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On GriefNovember 19, 2013

I know, two posts in one week! Alert the media! (Wait. Am I part of the media? I might be, tangentially, now that I think of it. Okay, consider me alerted.) 

I had dental work today and I'm almost recovered from the meds I took this morning. I can't talk (ow) but it's raining and I'm drinking tea. I was supposed to record a podcast for TapGurlKnits, but it wouldn't be kind to anyone involved, including the listener. Holly Cole is playing on the stereo (tell me you love her, too) and I'm not being sad about Digit. 

That's the thing. 

I can't be sad about Digit. (See two posts below, if you're not sure what I mean.) 

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Here I would be drawn to insert that standard, expected apologetic clause (I know, he was just a cat, not like a person, not my child, but it still hurts, etc.) but I don't have to apologize to YOU, darling reader, because you are smart enough to know that sometimes animals are more important than people. Period. 

That's not my point. 

My point is that I do a weird thing with grief that I've beaten myself up over in the past, and it's not only time for me to let it go, but it's normal and it's worth writing about, in case you or someone else you know does it, too. 

I go numb after someone I loves dies. 

Not a little bit numb. A lot numb. I've teared up a couple of times, but I haven't cried since the day Digit died. 

When my little mama died? I cried, yes, that day. I cried a lot that night. Then I went totally numb, and that terrifying feeling lasted for days. It broke at the funeral, and then it came back and lasted for not weeks but months.

It made me wonder if I'd actually loved her.

I thought I had. I thought I'd loved her more than anything. Why, then, could I talk about her death with nothing more in my heart than a vague unease? I made jokes. "My mother died, let me have the last piece of bacon." I could even think about her being dead, and I only felt a dull throb of cotton-padded nothing. 

But this: it's normal. It's part of grief. It just IS. That's what I didn't know then. 

The day after Digit died, Lala texted me to say she'd left a little treat for me in the freezer. I texted back, "IS IT DIGIT?" And I laughed about it (because come on, that's funny).

I laughed because I'd already moved firmly into the numbness. 

I've been happy to realize that he was the one peeing over the lip of the cat box, requiring me to clean up after it constantly. I don't have to do that now! I'm pleased we won't have to buy the expensive cat food that I've shelled out for for more than a decade. When my mom died, there was more than a little part of me relieved that I'd never have to see her in a nursing home. (What is THAT?) And now there's a strange amount of relief that after I get through this loss, I won't have to go through it again (good god, I've already grieved this cat once. It's already annoying I have to do it again.)

And that's the problem. I'm goal-oriented. I would like to feel the pain now and move through it. I can handle pain. I know what to do with it. This numbness, as normal as it is? It's dumb. I hate it. I want to cry and I can't, and that pisses me off, almost as much as Digit used to when he would climb the leg of my jeans to get to my egg plate. (This morning, I had a second of feeling sad when I ate my eggs without him, and I leaned into. Maybe I'll cry now! But nope. I had nothin'.) 

But hell. This is me accepting it. Accepting that I am NOT callous and mean and small-spirited and unable to love. Although it feels counterintuitive, this stubborn numbness is proof that I am the opposite. 

I loved that jerk. And he knew it. Tears don't prove anything, but even with all this said, I'm looking forward to when I find them again. 

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Comments

I understand!

FWIW - I firmly believe in kitty reincarnation. I swear I've had the same two cats over and over again over the last mmmm-many decades of my life. And for the first time in those many decades I am catless and am hoping that they are waiting for me - waiting for the time when I am better able to care for cats again.

Can't resist stating the obvious: that everybody experiences grief in their own way - or even multiple ways.

I lost my mother in 2007 after a 6-month battle with cancer and I grieved and think of her every day. I lost my dad last year after a very brief illness and even though I was probably closer to my mother, his death has been harder for me to process, and my husband tells me that I talk about him more often than I did my mother. I think it was probably the suddenness of the loss; and the fact that we forged a stronger bond as we grieved for my mother together. But I still feel guilty about that, as if I am not honoring my mother because of the different ways I grieved for them.

Your friends, family and extended interwebs family all know how much you loved that damned cat. We fell in love with him through you! You will cry when you're ready - and we will grieve with you.

Yep, I do the numb thing, too. I watch sad movies to make myself cry, even those sappy commercials, or read old letters, whatever I can think of. But until it is ready to come, nothing. When it does hit, it hits hard.

I think of it as my coping mechanism for the grief. Whatever my self is doing with the numbness, it must be to help me in some way, like the grief would sweep me away or something. The numbness comes to keep me in one piece until I can handle the pain without being swallowed by it. Or, you know, something. I appreciate it now. In hindsight. But yeah, I get it. Numb is just fine.

Oh, the price of loving is so high. I'm not sure if it helps, but I'm crying for you right now.

Such a true and honest post. I have always envied people who were able to truly grieve. A wailing, gut wrenching, honest display of grief would be so much more preferable to months/years of "numb". The knowing that deep in your core there is something that needs to be expelled if you could just get to it. What I have come to accept about grief in my life is, that it never gets "better", it just gets "different"; and in that difference every now and then, is joy at having had the experience. hugs..................

It makes sense to me to be glad you won't see your mom on a nursing home. I hope I keel over dead while still independent like my mother-in-law did, for that very reason. Digit had a long run, and two lives that you know of!

I think your subconsciousness is protecting you from the pain of the grief. There is only so much pain and sadness we can feel, right? I feel sad about Digit, and it makes me cry to see his picture, just because I've read your blog for so long and I feel like I knew him. But it's safe for me to feel sad for him. If my own Mom or my cat died, I'm not sure I could stand it. I'd probably feel numb too. I think you will feel it eventually. It may come out differently from how you expect though. You are not callous or mean or unable to love.

What Alison said: Everyone grieves in their own way. And you know, as I sit here writing this, tears are leaking out of my eyes, grieving for *you*. And for Digit. You are awesome and full of love and when you feel that much love, for your mother, for Lala, for your animals, the grief can shatter you. The numbness, the jokes, they are a protection mechanism. I totally agree with Kirsten. I *dread* the day my parents will die because I will be out of my mind with grief and will need serious tranquilizers. And I'm afraid I will never recover. And maybe that will lead me to feeling numb.

Many, many hugs to you and Lala. ~~T.

I am the same and agree with the above commenter Kirsten. Sometimes there is only so much we can handle. RIP Digit.

You have just freed (Is that a word?)me of the guilt I have felt over not crying for my pets or even my parents at their funerals, no less. I know I am not cold and heartless, but it sure seemed like I was. But now I know it was numbness. I never knew anyone else that ever stated it so clearly. You are my new Angel. :) There is only one problem, which you already stated, it hits one later in most unexpected moments, and it is darn depressing. Ride it out, Girlfriend, and thank you.

Re: Teri S.'s comment, I thought I'd be out of my mind hysterical when my parents died, but I hardly had time to grieve for Dad before Mom was diagnosed (cancer, extremely aggressive) and died four months later.

The night we buried her, I sobbed, in the rain, for three hours straight--then although for the next year or so, I woke up crying (for a few minutes) every day and cried a little before falling asleep, I didn't really break down. I went numb, too.

It's been seven years. And I'm still waiting to really grieve. But I feel like if I allow that dam to budge, I will never be able to stop it. So I stay nice and numb, where it's safe, but I never really feel anything.

Which makes me feel really sad and hopeless, though to the outside world I seem cheerful, and sad and hopeless is about the only other genuine feeling I'm able to generate other than numb.

On top of that, my own soulmate cat suddenly became horribly ill (he's only 9), and even if his levels stabilize over the next week or so and he starts feeling better, I don't know what we're facing (chronic diagnosis), so this Digit thing is hitting extra hard now.

I think it's safer to be numb. Though it's no way to live, is it?

Oh, Honey, I KNOW! We had to put down my 20 yo cat this spring (tongue tumor, we fed him looser and more liquid foods as long as we could but finally, he was starving). I too went numb and compensated with eating. Yeah, that works out so well for the already overweight person.

And, yes, the same when my mother died, too.

When I lost my Sapphy girl to old age, I was more at peace with it because she was good and old, I had been able to give her a wonderful senior-hood and I felt like I timed her passing well. She had a good quality of life up to the end and so I felt like I did right by her. She left a gigantic hole in my life, I tear up when I think of her but I didn't need to sob like I did when I lost my other senior greyhound.

I have enormous guilt about him because his passing was not as peaceful and pain-free and I wanted for him. I still feel a ton of guilt that I let him down. I cry for him a lot more because of guilt and sadness.

I don't know if that plays a part in our grief. It doesn't change how much we love and miss them but I know, for me, my grief is helped a lot when I feel like they only knew love right up to the end.

You'll find your place with this when it's time. Digit is just ingrained in your person so physically you don't see him but he's with you. I think the numbness is normal and helps to keep you from getting knocked over.

Hugs!

I'm really glad you wrote this. I do the same thing and I feel like shit about myself. Thank you - it helps a lot to know I'm not the only one.

Thank you for writing this. I'm sending good vibes your way.

I love you! I love your writing! You are so intuitive and honest and genuine and caring.You write the best stuff! Phew. Okay, catch my breath. Truly, really . . . I enjoy reading your thoughts. Thank you for being you!

I held my mom's hand when she died last year. I was the only child, and I had to make all the hard calls, including putting her into her worst nightmare of a nursing home. I lost my mom in pieces in 2012. After she died, I hit the call button, and the nurse came. I asked her if I could stop being brave now, and she said, "of course, it's your mom." But I couldn't cry. I planned the funeral, called her life long friends...and I couldn't cry. My grief settled into my back instead. A month later, on Christmas Eve, I got "Silent night, holy..." out and the grief arrived full force.
My mom will be gone a year on Saturday and NOW I am grieving what I couldn't grieve then. The only way to get through grief is to go through it. It's not linear, it's not logical and it's deeply personal. There is not right way or wrong way, there is only grief and loss and getting through in your own time in your own way. <3

I tend to deal with grief using a twisted sense of humor, so your comment about Digit in the freezer a) made perfect sense, and b) made me laugh out loud.

There's no "right" way to feel grief, let alone express it, so numbness makes as much sense to me as any other approach. My dad's been gone now for over 2 years and mom's heading straight to Crazy Town with the Alzheimer's (and I'm still her caregiver) and I'm not sure I've yet fully grieved either one. I also used to feel guilt about the numbness vs. having a good wailfest, but finally came to realize that however we deal is just simply however we deal. No right, no wrong, it just is what it is. And it certainly doesn't mean we loved them any less. Whether human or animal, they deserved the place they have in that huge heart of yours.

Thinking of you. And Digit. And the freezer.

Yes. Nothing else to say.

I want to hug everybody who has commented.

What lovely comments.

Numbness helps you deal, laughing at dark humor helps you deal, moving on to new things helps you deal. And one day you'll be in Starbucks waiting for your misto americano and you'll just start choking up because someone's got a god awful kitty tee on that kind of looks like Digit if he was a different color and smiling. That will help you deal. And it ok to be sad/angry/numb/goofy.

xo

I'm the same way, and when the grief finally strikes, it takes a long long time to get through it. I hope your pathway is shorter through the numbness and the ensuing sadness. Sending lots and lots of love.

Thank you, Rachel. As others have said, you've helped me figure out something. I lost my two kitty-boys, one quickly and the other slowly over the next four months, three years ago. And I have shed many, many more tears over them than over my grandmother, great-grandmother, and mother-in-law. I'm crying a little now, thinking of Digit and of the kitten I saw today that looked like my guys. I've been feeling guilty, but now I'm realizing I'm just kind of numb about the human losses. For some reason, I can cry about the cats, but not the people. I don't know why, but I'm not feeling guilty now. (I too find it strange to be grieving for Digit a second time.) Hugs to you and yours, two-footed and four.

I am sorry that you are struggling with this but it sounds like you have a decent sense of self-awareness and you know that the numbness is temporary and the tears will come. Hang in there!

You and me, we are a lot alike. I like that. (You dress better and are far more famous, but regardless...)You rock. Always. And the tears, they'll come. Probably at a much later, unexpected, perhaps inconvenient time. Grief has no respect for time lines and goals. Blatant disregard for those, really. As you know. Still, it IS such a relief when it all breaks open. I love you. Miss you like crazy!

It makes perfect sense
Every one grieves differently and a single person even grieves for different people/animals (if you see what I mean)
Mum was always the one who coped during and after the bereavement and finally cried months later.

I'mm a bit like her, I ottle it all up, cope witht he aftermath and then break down a few weeks later, but as you say in the meantime - numb..
Hugs

I can feel your grief in your words and I am sad too. Use this little emotional respite to strengthen yourself, and know that we are all here wishing you healing and peace.

You are grieving in your way. It is perfectly normal to feel that way. Everyone has their own way of dealing with grief. You, and all of us even if we never met him in the fur, are dealing with the fact that Digit is gone. Does it make me sad - yes. You will never forget Digit and as time passes, you will mostly remember the best of your best furry friend. Take care, Rachael - sending hugs.

I think the numbness is normal for big losses. I lost my Mom in 2008 and was numb for at least a year. I cried occasionally, was able to talk about her easily, but the big grief didn't come until after that first year.

When my grandmother died last year, it took me two weeks to realize that I hadn't cried at all. Then I got fired, saw my therapist the next day, and it finally hit me that my Gram was gone. (She was my only grandparent, my Mom's mom, and she'd been filling in for my Mom since I lost her.) I finally cried with my therapist, but it was months before I cried again.

So what am I saying? You're totally not alone. Especially on that "now I won't see my Mom in a nursing home" thing. My Mom had cancer and the last month of her life was so hard - for her and for us. I was so relieved that I wouldn't have to see her that way anymore and that she wouldn't have to feel that way.

nuff said. . . HUGE hugs to you and lala


One of the reasons I have read your blog for years (!) is that you seem to have a huge heart and love your people and pets with abandon. Grieving with the same abandon would be hard for anyone, but especially when you love so deeply. Take care of yourself; you will get there in time.

Losing someone- family, fur baby, whichever- is the most gut-wrenching thing we can take on. I lost my third child, friend, companion, shit-disturber, also known as the cat, in January, after 17 years together and I can't tell you how many times I've thought that shadow at the patio door was him waiting to get in and wipe his muddy feet on me. How do we deal? Any way we can, sister. It's always better to talk about what's in your head as the days pass and to know that there is no magic formula or plan for grief. Your reality is what's right for you. {hugs}

I'm betting it will be the grocery store. People always break down in the damn grocery store. For me? Cereal aisle. :)

When my dad died I went so numb that people that didn't know me thought I worked at the funeral home. Yep. Composed, professional, well coiffed blonde greeting people at the door? Eldest daughter. Snot smeared hysterical group at the coffin? Rest of the family.

A month later I came unglued over something completely unrelated and stupid. It was bad. And for three days I was a complete, total, and utter mess. Like sedation time mess. Then I was fine.

Everybody is different. Everybody grieves differently. Although I'm of the tribe that would crack the joke about him being in the freezer. That's funny right there.

Hang in there.

Numb, exactly. I wondered at crying like a baby at losing my beloved pets, but haven't shed a tear over my best friend ever, mother. I think I'm afraid to; I'm afraid I'll never stop.
Thank you for helping the rest of us feel normal. Hugs sent your way! BTW, the photos of Digit are beautiful! Our grey tabby was "Howie."

Everybody else has said it all so well.

And I want to say about this bit: there was more than a little part of me relieved that I'd never have to see her in a nursing home. (What is THAT?)

THAT is because we have a huge fear of nursing homes. And being a burden. And because things are so seldom only one thing or another, it's all mixed up all the time good and bad and grief and relief and sadness and despair and numbness and joy in beauty and just moving through life one step at a time.

(oh look, I said it too)

Sending you hugs. We all have our processes, don't we? I wish I could grieve differently, too. My process is torrential sobbing that I have absolutely no control over. I guess no one process is more right than another. They all suck equally!

Thank you so much for all your Digit posts. My husband and I have loved following his escapades.

Grief is a strange process and just like love(and it is based from love) it can be different every time it visits.
I worked in an emergency room for a number of years and grief did some very strange things to people. Very strange indeed.
But the numbness? Pretty regular reaction. It a protective measure our bodies use.
Our bodies can only process grief in wee bits. If we felt the full force of the entirety of our grief at its initial onset....well...spontaneous combustion comes to mind.
Our bodies process what it can, as it can. That's why those precious memories come to visit at odd moments and let us laugh, smile, sigh, cry or wail...whatever we need to do.
Think of grief as a protector of your heart and psyche. ..and your memories.
And thank you for sharing Digit with us...he lives on in a lot of hearts because of who he was to you.
Yes,sometimes animals are more important than people.

After my grandmother died I went on a laughing binge. I was 12, and noone helped me understand that this was shock, fear and grief. Instead I spent EONS feeling like a monster. I mean, I really loved my grandmother more then anyone else. But for some reason I got the giggles and just couldnt stop. Then I never cried.

Other deaths have left me weirdly detached, cracking jokes etc. its just a way to cope with the terror I think, of being left behind. Or something. Or maybe its a case of being a ig picture see-er. By that I mean maybe when someone you love dies we go to the big picture place, and immediately see it in perspective.

Im sure trained professionals know what all this is about, but the key I think, is not ow much a person weeps and wails and tears their hair, but rather, how they ltreated their loved one when it was alive.

Aw man. Now I just want to hug you inappropriately on the street (inappropriately as in I don't know you at all and we're strangers. Anyway. off topic)

I did something similar when Dad died. Oh I was a teary mess at the funeral, but it wasn't really for him, it was more of a response to my mother's state and the whole rest of the room (um, context, this was at the church memorial service, not really the funeral). I was responding more to their grief than anything inside of me. Later, it came out in different ways, when I'd run across something he'd find funny or interesting, then realize I couldn't share it with him anymore.

Usually I'm an overly emotional person (I am sitting here sobbing into my cereal over your Digit post), and while I wish I weren't this way, it's how it goes. I didn't know what to think of it or whether it was 'healthy' or not, but it just was.

I'm glad you're doing well. Your Sunset dinner sounded marvelous. I'm sorry about the surgery. I hope your holidays are happy and filled with loved ones.

I have been told that numbness is a normal part of grief. When we lost Daisy-lee (whom I had raised from 3 weeks of age until she passed in 2010 at 14 yrs and about 2 months) I screamed and cried for hours the night she passed away in my arms in our bed. She died from vaccine associated fibrosarcoma- a vaccine which was supposed to have protected her from rabies resulted in a cancer that wasted her. I was so angry and sad and depressed for over 2 years and it is only now that I can think of her without crying. I was numb for over a year. The only thing for which I was thankful was that she did not have any pain from the cancer. I miss her every day, even though we have 8 others and of those 2 are ill. I think the numbness is a protective measure the body uses. Others have told me the sadness eventually will fade and that the happy times will be what one first recalls but I am still waiting on that. Everyone has a different way of processing grief and you might have a longer numbness than others in this instance and a shorter period in other instances. Please don't beat yourself up over it because it is just part of the grieving process.

Sending hugs and good wishes your way

Oh, and Digit was not just a cat, he was a wonderful little being who loved you and you and Lala and the others loved him. I went through that nonsense when Daisy-lee died and it infuriated me when others told me that....still does. Animals often matter more than people. People judge and condemn and our furbabies always love us unconditionally....

I just found your blog, while I roamed aimlessly on the internet tying to get through the unspeakable grief of putting my 15-month old Kitty down because of feline leukemia. It's only been 5 days but I find myself apologizing for my shaking sobs and swollen-shut eyes to my friends and family, who look at me like deer in the headlights. I thought I was crazy grieving but I see now I'm just doing the grieving my heart and soul needs. If you're numb, take that ride wherever it takes you. I don't like the pain, but I'm rolling with it. I've never felt love like this - yikes! Hurts like hell!

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.

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