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Thursday April 17th 2014

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The Pain Now Is Part Of The Happiness Then

Today, I’m in mourning. There’s a weight on me that feels like the dense pressure in your chest they say is common with a heart attack. I’ve cried more in the last few days than I have in years. My emotions go from disorientation to shock, from guilt to a sense of peace. I’m in mourning because sometime last night, I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

This friend was my cat, Figaro. Now, before you roll your eyes and go off in search of something less melodramatic, let me first tell you a few things. I too was floored at how deep my reaction was to Fig’s diagnosis a few days ago and his passing early this morning. Why was I so impacted by the thought of his death? Then, I reminded myself that, as a combination animal-lover and introvert, I have very few close friends, especially ones with whom I’ve had intimate, daily contact for over 11 years. And, Zolla and I have no children, so our connection to Fig was definitely, parent-child. Among all the pets we’ve ever owned, Fig has always been the most special. I won’t bore you with why, but just believe me when I say it’s true. And so, out of the blue, the idea of his passing struck me at least as hard as any other human death I’ve ever witnessed.

At one point after the vet told me he’d die very soon, I even began emulating his physical symptoms, almost like E.T. and Elliot. Like Fig, my throat had swollen, I was very lethargic and rigid. At the end of the day last night, I was even working on a fever and other severe symptoms. While I didn’t sleep much, it was at some point just before dawn when my symptoms subsided. And, I knew he was probably gone.

I know there are many people who are losing or have lost human loved-ones to cancer, etc., and I would never claim you should place this on the same level. The point is, you shouldn’t, but for whatever reason, I have. So, whether you’ve lost a pet like this, or a human loved-one, perhaps you’ll find some helpful parallels here. Call me silly, but this event has simply given me pause to consider the implications of the life and death of any loved-one.

The question that hit me with the shock and speed of Fig’s death was how it was possible to reconcile the immense joy I’ve felt with him in my life and the vile pain of watching him fade away. It feels so offensive, almost incomprehensible that such extremes should be part of the same relationship. The feelings written down in art and experienced by others was finally hitting home for me. ‘What was the point,’ I thought, ‘of experiencing such joy with another (even an animal), if that person was just going to be ripped away by sickness and death?’ It just didn’t make sense.

One thought, of course, is that it’s not supposed to. You can call it one of life’s great mysteries. Or, you could get more specific and say that God never intended death and suffering. All that was the result of man (and subsequently, all those under man), separating himself from his Creator. So, if I’m to focus on godly comfort and faith, maybe I should just pray for a pet heaven, or buck up and rejoice that God has it all in control.

Well, I do believe that such thoughts can be helpful, but I don’t think mourning itself is meant to be that simple. One of my favorite movies is “Shadowlands,” the story about how the writer, C.S. Lewis, meets and marries a woman, only to lose her to cancer. At one point before her death, his wife wants to speak to him about her illness and passing, and Lewis, of course, objects. But, she tells him, “We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.” And, later, after he has lost his wife, Lewis repeats the sentiment in this way: “Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived…The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

While I don’t believe that God caused the pain and suffering that comes with this fallen world, he has decided to enter into both the joy and the pain of our life and relationships, and that somehow sanctifies both. Sure, there will be a day without sorrow and pain, but that day isn’t today. And so, while I’ll never call sickness and death “good” (it is vile and evil), I will call it part of the hand we’re dealt when we choose to enter into relationship, to love another and to be loved. In this sense, we should embrace mourning with as much devotion as we embrace joy.

Part of being human in this fallen world is that we’re a mixed bag of life and death, love and hate, joy and pain. Just as they conclude in the movie above, the quality of joy we have with one another in life would perhaps seem a little less precious if there were no cost, if there were no limitation or end to it. Life, love, relationship, then becomes a frail and wondrous thing to be valued above all other things. And, we must experience pain and death, I think, to catch a better glimpse of that.

I woke up at one point early this morning to see that the bathroom light was on, the door closed. My wife, Zolla, who loved Figaro as much as I did, was in there penning a poem for him. Later, we placed him in his box, wrapped him in a towel, and set near him a small teddy bear, some play-string, a jingly ball, and some cat treats. And, before also placing the poem in the box, Zolla read it to him aloud:

********

Here lies Figarodeo,
Coolest cat I’ve ever known.
You loved singing along to “Strangers in the Night”
Elevator rides, staying in the garden all night.

The finger game,
Making the bed,
Following us on walks,
Sleeping on the edge.

The “spot of the week” was your
Favorite place to nap,
Except when cuddle emergencies would strike,
Then it was sprint…tackle – straight to a lap.

The only cat I know who would
Always come around
To greet you for his nap pickup,
To get carried upside down.

A force to be reckoned with
10 pounds of fluff.
We learned to respect when you
Had to be tough.

“Don’t touch me” kitty
We dared not embrace.
Big stray dogs
Out of the yard you would chase.

You were not just a cat.
You were our very best friend.
If animals go to heaven,
Surely we will see you again.

No more “Figgage.”
No more fluffy kitty
With the beautiful face
And gray tipped hair that made you so pretty.

I didn’t think we would have to say goodbye so soon.
An enormous chunk of our hearts is going with you.

********

The pain and the happiness. That’s the deal.

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28 Responses to “The Pain Now Is Part Of The Happiness Then”

  1. Elaine Spallone says:

    Very nice. That poem makes me cry.

  2. Amy Stinson says:

    I do understand. Dave & I felt the same way about our cat, Zak. The kids used to say we liked him better than them – not quite true, but he did pull on our heart strings. He died the same week as Dave’s mother and I cried harder and longer over his death than I did my dear mother-in-law. Why? As much as I loved her, I was closer to him. He was the fella that was waiting by the door when I came home, and followed me all around the house until I would sit down and pet him. He’s the guy who made letting him in and out a full-time job, and who got mad when we went on vacation, but hated the car. So yeah, I know.

  3. Melinda Walton says:

    Wow…. you guys are being so strong already! When I lost my beloved cat Berkeley (she had a stroke and became paralyzed), I couldn’t look at pictures of her for a couple of weeks without sobbing. Eventually I was able to make a scrapbook of her life and that was very therapeutic. I included a list of all of her antics and quirks and personality traits so I’d be sure to remember the essence of who she was. She died just a few days after her 10th birthday, and she was very much a child to me.

    So sorry for your loss.

    ~Melinda

  4. Thanks, Melinda. I don’t know how strong we are. We break down at a moment’s notice. But, this has been very helpful for me to do today.

  5. Jacqueline Macintosh says:

    John, I know it’s hard to lose somone you love. Mac and I just got Barley (blond lab mix) a year ago. She was a month old when we got her. I never knew that a love like this could be formed with an animal until we got her. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a pet, only a person. Just lost my dad last August. I will keep you and Zola in my prayers. I very much so enjoyed what you had to say about it all. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Thanks, Jacqueline. So sorry about your dad.

  7. Barb says:

    I am sorry for your loss. I realize it's been a few weeks now, but I've just come by for the first time in a while to read your blog.

    I can't imagine how I will feel when Timmy, my turtle dies. We will be together for 50 years on December 25, 2009. Of course, he's a turtle. He could outlive me.

    I do think your pain is testament to the pleasure your cat gave to you and your wife. You don't miss something if you wanted it gone.

    There was a man who kept after me for years. I never called the police to get rid of him, but I thought about it. He wasn't violent, he was just unwelcome and persistent. One day, the girl he had been in love with for 20 years was dumped by her long time boyfriend for a younger woman, and he was gone. At first, I braced uncomfortably for what I thought was his inevitable return. But five years later, they are still together.

    I cannot tell you how happy I was when I realized he was gone for good. I felt as if a 50 pound pack had been lifted from my shoulders and I could fly.

    You are sad become you lost something good, not merely because you lost something. If you felt nothing, it would speak poorly of you, your cat, and your relationship to one another.

    Again, I am sorry for your loss.

  8. Cindy says:

    I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved kitty, your beloved friend. I can empathize. Five days ago, on July 5, 2009, I lost my own beloved kitty. We were together for 20 years, and after having received a clean bill of health at his annual exam the end of April, his very sudden death on Sunday came as an overwhelming shock. I wasn't ready (are we ever?). He was my heart.

    Like you, I'm an introvert, and have formed closer bonds with my animal friends than with most humans, and his loss is proving to be more devastating than any human loss I've suffered. But then, I had a day-to-day, intimate, strong loving bond and relationship with him for more than 20 years. I got him (or he got me) when he was a 4-month-old kitten.

    I, too, know the movie "Shadowlands," and the words of C.S. Lewis, "The pain now is part of the happiness then . . . that's the deal" have been swirling around in my head. At the moment, however, through the haze of my pain and shattering sense of loss, it's a very difficult truth to accept.

    I just wanted you to know that you are not alone in your pain and grief over the loss of your special kitty. As a practicing Buddhist, I feel that all sentient beings share the same essence or spirit. We are not separate. Separateness is an illusion. Mourn the loss of your beloved boy with every ounce of your being, and know that his loss matters as much as any other.

    My condolences to you and your wife,

    Cindy

  9. Curt says:

    I'm sorry for your loss, John. The article you wrote and the poem your wife wrote were moving, indeed. Relationships give depth and meaning to our lives, don't they? So much meaning.

    I married a cat lover and became one myself. We are both animal lovers, but I grew up with dogs, so the cat thing was different for me.

    We have experienced the loss of several feline friends and no that as long as we are cat owners, it will continue to happen. Still, no regrets. To the contrary, the animals have brought blessings beyond measure.

    We have five cats now, having recently adopted a stray that somehow knew it would find a permanent home if it was persistent enough (his name is Buddy).

    Buddy and Molly are young, but we have three other cats over the age of sixteen, so feline mortality tables tell us that we will face the loss of our furry animal friends one day in the not too distant future.

    When that day comes, I'll remember your thoughtful words and remember the thread that all good writing and art has in common: We are not alone.

  10. Terry says:

    I was pleasantly surprised and comforted, to come across Figaro's story, including your thoughts and feelings upon losing him. I have had many of the same thoughts myself, working through the loss of my pets. Some losses have been more difficult than others.

    The pleasure was in finding someone else who worked through many of the same issues, and so I don't feel as alone. It's also affirming to me, that I am passing along the right thinking to my 10-year-old child.

    I was looking for C.S. Lewis's quote from "Shadowlands" to possibly use in our sympathy cards. My husband's cousin's son tragically drowned at Mammoth Lakes, when he jumped in to help his 11-year-old daughter who was drifting away in a floating raft (that's all we know for now; the information in the AP report).

    I love the writings of C.S. Lewis. I enjoy his insights, and find they're a great comfort to me during difficult times. He understands, and I find humor in some of his quotes.

    I've always had dogs (allergic to cats), and because of that I think cats "have my number"! Years ago, when I lived with my sister, her cat, Bob, enjoyed terrorizing me. I just loved him. He had some funny ways of relating with me, and I think he was much more intelligent than I gave him credit for. I think he may have manipulated me at times….

    We've had so many dogs. In the past 15 years, since I married, we've had 6 dogs, two horses a hamster, several guinea pigs (I think you probably get the picture). Some of our dogs lived from 10-16 years. One dog until two years, and one horse didn't make it to her second birthday.

    I have my daughter to share memories with. My husband isn't much of an animal lover, which is too bad. But, he does love our daughter. Having a child with the other parent present, just like you and Zolla having Figaro and loving him as you did, is similar. There's no one else who will enjoy all the little things Figaro does, and can listen to you repeat Figaro tales over and over again. You two are so blessed to have each other.

    When we lose a beloved pet, my daughter and I remind each other of C.S. Lewis's quote (as we're sobbing), and also of the reality that there would never have been a good time to lose our pet. Selfishly, perhaps, we're glad to have had that pet, instead of someone else having the pleasure. This has comforted us with the animals who died at an unexpectedly young age.

    Someday, once again, there will be no death. Things will be natural and there will be order. :-)

    I hope the animals on earth will be amongst the animals in heaven. I'd love to see the gaping grins of my dogs, naughty little Bob, my beautiful horses, sweet guinea pigs and cute but grumpy hamster "Max." Maybe I'll meet Figaro (after all, there's all of eternity to do so).

    Until then, I have a pain in my heart which will probably last this lifetime. I asked my physician if there was medication he could give me. "I'm just too sensitive about these things," I said to him. He told me not to lose my sensitivity. There isn't enough in this world.

    Again, I'm so sorry to read about your loss of Figaro. Your wife's poem is beautiful. It's a wonderful memorial to Figaro.

    Also, thank you so much for posting online, so that I could find the C.S. Lewis quote I was searching for.

    Another site had C.S. Lewis quotes (just not the one I was looking for!). One read: "Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives."

    I also like these C.S. Lewis quotes. I think they'll be useful to my daughter, and me, in the future: "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." And, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

    My best wishes to you and your wife. I am so sorry for your loss.

  11. Hi Terry,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I’m sorry to hear about the loss in your family, but I’m glad we both share this love for animals. They’re definitely a gift from God! And, I loved your story about the doctor and your sensitivity.

    We miss Figaro every day, but God brought us another kitty several weeks ago to help fill that loss. There will only be one Figaro, but this new one, Fiona, has several similarities and enough differences to make her special.

    While we haven’t lost another pet, we ALMOST did last week! One of our dear dogs was hit by a car, was nearly paralyzed, and has had four surgeries to repair bones and rebuild a knee. It’s been really tough to endure another, but we’ve also gained even more appreciation for our pets and how precious life is. We’ll have a long road to recovery for our dog, but can’t wait to bring her home from the hospital soon.

    Take care, Terry. God bless.

    John

  12. Joann says:

    My sister just had to make the decision to let her cat, Tallulah, go. It was awful, and she's grieving, and I did a Google search for the C.S. Lewis quote on pain as a part of former happiness.

    It was so weird that the first hit I got was your blog, also using the quote in reaction to the death of a cat. What a lovely testament to Figaro.

  13. Thanks, Joann. Please tell your sister that I'm sorry for her loss and said a prayer for her.

  14. Kimberly Vogt says:

    I understand how you feel. I had a dog named Bastian who used to do everything with me. He was the answer to something inside, an unsaid prayer. I even joked that I chose him over my husband when it was either/or… though it really was more than that. But Bastian was devoted to me, and in the turbulent years of homelessness and wandering, he even had to spend time with others, but it was me he always wanted to be with, when I visited he’d be like, I’m ready let’s go! I wrote a poem about him too.

    The Last Bastian
    In the window of my eye
    Hangs a tear poised to cry
    My best beloved has gone away
    Upon this path no more to play
    Without him at my side
    The loneliness I cannot abide
    But ere he passed
    He loved me well
    N’er to doubt
    My heart to swell
    His beauty noble all in tact
    His fealty and love held to the last
    With one last kiss I bid him gone
    In eternal pastures he doth now roam
    Abide a while and wait for me
    When earthly fetters set me free
    And all over Heaven we will be
    Together for all eternity.
    May 12, 2003

  15. Kimberly, thanks for the comment and the poem. I just told my wife that these stories are everywhere, we just don’t share them. I’ve dozens have posted stories like yours on Facebook. We should have more of a network to share about how much we all love our pets.

  16. D.B. says:

    Hi, John and Zola,

    Sorry to hear about the passing of your beloved Fiagro. It is a painful thing to lose a pet/best friend.

    We burried a kitty ourselves yesterday. Our little “Squirrel” gave birth to 4 and she suffocated one by accident. We also had to put down our Ferret Zoe last fall. She was 9 and lived a very long life for a ferret. It was not so easy saying goodbye.

    Hope your heart is healing, and You are comforted.

  17. So sorry to hear about your own kitty! We had our boys fixed pretty quickly so we didn’t have the kitten experience like you did. I’m going to need a much thicker skin if we’re ever to get any new pets after this! 

  18. Linda Baker says:

    John, I just read this post today but wanted to send my condolences. I too, know the severe pain of losing a loved furry friend (my best buddy, my dog) so can totally relate to the impact. I believe animals do have souls so we’ll see them again. My best wishes to you.

  19. Thanks, Linda. We’re still missing our Figaro.

  20. Debbye says:

    Thank you so much for your wisdom, and for your insights. I really like your blog. Blessings, Debbye
    debgraafsma.wordpress.com

  21. Laura LeRoy says:

    Dear John,
    I stumbled upon your blog tonight and was deeply touched by it. You are a wise man and I was very moved by the spiritual insights you shared.
    Thank you,
    Laura

  22. Hi, Laura. I’m so happy you found something worthwhile here. Your feedback means a lot, so thanks! :)

  23. Kim Henson says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It’s been a while but I know it still hurts. Our dog died last Easter and I can still well up at the thought of her.

    I ended up on your site when I Googled Shadowlands and one of my favorite quotes. I was blogging and wanted to include it. I got the added bonus of finding your story. Thanks!

  24. We definitely still miss Figaro. We got another cat who is similar to Fig, but of course never the same. He was ultra-special! Sorry to hear about your dog, too. Glad you found me through Shadowlands. I probably get the most google hits through similar C.S. Lewis searches. :)

  25. Christa Brooke Dasco says:

    Dear John and Zolla,

    My deepest sympathy to you both.
    Fig’s passing is something I can say I sometimes get tired of
    I am a pet lover myself – Cats specifically.
    I feel for you :(
    I even experienced a day when my cat did not return home for days, I did not go to school just to use up my time searching everywhere, but after five days, i did not succeed. I have never seen her again.
    i could not stop crying every night. I get used to sleeping with her in my bed and hugging her (literally and physically). so the following weeks were the loneliest weeks without her. I lost appetite, cuz everytime the meal is set on our table, i couldn’t help but wonder if she has already had her meal of the day. then one day, it rained, i continuously cried for hours outside our yard, wondering, does my cat found herself a shelter? you know how cats don’t like water! i kept praying and praying. Asking God to have her safe even if I could not have her back, i prayed that she is safe wherever she may be.
    My late loving father told me that our pets sometimes feel when it’s time to go, when they feel weak and sick, they’d hide. Because they never want to hurt their owners. Unless they are totally that weak that they can not move to another place (which happened to some five cats of mine too-they died right inside the house-weak and tired :( one of them died while sleeping in the sofa, the other was in the bathroom, another one was hidden under the cabinet and the other two died lying under our bed .
    I can say, John and Zolla, that you were lucky enough to have shared those precious moments with Fig. And that you had the chance to take care of him on his last days. You know he’ll carry that love you shared to wherever pets go on God’s Garden. He’s safer there, more joyous where no sickness, no stray dogs, no hunger or anything else could harm him.

    John, do not compromise your own health with your grieving, although i know based on experience, that it is really hard to move on. But you know, tell you what, Fig’s time has not ended, it has just begun. And yours too… And another member of the family, maybe.

    Go forth and spread some more love, you know, everytime we lose a loving cat, another one comes in. So be open to possibilities of having another baby in your home so it won’t be empty… And please, do love again, don’t compare him and Fig, okay. Find anew. And do not get tired of loving and losing and getting hurt, cuz it’s a process that will lead you to a new happiness.

    I wish you well both.
    God Bless!

    -Chris

  26. Christa Brooke Dasco says:

    Oh, and let me add…
    Zolla, your poem really touched my heart as i am weeping now, I forgot to tell you that.
    I am sure, Figarodeo thanked God for giving you as his very loving and caring parents on earth.
    -Chris

  27. Margarita says:

    I’ve just come across this post, more than three years after it was posted, and I relate completely to what you feel. I’ve been there too, utterly devastated by the loss of my nonhuman companions. I don’t think one needs to establish any sort of gradation, comparing the pain one feels for the loss of a nonhuman companion with that of a human companion. When you lose someone you love, you suffer. Grief is grief and it leaves you in shambles. I particularly, when in so much pain, have wondered whether it is worthwhile to share my life with someone whose life expectancy tells me will depart before me. And the answer is always a big YES. All my dogs and cats are strays, I’ve given them a life and tons of love and I receive that from them in return. My life is what it is because of them. The pain when they leave is unbearable but you end up bearing it and realizing that they are never truly gone. The pain and the happiness, indeed, go together.
    Margarita

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