GOMEZ SAYS GOODBYE

We have everything we need to know, right here in our hearts.

More musings on the grief writing workshop I teach at Home Healthcare and Community Services here in Keene, NH….

For each week of the class, there’s a central topic for our journaling or free writing exercise. Some topics allow us to talk about who we were, and where we are now after the death of a loved one. Some encourage us to remember them in a different way. Some acknowledge the difficult nature of our relationship with them. Some “point us toward home, so we can go there…” (A quote from DEAN SPANLEY, a remarkable, gentle and sweetly funny movie about death, grieving, and redemption.)

There’s one particularly powerful exercise we do in the writing workshop. It’s so powerful, I’m afraid I’ll give away the punchline. But it’s also so healing, it would be a sin not to share it with a wider audience….

It’s something I structured, sort of aim the sessions toward, so we get there at just the right time. Last week was the proper time.

I ask everyone to imagine the deceased in a place–it could be heaven, it could be nirvana, it could be in an alternate universe, it could even be in our dreams. It’s a place where they are safe, and loved, and happy. A place where they are fully healed, in mind, body and soul. A place where they are at their highest, most evolved self. A place where no matter what their faults or failings were, no matter how much they’ve already suffered or given, or loved, they are the best person we’ve always dreamed they could be.

“Write a letter,” I say to the class. “From them, to you.”

This always draws a lot of confusion and questions. I usually have to repeat it a few times. There are frowns, and pursed lips, and sighs.

Then the writing begins.

And then come the tears.

I am always astonished, when we finally share what we’ve written. It’s as if people have really stepped outside themselves, and delved into the heart of that person. The things we see, and recognize, and understand and finally accept, are incredible.

It’s a letting go of what could have been. It’s accepting what it was, and is. It allows hope to sprout the tiniest, most delicate green leaves.

And it lets the healing begin.

It’s never failed me, this exercise. I wrote about this the first time I did it, with a complicated death that had haunted me for decades.

I did it again last week with my cat Gomez.

It was a funny night to begin with. Three of us selected animals to write about. It felt a little disrespectful at first–People before animals, right? Except we were also accepting that the loss of a beloved pet can be just as rattling, especially since they are often the very thing that soothes us during other, larger losses.

And so we wrote a letter from our pets, to us.

In my opening sentence, I immediately saw how empathic this exercise really is. I wrote, “Dear kind lady….” Because, of course, Gomez would have no idea what my name was. And being a cat, he probably wouldn’t care.

Here’s the small miracle: All three of us did the same. Realized our pets don’t “know” our names. But they know who we are to them. One writer started her letter with “Dear Mom”, because that’s who her dog would think she was.

Here’s my letter from Gomez:

Dear kind lady,
When I saw you at the shelter with your child, I knew I was going home with you. I saw you go to each cage, check out each cat. I saw you trying to connect with each one.

“I want an older cat,” you said to the shelter person. “I want a cat who really really really needs a home.”

But none of those cats would play with you. They knew I was meant for you. They wouldn’t give you the time of day–they knew it was my turn.

Finally, after coming to me 3 times–and every time I tried to tell you, I tried to show you–”Me! I’m the one! It’s me you want!”….

And finally, though you said I was too beautiful, and too young, you said I was the one.

I charmed everyone, didn’t I? Even Chai. Even Tuck. Even Nick.

I brought you mice, and birds, and I slept on your bed. You gave me a good home.

Yes, there was a bad man, and yes, it hurt. It hurt so much.

But that pain is gone. It is no more.

The only pain I feel now is the pain in your heart, the part of you that blames yourself for what happened.

It’s not your fault, kind lady. It’s not your fault. Be at peace.

My time with you was lovely. You cared for me, and loved me, and kept me safe. You gave me a good home.

Someday there will come another cat, a cat that needs a good home. Open your heart again, your kind and loving heart. Give that cat a home, a hearth, a sofa to sleep on, dogs to tease and torment, food to eat and saucy mice to chase.

Don’t grieve for me, kind lady. I don’t regret a thing.

Everything we need to know, is already in our hearts.

All we have to do is be silent. And listen. Truly listen.

Goodbye sweet boy cat.

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15 Comments

Filed under art, grief journaling, lessons from hospice, life with pets, The Keene Sentinel articles

15 responses to “GOMEZ SAYS GOODBYE

  1. Julie

    Dear Kind Lady,
    Thank you for spreading your angel wings a bit wider today and showing us the act of unconditional love! We are taking note. You are an inspiration and that’s the mark of a true artist.
    Fetching my kleenex…..
    Jules

  2. Luann* Thank You for sharing your beautiful heart ~All are One~ your Art manifests in so many wonderful ways for our world.

  3. We picked up a tiny tiger kitten in the local Animal Shelter, barely weaned and much too small to have been taken from her mother. Boppo grew up totally bonded to us, and followed us about like a dog. Despite her diminutive size she was a mighty hunter and birthed three litters before we came to our senses & neutered her. Thirteen years passed, then late one night a coyote took her – I heard the noise outside – yet I continued to wander and call her over and over, in vain. The second evening as I walked toward the house I clearly saw her sitting on the top step next to the front door. Instantly I understood she had come back to say goodbye. Then she was gone.

  4. I was deeply moved by this post, and cried out a little of my own grief over the loss of my father 6 years ago, which still affects me when I least expect it to. I love that you teach a grief writing class. What a wonderful way to use our creative gifts to heal ourselves! You are someone I would love to know!

    • It’s astonishing how one loss can bring out the memory of another. And yes, it’s those little moments when it really hits you. I wish you well on your own healing journey, Rebeckah!

  5. Linda

    I read this post this morning (and your “I Am a Falcon” post yesterday) but was too emotional to write a comment. You sure know how to make a girl cry. And I say that gratefully and lovingly. You have a way of connecting with people who are grieving. I imagine there are many who have read these posts and just could not bring themselves to comment.

    • I know I’ve really spoken my truth when I cry. And when other people say they’ve cried, too, I know our hearts have touched. Linda, thank you for explaining the silence. :^)

  6. Erika Towle

    Oh no I definitely don’t think writing about the death of a pet as disrespectful! As a Veterinary Technician I can tell you a lot of people think of their pets as family. I have held the hands of many a sobbing owner & many times crying with them as their beloved friend takes their last breaths.. Pets are accepting of us ‘as is’ & unconditional. The death of each of my cats has been as painful as when I lost my Grandmother,Uncle & Father all within 2 years .. They are my sanctuary & snuggle bunnies & have pulled me thru some deep dark times. They help me cope & stay sane (somewhat lol) while I struggle with chronic back pain. A lot of days they are the reason why I am still here..

    Keep up the wonderful work you are doing!

    “What we have once enjoyed,
    we can never lose.
    All that we love deeply
    becomes a part of us.” ~ Helen Keller

    • You’ve put your finger right on it, Erica–unconditional love. So hard to find in the world, except in the eyes of our beloved animal companions. Thank you for the professional consensus!

  7. I have a reader who had trouble posting, so with her permission, I’m including her email comments here:

    Hi Luann,
    I’ve tried to leave comments on a couple of your blog posts recently and WordPress isn’t playing fair (says I need to log in to a WP account to comment). I usually just abandon my attempts and move on for the day but couldn’t today. I’m not an eloquent commenter like so many seem to be so I usually figure that my little “thanks for the post” comments will be relatively inconsequential other than the validation of another comment so I don’t usually think twice about not commenting.

    Anyway, my friend (and neighbor) sadly had to let go of her beloved dog of 14 years this weekend. She has been over daily to spend time with our dog to try to relieve some of her grief over the loss. I’ll be sharing your post with her this evening (can’t do it during the day as I originally was commenting to say that I can’t read your blog after I’ve put makeup on…I’ll spare her an inevitable breakdown at work if I give her the link too soon).

    Thank you for these posts, and your generous heart.

    Mellisa
    http://www.ChinookJewelry.com

    http://chinookdesigns.blogspot.com

    http://beadshowtravel.blogspot.com

    • Hi, Mellisa, thank you for letting me know you were having issues with WP. And I’m honored you felt strongly enough about the post to email me!
      I’ll go head and post your comment, if that’s okay.
      And I hope your friend finds some comfort–losing a pet friend after such a long relationship is especially hard. 14 years is longer than many people are married!
      hugs to you both,

    • Mellisa, I double-checked to make sure you don’t have to have a WP account to post. I’ll let the WP team know you encountered that. I HATE having to set up accounts to comment, too! And I don’t want to discourage anyone from contributing to the discussions. Thanks for letting me know you had issues! :^)

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