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The last family portrait of our fosters all together before heading out for adoption.

The kittens have moved on to Portland. It was very difficult to say goodbye to them, for me and the kids. They’ve been a part of our lives for two and a half months, and we’ve been through a lot with them, especially Bruce. We all became very attached.

But they went to one of the best humane societies in the country, and two days after we said goodbye, they showed up on the “recently adopted” page. It’s amazing that they’ve been adopted faster than the scratches on my body have healed! They’re great cats, all of them, with unique and wonderful personalities that will bring joy and laughter to their new families. Three months ago, they were basically feral, afraid of humans. Now, they are ready for homes.

Bruce and Maia and kitten snuggles.

Bruce and Maia and kitten snuggles.

I commented to Max, “Can you imagine how hilarious it will be the first time Maia does velcro kitty for her new owners?” Maia is a little insane, you see, and has no problem jumping from across the room with all claws out ready to stick on your clothing and climb up onto your head or shoulder. She’d also like to jump up on my back and chase her tail when I was bent over cleaning litter boxes. And then five minutes later, she’d join Bruce in my arms for some snuggles and love. She’s kind of amazing, and Max really wanted to keep her.

We’re sad we couldn’t keep them. Really sad. We’re at the fur-enabled maximum with Alex, Luna, and Oliver, at least for now. And then, if I were to keep one, how was I to decide? We talked about it and could not make a decision on just one or even two. It was either that we keep all of them or we keep none.

Apparently, when the foster family keeps one of their foster animals, some in the industry (from my online research) call that “foster failure.” Failure? Okay. I guess so. That’s my kind of failure.

But I’ve succeeded. And in doing so, I felt as if I have lost six pets in a week. Success felt like failure for a while. There was no weaning off of them, they were here one day and gone the next. Putting them into the carrier to bring them back to the shelter was one of the more brutal experiences of my life. And Max would not let go of Bruce or Maia, so that made it even more difficult. My kids loved “the babies” as much as I did.

I have been watching videos and looking at pictures, allowing myself the freedom to grieve the loss. I knew it was coming, sure. But I had no idea how brutal it would be. I had them here too long, for one thing. With all of the health issues, they didn’t get up in weight fast enough to stick to the planned schedule. And being a first time foster mom, it is apparently a lot harder to say goodbye.

When Riley passed away a couple of years ago, I grieved hard then. I had some people say things about “it’s just a dog” or “he wasn’t even your dog, why are you so sad.” I tried to avoid those people, and I tried to allow that grieving to come up and process, but I also tried to get on with life.

This time, well, now I know. If anyone tries to tell me that they’re “just cats,” I could get ranty.

The Grieving Pariah

Grieving is not supported in our culture, it’s avoided and shunned. While other cultures have rituals and beliefs that support grieving, our culture sweeps it under the rug.

And I know why: it’s because we are a society of repressed people running around unable to feel much of anything. If you have one person around expressing sadness, it triggers something uncomfortable in the people around them. You see, they have it too, this grief held down and out of sight. But just because they’re not expressing it does not mean that they’ve been able to overcome and let it go. It stays within them, latent, waiting.

And when people see someone cry, it makes them uncomfortable. If they allowed that level of expression, if they start to cry, too, then their grief senses an opportunity to express itself. But we’re told to never let them see you cry, crying is a weakness, grieving is abhorred. Thus, grieving people become a pariah.

In our culture, depressed or sad people are shunned or medicated. Anyone who feels anything other than “love and light” is told to be more positive, to look on the bright side. And yes, I can definitely see the bright side with my fur babies finding homes where they will be cherished and loved. I feel immense gratitude for that, for the experience of being able to care for Sapphire and here babies, and I feel sadness, too. It’s a lot of competing emotions, but the happy gratitude feelings don’t negate the sadness. The sadness and grief is still there. But I get to hold all of them in the space of my heart, and that’s a gift.

We, as a society and culture, have missed out on this.

I’ve missed out on this.

And in doing so, I became burdened in a way I can only now see. Holding that grief out of sight requires an immense amount of effort.

Holding down grief

iurThis summer, Claire wanted to watch any movie that scared me as a kid. We were swimming a lot this summer, at the lake and the pool, so I rented Jaws. I am pretty sure I couldn’t swim for a month when I saw Jaws, and I sure as heck was never going to swim in a natural body of water. I think I got scared of the bathtub drain once, hearing the deep bass sounds in my head begin playing to let me know that there was a massive shark squeezing up a 2 inch drain. That will scare her, right? Actually, no, it didn’t. Not even a little. Though she did request swimming at the pool instead of the lake a lot more often… hmm.

The vision of the shark swimming around Quint’s boat with 3 barrels attached  came to mind. The more I grieved, the more I felt like barrels were popping up on the surface. I didn’t care who saw me cry, I didn’t care how puffy my eyes were. I felt this release of pressure on my soul, something tied into how I navigated my life and my work.

Mark encouraged me to deeply grieve, to really allow myself to let go into what I was feeling. I stopped trying to keep it down.

“I don’t think I have ever had such a big loss all at once,” I said.

“You have. You’ve had a lot of loss. You’ve just never really allowed yourself to fully grieve it all,” he said. Just that, he gave me permission to grieve. He held me, and he held space for me. “It’s going to come in waves, so just let it.” And I did. And after a while I’d be okay, and then it would come in like a wave again.

The more I allowed myself to grieve, to let out full-on guttural cries into a pillow about missing my babies, the less intense it has gotten. It still comes, these waves, like a tsunami of emotion I cannot control. But after the waves recede again, I feel lighter. I feel cleaner. I feel unburdened. I feel less overwhelm, less stress, and more fluid. There is a huge release of pressure when you let the grief out. You are no longer swimming through life attempting to hold back the barrels, holding back a rather powerful part of who you are.

A lot of my workaholism was tied into holding those barrels beneath the surface. Memories started popping that were laden with grief and shame, sadness and a conscious decision to not allow it to overcome me. I have a memory in which I consciously decided to channel that feeling into creating something, into getting things done, into being a “good person” by other people’s standards.

Freedom to grieve is freedom to be

As I have allowed the grieving process to move through me, I am sensing a degree of freedom in my life. Love flows more easily, I am less easily frustrated or angered. The release of all of the grief — and the freedom to release it whenever it comes up — is such a gift for me. It seems sad that so many people are not allowed, or rather do not allow themselves, the space to feel grief.

You see, feeling grief is an exercise of sorts in allowing ourselves to feel everything. If we allow it full expression of movement through us, it expands our ability to feel joy, peace, contentment, gratitude, and most importantly love. If we’re holding down decades of repressed sadness and grief, it requires such immense effort. We become depleted more easily. Everything seems a burden. We’re expending such unconscious energy holding back our tears and sadness, and we don’t even know why just getting out of bed seems to be such a chore.

I’m exploring this newfound freedom, and it’s deepening my experience of life. I have a greater capacity to feel everything, most importantly love. I look at my beautiful children, and I feel my heart ready to burst open with fullness. Even Mark, who can sometimes push my buttons like any good spouse, is seeing me deepen the feeling of love for him in my life.

I’m kind of amazed, and a little blindsided, at how much fostering has given me. And here I was thinking I was doing something noble and generous. Actually, the gifts that the kittens gave me were far greater and superior than I ever imagined.

But isn’t that life? We think we’re going into an experience to do one thing, and we come out on the other end transformed into something completely different. I couldn’t have predicted what this experience was to give me. And I didn’t think I’d have so much fodder for emotional and spiritual growth. But when you put the call out to the universe that you want something more, the universe answers. All we have to do is say yes.

The life best lived is lived with fullness and depth, not superficial perfection. If we are brave enough to dive into the depth and darkness, we might come out with a gift we could have never seen.

 

On Joy and Sorrow by Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.