Magic needed urgently

I’ve spoken on this blog before about the film photography competition that I take part in. It’s run on a photography forum I’m a member of and is a friendly contest, with no prize other then the pleasant feeling of being the winner. I’ve not won the contest before, although I’ve finished up near the top on a number of occasions. This year, with two months still to go, I’m currently in the lead and have a reasonably good chance of prevailing if I make and enter good photos. My problem at the moment is that I don’t have an entry for November yet, and there are only five days left to do so.

After losing Stan, my mind has been far away from photography over the past couple of weeks and, if I’m honest, it’s still not really there yet now, but I don’t want to drop out of the contest at this stage. It doesn’t matter at all if I do or don’t, but it would still feel nice to win, or even just complete the course. And if I’m sucessful and manage to win, it can be for Stan.

So I now need to find a photograph that meets the theme of “magical” in the next few days – including getting it developed and scanned. I have an idea of something I can do, although I’m not sure how good it is – it feels a little obvious – but it might be a case of needs must. I could use a photo I’ve taken throughout the year and try to finagle it to fit the theme – this is allowed in the rules – but I’m not sure anything I have comes close to being a good fit anyway. Whatever I decide though, I need to get on with it.

My emotional state is continuing to improve day-by-day, and there’s now more of an underlying sadness to how I feel, rather than the pain that was so prevalent at first. I fully expect it to flare back up again from time-to-time – grief is like that, it never really goes away, you just learn to live around it, but for now I’m feeling a little better than I did.

Stan never liked riding in the car when we had to take him to the vets, but he would always hop in the car when he saw the doors open – usually when we were unloading shopping. He once got locked in the boot for a couple of hours when he’d jumped in without being spotted one time. These are the memories that I will treasure (although I wouldn’t ever condone shutting cats in cars!).


Moving at different speeds

My wife asked this morning about when we were going to put Stan’s casket containing his ashes with those of our other cats. As I’ve mentioned before, these are sat on a shelf in the garage. This might seem undignified and a little uncaring, but it’s just the place we’ve put them when our grief has diminished over time. We know exactly where they are, they are the markers of the cats, but they aren’t the cats themselves (even if they contain their earthly remains). The cats live on in our hearts and minds. I know some people keep them indoors on a shelf or somewhere, but after a while, in our case at least, this would start to feel like something of a shrine given we now have caskets for six cats.

I’m not ready to put him in the garage just yet though. And I think that last sentence gives a clue why. I’m referring to his casket as him. I know it isn’t him, but part of me still feels that there is some sort of emotional connection there beyond a simple reminder and and marker. I’m much more sentimental than my wife, and it take me time to move forward in thsese situations. I thinks she sometimes thinks I’m making it worse for myself being this way, but it’s the way I am and I have to do these things in the way that feels true to me.

Each day continues to be a little easier than the one before though, as I knew it would, but there’s still a deep sense of sadness and loss hanging over me.

I’m typing this up having just returned from a trip to the cinema to see Ghostbusters Afterlife. I enjoyed the film a and it was a proper sequel to the original movies from the 80s, and much better I think than the attempted reboot that came out a few years ago. Perhaps there’s some nostalgia points boosting it for me given it’s not far off forty years since I saw the original with a bunch of kids from school at the long-since-closed Gaumont in Sheffield’s Barker’s Pool. Whether it’s this nostalgia, Hollywood heart-string pulling, or my present emotional state – or probably a mixture of all three – I don’t know, but I found the film quite moving at it’s conclusion. There are also, in these Marvel Cinematic Universe days, a couple of extra scenes during and at the end of the credits. Most people had left before the mid-credits scene, and I was the only person remaining in the auditorium for the scene at the very end.

Here’s Stan on a folding chair on the patio back in the summer. My wife had been sat there, but Stan soon took up residence when she moved.


Feeling lonely

One of the things that has come from the grief of losing Stan has been a sense of loneliness. This isn’t necessarily a new feeling – it’s something I’ve felt before – but Stan’s loss has resulted in it resurfacing. I think most people probably think of loneliness as affecting those who are physically alone with no, or limited, contact with others, and that is certainly a major reason for the emtion. Old people are often the ones we think of as being most affected, particularly when they lose their spouse or other long term companions and friends, including their pets. It is to be expected in these cases and there are lots of charities and good caused that seek to help in these situations.

Sometimes though , there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for loneliness, and there can be the awfule sensation of being alone, even when surrounded by others, sometimes even your family and close friends. I don’t know if this is a common sensation, but it’s one that I feel from time-to-time, a sense of being lonely in a crowd. It’s a very sad feeling to have.

I think Stan’s loss has brought this to the surface for me because, as I’ve already said in recent posts, he was a largely constant companion. He wasn’t with me 24/7 or anything, but working from home he would generally appear throughout the day, looking for attantion, getting into some sort of mischief, and definitely making a play for some of his treats whenever I ventured into the kitchen. While he did these things with other members of our household, it was usually me who was there most of the time, and I think he imprinted himself on me as a result. And now those little shared moments between the two of us are just mine. I can tell others about them, but the other member of that experience is no longer here. It’s not like I would reminisce with him or anything, but there was still that sense of shared experiences.

As a result of feeling lonely I feel that I’m reaching out for contact more than I would do normally. While these blog posts about how I’m feeling are acting as therapy by getting it out there, I’m also hoping that it touches others in some way, both because maybe it might resonate and be helpful to someone else somewhere, but also because I’m putting down little markers that I’m here, showing that I’m alive I suppose. I’ve been much more active on one of the forums I frequent online, posting in topics that I might normally have not paid much attention to, and I’m listening to the radio while I work (a big benefit of working from home!) – well, perhaps not listening fully – I still have to work and the amount of focus I can put on doing that or paying attention to what is being broadcast is limited by my multi-tasking abilities – but having the sound of conversation and that sense of life in the room is quite nice. It’s a bit annoying having to keep muting it whenever I need to go on a call but, you know, there are worse things. For now it’s good to have that sound around the place.

Here’s Stan doing one of his favourite things (it so often seemed), which consisted pulling himself around the bottom of the sofa using his claws for grip. He would generally get a bit of a telling off for this, although there was never any noticeable evidence of damage. Oh to be able to rub his belly right now. x


Day by day

I’ve noticed, over the past few days, noticeable signs that I’m starting to feel a little bit more like normal. I’m not close to being back to my usual self yet (and I will always be forever changed now anyway), but the movement is in that direction, which I am glad about. As I’ve said a number of times over the past few days, that raises it’s own set of guilty feelings where I feel bad because I’m feeling a bit better, like it means I don’t care enough. I guess that this is normal too.

I still feel pretty bad when I wake in the morning. I feel like I want to go back to sleep because when I’m asleep I’m not grieving, at least not conciously so. When I wake up though I’m soon hit by the fact that it’s another day without Stan being there. The thought of going downstairs is painful because now, instead of opening the door to the utility room and being greeted by his little back arching up to be stroked before being fed, he’s not there. In fact, none of his things are in there any more. And it’s the same at nighttime – that same loss of routine. I miss saying goodnight to him, knowing he was safe before I went upstairs to bed. It’s affecting me a little less each day, but it’s going to take time before I reach whatever the new equillibrium will be.

While I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week reading articles on pet-loss grief, one thing has occured to me about how the type of animal you have lost can have quite a profound effect on how it affects your life. I misss my interactions with Stan, the daily routines, doing the things I enjoyed, and the things he enjoyed, seeing him in the places he liked to sit and sleep. One of the things I’d not really considered before is how the loss of some animals can bring with them a whole other set of losses. Dog owners talk about how they suddenly lose all the interactions they would have when out walking their pet, and there must be other examples with other animals too, perhaps not seeing the other people at the stables where your horse or pony was kept for instance, or purchasing the food for an exotic pet from a specialist store. These don’t diminish how I’ve been affected by the loss of Stan, but in some ways, the independent nature of cats can mean that these other relationships and interactions are reduced in some cases.

Here’s Stan sat atop a cushion on the sofa at the back of the living room. He would often choose to sit here if I was sat reading a book or something. I miss the way he would follow me around the house very much indeed.


Holding on to things

After writing yesterday’s blog post, I had a shower and then went downstairs. My wife was sat on the sofa with Stan’s casket on her lap. She asked if Id like to sit and hold him, which I did, and I immediately broke into floods of tears once more. While the casket contains Stan’s ashes, it also feels like a real connection to him as he was. It can never be the same, of course, but that sense of it being him is still there.

At the moment he follows us around the house in his casket – in my office while I’m working, in the living room when we are downstairs, and then on my bedside table overnight. I’m gaining comfort from this but I know that it will not be something we do for the long term. Either I will grow around my grief and not feel the need for that physical connection, or I will need to stop myself from doing it as it will make it more difficult to move forward with my life. I’ve tried to think back to the loss of our previous cats, but cannot remember if I treat their caskets in the same way – they definitely stayed in the living room for quite some time, but I don’t know if we moved them around the house with us in the way we are doing with Stan’s.

Again, this comes down partially to that increased sence of spirituality that I sense at times like these. I want there to be some follow on after our lives come to an end, and dearly hope to be reunited with loved ones again. And it’s this sense that there is something more that can make it more difficult to move forward. A sense of guilt (again) that if we start to move forward that the one we have lost will know and somehow be saddened by that. I think that this is just part of the healing process – my mind knitting itself back together – and that if our loved ones are looking on at how we are coping, they will absolutely know how much we loved them and that we wish so much that they were still with us, happy and well.

My wife and I went out for our lunch today to a garden centre not too far from where we live (we’d take our sons but they have little interest in such trips if they can avoid them). We had sandwiches, shared some chips, and got a couple of pieces of cake to take home with us to eat later (the boys already have a chocolate cake in the house – we don’t exclude them from treats!). While we were in the restaurant we noticed that it was dog-friendly, and a number of people had their dogs with them. I thought it would be difficult to see other people with their pets, but I’m glad to see them happy with their animals. It’s a nice thing to see.

Here’s Stan on my office chair. The chequered bit is my shirt, the white bit my ass. He would sometimes squeeze into the gap between me and the chair back, occasionally twisting his head around for a stroke or a chin-tickle, making me quite uncomfortable but very happy to have him there. I wish so much he was here doing it now.


What if?

My blog – described in it’s title as a “film photography” blog – continues to be my place for self-therapy. I think that it may continue this way for a while yet, because it helps.

As I’m typing this it’s almost exactly a week since we lost Stan. A week ago he was sat on a towel atop a cardboard box full of stuff I need to put on eBay that is in the corner of my office next to the radiator. I’m not sure if passing this sad one-week anniversary will make any difference to how I feel, or if I want it to. Over the last few days, if I am honest with myself, I have felt a little better as time moves forward. And as soon as I realise this I then feel guilty – the judgemental part of my mind telling me that I should be ashamed of myself for daring to feel even a tiny bit better than I did. I want to feel better and to not suffer from the pain of grief, and I am feeling a little bit better. But this then feels like a betrayal.

But as the one-week anniversary creeps up (and I dislike the word anniversary in this context. An anniversary feels like it should be a celebration of something nice, not a reminder of a tragedy) I think back to last Saturday night and the “what if?” questions play across my mind over and over again. What if I’d done this? What if If done that? What if the weather had been different? What if I’d stayed upstairs in my office with him? What if things had been different? It seems a futile exercise to do this, to punish myself by considering options that are now forever out of reach and yet it is so easy to do.

The strange thing about my grief is that, while I want it to ease, I also don’t want it to because if feels like letting go. But what I need to remind myself of is that it is natural and necessary to let go of the memories of the loss itself. This is not the same as letting go of the memories of Stan. My memories of Stan are the things to hold onto and to cherish for the rest of my life. The happiness he brought me, and my love for him. These are the things that will remain strong and bright long after the pain of his loss has lessened. I know what I need to do, and how things will move forward, but as ever with so many things we “know”, they can be a lot easier said than done sometimes.

Stan’s things have now been put safely away. While he isn’t here to use them any more, perhaps one day they will be used by another cat, just as some of his things belonged to the cats that were part of our family before him. This is another part of moving forward that has caused pain though. Stan’s bed is amongst these things and, even though we have washed it, each time I walked into the room where it was sat until today I would hold it in my hands and place my face against it. It’s soft and squishy texture reminded me of him and of cuddling his soft, furry body. Now I can’t do this any more. I think it might be for the best, but it still makes me sad.

I’ll finish the blog with another photo of Stan…

Stan peeping out from behind the curtains in my son’s room. He’s either dazzled by the sun here, or was thinking about having a nap.

Grief and belief and moving forward

I picked up Stan’s ashes from the vet yesterday. They were returned to us on the day the pet crematorium had said they would, but there had been a minor mix up and they were taken back to the branch where we’d taken his body last Sunday (the branch that is open for 24 hour emergencies) instead of our local branch as we’d asked. This wasn’t a big deal and I wasn’t upset or angry about it, but it meant a 45-minute trip instead of the 15-minutes it would have taken otherwise.

There is something very sad about collecting your beloved pet from the vets in a box in a carrier bag, even though it was a good quality and tastefully decorated one with outlines of cats and dogs inside heart shapes printed onto the sides. I was ok going into the vets, but emotions overcame me again when I got back into the car again. The constant reminders of the finality of it all make it very difficult.

Stan’s ashes are in a nice oak casket, where they will stay. We have the ashes of all our other cats kept in the same way in similar caskets although Stan’s is much larger than the casket we go for out last cat, Luigi – maybe twice the size – for some reason. I sat him on my office desk when I got home, and then he stayed in the living room through the evening while my wife and I watched TV. Overnight he sat on my bedside table.

If I look at this behaviour with rational eyes, it seems strange. In normal circumstances I’m not a spiritual person, and I don’t really believe in an afterlife (although I don’t deny one might exist either). I very much like the idea of it being so, but my rational mind finds it difficult to accept, throwing all sorts of logical ifs-and-buts in the way of acceptance. I am envious of people who know in their hearts and minds that they will be reunited with their departed loved ones someday. This faith must be a great comfort.

But despite what my mind might say, at times like this the desire to believe is very strong. I really, really want it to be true, and in some way, making sure that Stan’s casket is with us, and not left alone while we are in other parts of the house feels important. It gives me genuine comfort to place my hand on the little wooden box as though somehow he is there. I also think I would feel more guilt if I didn’t have it close by. A sense that Stan might be looking on and would be saddened that I wasn’t keeping him near.

I know that, in time, this connection to the box will lessen, and eventually we’ll put him with the caskets of his brothers (who are now, slightly incongruously, sat on a shelf in the garage!), but by that time the box won’t have the same importance. He’ll be in our hearts and we’ll not need the physical reminder in the same way.

I read yesterday about how avoiding the term “moving on”, and instead talking about “moving forward” is beneficial when we are grieving. “Moving on” can imply a finality, that the thing we are griving for has been left behind, which can be a very painful suggestion when you are dealing with loss. “Moving forward” instead suggests that we are keeping things with us. The grief is still there, but our lives are growing around it, reducing the pain we feel as time passes. Now, I’m sure that this could be agued as a semantics question, with individual interpretation being what matters, but at this time I’ll take my comfort where I can find it. It reminds me a little of the line from the Marvel TV show, Wandavision: “But what is grief, if not love persevering?

I think I’ve written more in the posts on my blog this week than I have for a very long time. The usual short posts attached to whatever photograph I have to share seem very flimsy in comparison with what I’ve written this week. While part of my writing about the loss of Stan is to celebrate his memory and express my love for him – along with the sadness, remorse, and guilt that are there too – another part is because this is therapeutic. I need to express myself openly to help me deal with what has happened and how I’m feeling as a result. Maybe someone else might find these posts when they are in a similar set of circumstances, and maybe my words might offer some insight and even comfort to them in the way that the experiences of others have been helping me.

As has become usual this week, I’ll close off with Stan himself. 🙂

Stan sits beside his well-used scratching post while his bed dries atop looking like scenery from the world’s oddest Super Mario level.

Feeling guilt over the death of my cat

I’ve spoken a little over the past few days how one of the things affecting me since Stan was run over last weekend is my sense of guilt.

Guilt has always been something that I’ve encountered when we lost one of our other cats, but in all those cases it was different. Each one of them died at the veterinary practice because the decision had been taken to end their suffering. We have lost them to cancers, kidney failure and suspected poisoning from eating something they shouldn’t have while they were outside, and in every case it was very clear that easing their suffering was the most dignified, humane, and loving thing to do. Despite this, the guilt was still overwhelming. Should we have done more for them? Did we overlook something that might have changed the outcome? The feeling of remorse at the times we were too busy to spend time with them (often busy just doing unimportant stuff in the grand scheme of things). And possibly worst of all, the feeling that we might have given up on them too soon. All our other cats lived to a relatively good age – only Tom, another cheeky little black and white fella, died younger, but even he was eight years old. Still too soon though.

The guilt I feel over the loss of Stan is different. It isn’t guilt over a decision to end his suffering, it’s guilt that I could have done something that would have preserved his life. All it would have taken was for me to come downstairs, walk through the kitchen (as I did anyway) and then into the utility-room and lock up his cat-flap for the night. It would have taken a few seconds and he would have been safe and sound in the house with us. Instead, I made a cup of tea and sat down with my wife in the living room to watch a movie. And while we watched, Stan went outside, went onto the road, and then lost his life.

Everywhere I look I’m told that I shouldn’t blame mysef for something like this. I couldn’t have known what was going to happen. I thought he was asleep upstairs still. He’d been outside on many other occasions at this time and always been ok. He sometimes wouldn’t go out at all and would instead just come into the living room and nip at my ankles until I made some room for him to spread out.

But if I’d just locked the cat flap…

It feels a little like the world’s most awful videogame, where the mission is to keep your beloved pet cat safe and well, and I failed. Only instead of re-starting the level and making different choices in order to get a successful outcome, the game just ended with no way for it to ever be played again. It feels a bit cheap to be making an analogy like this. And disrespectful to Stan. But my mind keeps on wanting to re-play the events of last Saturday night as though somehow, maybe in some miracle, I will actually be able to change time and Stan will be back with us, full of love, affection, and mischief.

I was responsible for Stan. I was responsible for giving him a safe home, providing him with food and comfort, keeping him healthy and happy, keeping him safe, and providing him with love. And on one of those things I failed because of a moment of carelessness. The guilt I feel is because of my love for him, and it is because I failed in my duty to him. While I believe that this guilt will ease and the pain I feel will lessen, I’m not sure that I will ever be able to forgive myself properly, and that for the rest of my life, from time to time, I will remember what happened and how I might have so easily changed things. I guess this is a burden of loving

I’ve written this today because I found this page on pet-loss guilt last night. It contains a sentence that seems particularly important given what I’ve spoken about today:

If a beloved pet goes missing or dies suddenly or traumatically, we can tear ourselves apart with guilt for not having foreseen what would happen.

If only…. How to deal with pet loss guilt

I actually found that this poage helped with how I am feeling quite a lot, despite what I’ve written above (in fact I would recommend the site from where it is taken – The Ralph Site – as a very good resource for anyone suffering through the loss of a pet or animal companion). And, despite the somewhat downbeat nature of this blog post, I do believe that things will get better over time. My love for Stan is what causes me this pain right now. But my love for him is what will prevail in the end.

I’ll close the post with another photo of Stan. Seeing him makes me happy.

The decorator forgot his dust-sheet. It soon became Stan’s…