged to have the vet come and put Oscar to sleep. Then I sat in my chair and held Oscar, only getting up when necessary … until 3:15 pm. For the rest of Tuesday and into Wednesday, I pivoted between feeling numb and weeping … well, sobbing actually. I picked up his food dishes and his toys and other cat paraphernalia, putting them in piles to keep, toss or donate. Though I plan to get another cat, he or she will be younger and will not, for example, need ramps or food designed for older cats. I moved his perches and took away the ramps. I spent the rest of the week slowly rearranging my bedroom after taking out the big ramp by my bed – this felt right and actually returned the room to its original setup before Oscar needed the ramp. These activities helped me process and start to move on but they did not take away the sense of loss or diminish the impact of periodic breakdowns.

I’ve been looking at websites about grief over losing a pet and many reference the stages of grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). I think I’ve skipped the first three stages – I know he is dead, he was older and in pain so I’m not angry that he died, and I don’t need to try to convince myself that “if I’d only done X he would still be alive”. I am living in both depression and acceptance. I knew I would cry and miss my boy, but did not expect the grief to be so intense for so long, and it’s not over yet. I am still caught by surprise and become teary-eyed a little too easily or even weep … then pull myself together and move on until the next wave of grief hits. I’m not sure how long this cycling will continue. On one hand, I hope these reactions do not go on much longer because it is painful – I want it to end. On the other hand, it is a reflection of my love for Oscar and how much I will miss him – I’m afraid of it ending because maybe that means there was a limit to my attachment to him. Of course, this latter point is not logical, but I’m living more in my heart these days than in my head. What I have to consider is that when the depression ends, I can more easily celebrate Oscar’s life by fondly remembering the fun we had and the times he made me laugh.

The guilt I feel is threefold – one part Oscar and two parts related to my uncle’s passing. My source of “Oscar guilt” is about not being more patient with him in the last couple of months. On some level, I knew he was getting worse but did not always adjust my behavior to meet his changing needs. Of course, I wasn’t mean to him but sometimes I was not as kind as I should have been. He would drive me crazy with wanting to be held, then put on the floor, then held, then put on the floor, etc. He increasingly wanted me to hold him. Didn’t he understand that I was trying to work or eat or sleep or … whatever?? I regret not realizing that he needed more attention and comfort, and that I had so little time left with him. He would sometimes look at me with sadness that I was not more responsive or that I was more interested in something else. He would go to his perch and sleep. He was right. I was sometimes focused on the wrong things and made those things more important than he. Now, I can’t take it back – realizing this is when I cry.

I also feel guilty that my sadness in losing my uncle has been subsumed by my larger state of grief. My uncle died the day after Christmas and Oscar followed two days later. My uncle was a wonderful guy who had a great sense of humor and told wonderful stories – he was the keeper of the family history. I was so sad to hear that he had passed, though he had been sick for some time. I haven’t kept in touch with my uncle. This is a failing of mine – losing track of people I care for. This is the other source of guilt related to my uncle’s passing – I need to be more engaged with my family – my brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, and aunt. I need to be more engaged with friends I’ve made along the way. It’s easy to be disengaged and to find reasons (or excuses) for falling out of touch. Unfortunately, I am a bit overwhelmed with emotion just now and it seems like too much to redress my failings at the moment, though I need to take some initial steps. In my head, I know that the guilt I feel is not productive, but maybe that knowledge can lead me to take the first steps to move forward.

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