Riding the Wave of Grief

Riding the Wave of Grief

In Loving Memory of my cat Erica

The last time I saw giant surfing waves was in Hawaii. They were amazing to watch, and what was more amazing was how the surfers managed to catch those waves and make it look like a dance as they harnessed the rhythm of the waves.

The last time I felt a gigantic wave come over me was last week when my precious cat, Erica, passed away. It felt like a tsunami had hit me and I was engulfed by a big wave of tears and grief. Although my cat had been responding well to her chemotherapy, the cancer started to spread to her lungs and she was having difficulty breathing and eating.

Prolonging her suffering with more aggressive treatments in order to prevent my suffering would serve neither of us, so we had the difficult task of deciding to put her to sleep. Afterwards, the veterinarian confirmed that it was the right decision to make.

Anyone who has lost a beloved pet knows the intense pain and immense void one goes through. There are people who don’t have pets or don’t understand that special bond. They will say, “Oh, it was just an animal.” Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Coming back home, I felt heartbroken and my home felt empty, much like the air had been sucked out of the house. 

Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves; sometimes it can be overwhelming and you feel like you’ve been knocked off your feet. At other times, the waters are calm and you enjoy the soothing sound of the waves. The main thing is to learn how to ride the waves and realize that the only way through it is by learning to surf the tidal waves of emotions. Eventually, the waves will become less frequent and not as intense as you give your sorrow and grief the time and space to transform. The waves will pass and you will find peace and healing as there will be fewer triggers and more fond memories. 

Allow me to introduce you to Erica and all that she has taught me.

I was so blessed and privileged to have been part of her life. We rescued her as a little kitten, but in reality she rescued us. Her name is special because before we rescued her, the kids in the back alley would play with her and call her Erica. When I asked them if they knew where she came from, they pointed at our basement door, where my aunt, who lived with us, would go out and feed her. What I realized was that my aunt was calling out to her in Calabrese, “Venaca.” which would be the Italian version of “Vieni qui,” meaning “Come here.”

She was as white as an angel with golden eyes and instead of wings, she had whiskers. Erica graced my life with her purring, always wanting to cuddle and being part of everything I did. She was omnipresent, everywhere I went, there she was. She liked to watch me and study everything I did from cooking and cleaning to working. She loved to sit beside me or on top of me to give me a massage.

The most difficult transition will be my writing. As she was my assistant, she would lie down on top of all the papers on my desk as I did my writing. She inspired me by her presence and every article I wrote had to pass her stamp of approval. She also helped me discover a lot of the things that I could do on my computer as she stepped all over my keyboard.

Our morning ritual, when I sat down at my desk, was she would demand to watch her favourite cat video games before I could start my work. In the winter, whenever I would leave home, she would always run to the window and wait for me to throw her a snowball.

Erica taught me the value of living in the moment. I believe pets are the best teachers of mindfulness. It’s all about being in the here and now and enjoying the moment. Don’t underestimate the importance of the little things in life and how grand they can be.

Other lessons she taught me include;

Be truly happy to see the ones you love. Greet them with a big smile! and hug!

Spend quality time with them and give them your undivided attention.

Remain curious; it keeps your spirit alive and makes you open to learning so you can explore new things. 

Take a break; get up and stretch; make sure you get your rest; curl up with a good book and your cat for a nap.

Learn to relax and chill out, or as they say in the surfing world, “hang ten.”

Take the time to simply be instead of always doing.

Keep calm and carry on; forget the stress. Everything’s going to be ok. Nothing has to be perfect in order for you to be happy.

Focus on the “pawsitive;” no need to criticize or harbour feelings of negativity or resentment.

Learn to forgive and leave the past in the past.

Erica had such wisdom, beauty and inspiration to share. She was a constant and reliable source of companionship, affection and unconditional love.

Grief is another form of love and is a natural response to loss. We need to make the space for the emotional suffering to transform so we can learn to integrate the grief and adjust our lives.

Everyone goes through the grieving process differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor does it work in a linear fashion. It’s more like waves and zigzags.

It takes time and patience to go through the healing journey, but the main thing to remember is to acknowledge the feelings, be honest with your feelings and allow yourself to feel the pain. 

Face your grief and learn to process it. Express your feelings; cry, scream, talk about it, write about it, get support from friends, family, groups. It is important to find ways to honour your pet; making a photo collage, holding a memorial service, spreading their ashes in a special place, creating a mourning ritual to help you cope with your pain. 

Don’t hide or ignore your pain; fighting the pain will only make it worse. Use the force of the wave to help you flow with it without the resistance. Although the intense feelings may seem like never-ending waves, they will come to pass. 

Give yourself permission to feel the feelings and avoid getting stuck in chronic misery or numbness. As you accept the pain, you will be free of your suffering. 

Keep those memories alive and seek comfort in knowing that although your pet may no longer be with you physically, their spirit is always there with you and the love is everlasting.

Realize that you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf; relax, breathe, find your balance and become more comfortable as you ride the wave of grief.