14 Jan 2020 - Grace A. Halverson
From July 18, 2018 well into the spring of 2019, a series of unfortunate events affected me, both directly and indirectly.
I’m not the kind of person that cries a lot. I have emotions, of course, but I don’t express them in that way. In general, my life had gotten to the point where I felt like I was suffocating, and I was just too tired to care.
I was a graduate student at the time, earning my masters, and making regular drives back and forth from Atlanta to Augusta to see the family and take care of everyone I could. That’s my love language, after all. I love to do things for people.
For instance, both of my parents do not enjoy meal prepping and my father hates kitty litter and cleaning. Because my mom was on chemo, she was restricted from kitty litter amongst other things that could compromise her immune system. So I would drive home every weekend during the fall of 2018 to clean the litter boxes for their 3 cats, clean up the house and make healthy food that was good for counteracting chemo-related side effects.
The death of my childhood cat and various childhood friends along with my mom’s cancer diagnosis really had me on edge –– at a breaking point. So, in the spring of 2019, I decided it was time for me to get a cat for my own place. I wanted a cat that would cuddle in my lap, and that I could easily draw, since drawing and painting are my favorite hobbies.
I did my research and decided I wanted an older cat (less work), a female since that is what I always had and they have a lower possibility of UTIs and kidney issues, and one that was a singular color –– maybe all black –– to make drawing them easier. Tabby cats, like my childhood cat for example, are incredibly difficult to draw!
So, I went to Fur Kids in Atlanta. They’re a no-kill shelter. They’re good people. They know their stuff and really care about all of their furry residents.
I was going to meet this other cat that I had seen online and had applied to adopt. But before I could even make it to that cat, an oversized tabby kitten rolled into my lap and refused to let go of my arm. He wasn’t at all what I came into the shelter looking for, but he was exactly what I needed. On that day, he took me by the heart and started pulling me out of my dark place.
His presence was exactly that: present, and he made sure every person or animal in his view was smiling.
With Fritz, the crap-fest seemed to have subsided, and all the mess of the world just melted away with every lick of the face, cuddle in my arms, and pounce on his blue mouse. I could breathe again. I was head over tails in love. I realized I had forgotten how to laugh genuinely, love presently and live in the moment.
My friends and family even told me when I had first gotten Fritz that: “You are so different. You are the way that you used to be! If we had known that’s all it would take for you to be happier again, we would’ve gotten you a cat a long time ago!”
I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the stress of life during that time. I didn’t realize how bad I had gotten, but Fritz did –– and my friends noticed it immediately. But Fritz was no ordinary cat; he befriended so many people, students, animals, and even the window squirrels. But sadly, the dream ended way too soon.
Fritz was taken from my arms in a cruelly painful way at the end of September. He was diagnosed with FIP, which is kind of like chicken pox for cats in that most cats get it and are fine. But then, there are a few cases where, if you have the exact right genetics, it mutates, and becomes fatal. That was Fritz’s fate.
When he died, I never saw the point of publicly grieving.
Tears were such a waste of time because the world does not stop turning, no matter what life throws at you. There was just no time for it. I am a “doer” and a maker. I throw myself into my work and cleaning, especially when I can’t control what life throws at me.
But unlike the series of unfortunate events where I desperately wanted to forget everything, I just couldn’t let go of my baby. He was my very first rescue. He was my first child. He had taught me so much and brought so much joy into my life. Even during the month after his diagnosis, when he was in pain, he tried so hard to be near me always and to love on those around him.
When his health was failing, I barely slept. I wanted to spend time with him when he was awake and then lie next to him and watch to make sure his breathing was steady while he slept. After he was gone, it became even harder to sleep.
I was unable to move from bed. I was unable to rest. I was unable to clean or pack away any of his things. I was absolutely heartbroken.
Inktober, a drawing challenge with daily prompts that many artists do in October, started the day after he died. I didn’t know what to do. I have an artist friend who is really good at pushing me the way I need to be pushed. When Fritz was sick, the care package she had sent me was art supplies to draw him while he slept (she knew paper and pens would bring me more joy than any snacks or flowers). When she asked if I was still going to do the challenge with her, I told her I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t get his absence out of my head.
She told me, “You know what, Grace, you haven’t drawn him at all. Try to draw him.” And so I did and when I saw his little face in front of me I cried for the first time in a long time. The next day, I told myself: “Just draw him again.”
It got easier as I continued. I wanted to memorize every single stripe. I wanted to get to the point where I knew exactly where every feature went and I wanted to memorize everything about him.
As I drew, I also started sharing the drawings with my Inktober friends - the same friends with whom I’d shared pictures and videos of him everyday since his homecoming. All my closest friends got a good dose of him; he had his own mini fan club. Sharing my grief wasn’t something I’d done the year before through any of the difficult times, and it turned out to be incredibly helpful.
When I shared the drawings, people would talk about how they missed him too or their favorite memories of him. Some shared pictures they had taken of him that I hadn’t seen before and some even shared how he had helped them with their own stress or struggles. Through this vulnerable creative sharing process, they were able to comfort me in ways that I didn’t anticipate or expect.
In that creative way, Fritz brought us closer together. He also brought me closer to my parents, who had helped me with absolutely everything when he was diagnosed, from hospital stays, administering his various medications, his burial, to just letting me grieve the way I needed to.
I can’t describe how grateful I am for that unconditional love and patience. My parents resisting their instinctual urge to comfort me and just letting me be silent and alone for as long as I needed. My father, a carpenter hobbyist, even made Fritz a nice handmade coffin and my mom planted the most beautiful yellow flowers for him. I get choked up just thinking about it…
Now, I still grieve that he’s gone, but I grieve more for all the things that we were supposed to have together and for the things I was planning –– like his first birthday, his first Halloween, his first Christmas, etc. He shone his bright light into my darkest places, he taught me the healing value of grieving with others and how to truly celebrate life in death, and he did it all in only a few short months.
So in a productive way, I grieve like an artist (minus the asylums, ear mutations, etc.). Inktober 2019 is another Adventure with Fritz, and a way to celebrate his life and purrsonality down to every single stripe. Love him with me, will you? Enjoy!
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