I’ve got another (very long) post forthcoming about how I’ve now got two very sweet cats living with me. But I needed to write about something else, and it seemed weird to do the cat post first. So. Here we are.
There’s a lot of bad news unfolding in my family. A couple of aunts aren’t doing very well. One has entered hospice. We all know what that means. We just never know when… And that’s been weighing on my mind. (The other recently had an emergency surgery. I’m unclear about how recovery is going.)
If that was all that was going on, it would be more than enough. But there’s something else, too. My cousin Amy died.
She’d been sick for a while–I don’t want to go into detail–and she got sicker, and more stuff was discovered, and she passed away. The details almost don’t matter. She’s just gone. The news hit me hard.
Amy and I weren’t super-close. But we popped up in each other’s Facebook feeds, and I thought of her a lot. She became my cousin in the early 90s, I believe. I know that sounds weird… (I’m avoiding many names for privacy purposes.) My aunt and uncle were her godparents. She and her brother Alex lost their parents when they were young, and they got folded into our little menagerie. And the thing about this family is that once you’re in, it’s not easy to get out. (Not that many ever try.)
I remember that summer, when I just suddenly had two more cousins. One was a little younger than me, and the other was a little older. At the time, I thought Amy was one of the grown-ups. Even earlier this week, when I got the news, I was talking with a friend, and he asked how old she was, and I said, “I think like 10 years older than me…” But later I looked at the birthdays. When I first met her, I’d have been about 10. Which means she’d have been 13ish. I may have the years slightly off…but she was only three years older than I am.
Loss makes you older. I hadn’t really experienced it then. Amy had. I imagine that up until this week, we were getting pretty close to the same age, though.
I didn’t spend much time with Amy outside of an occasional talk at a family thing. But I always liked her, and there was a part of me that I think “got” her, especially after some of my own losses… But I don’t want to pretend we were kindred spirits either. There’s a reflex we all have to over emphasize our own relationships with the dead. I try to be mindful of it.
Nevertheless, Amy was my cousin for a lot longer than she wasn’t. She was family. And it hurts like family. With more family struggling in the background, I’m just waiting for more hammers to fall…
And this is just a few weeks after I lost a coworker/friend at work, whom I failed to write about here. At the end of March, very unexpectedly, Richard passed away. I know that to some, you’re probably thinking, “So what? He’s just a guy you worked with..” But we’re a small office. And he was a BIG personality. You get attached to people like that.
I think when I was told that Richard died, I was crying before the letter “d” had left my mouth as I said, “Oh my God…” It was a shock. It stopped me in my tracks. It’s a month later, and the office still doesn’t feel right, and we’re all still telling stories about him.
And that after losing my friend Jon (aka Jonco) at the end of December…which I’ve already written about and talked about extensively elsewhere…
I have a friend who would refer to this as a “season of loss.” That’s a poetic way to put it. To me, it just fucking sucks. I said recently that “available evidence suggests we’re all going to die…but does it really have to be all in a row like that?”
In the past, I’ve been accused (somewhat correctly) of living from tragedy to tragedy. It sometimes seems like I write more often about missing people who are gone than I do about loving them while they’re here. I don’t really know how to correct that. I’ve always had trouble with “now.” I can visualize the future and remember the past, but “now” is confusing sometimes. I often don’t even recognize when I was happy until it’s in hindsight, even though I’ve been working hard on that. I don’t know, man…if I haven’t said I love you to you lately, say it to me, and I’ll say it back, okay? It’d be nice to get out of the season of loss and into a summer of love.
Nevertheless…I’ve had to miss a lot of people lately. So, first and foremost, EVERYBODY FUCKING STOP THAT. But also, it seems very vital to me to appreciate you if you’re around. Because it seems like I’m always going to be blindsided when you’re not…
But hey…let’s find some light in the darkness…
When Jon died in December, I knew I’d be adopting cats (more on them in the next post). When I met them, I knew which one I was going to name “Jonco” after him. And he’s here now, and I’ve got a Jonco still in my life, being weird and fun. And McGuire came along with him. Being boisterous and adventurous.
When Richard died, I got off the phone with my boss, and I didn’t circle back around to actually working for about an hour. I was working from home that day, and I just sat there and let myself feel whatever I needed to. Alongside that, I knew that as a manager, it was going to be my job to tell my team members, one of whom was also in the process of losing her mother, who had just entered hospice and has since passed.
I’ll tell you this…I’ve been at this job for 13 years. I love our office and think of many there as good friends. I’ve faced a lot of challenges and hit a lot of lows as a result… The call I had to make to that specific coworker was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do at my job. I don’t ever want to hear the sound she made when she heard me say it again in my life. I won’t be able to forget that. Ever.
As I was sitting there just feeling the grief, both cats checked in on me. Jonco came over with some of his signature headbutts. And McGuire–I swear to God–actually reached a paw out and put it on my cheek to feel the teardrops. (I know he was probably just trying to figure it out, but I choose to believe he was saying, “Don’t cry, Daddy.”)
When Amy died…I didn’t cry right away. Honestly I think I’d burned through too many emotions in the weeks leading up…but I still wasn’t okay. I was still shaken up and trying to figure out what to do with the feelings. While I was still on the phone with my cousin Terry getting the news, Jonco got in my lap and started purring. They say sometimes cats purr because they’re trying to either heal themselves or the person they’re sitting with. I don’t know much about the science of that… All I know is that I FELT those purrs that night.
There’s been a lot of sad lately. But in the middle of it all, there’s been some light. And all I’ve talked about here is the light coming from the cats. I haven’t even gotten into how great it was to talk with my other coworkers about Richard. How cathartic Jon’s memorial was. How much it meant to sit in the office with my friend Mike and unload about the family saga and what the aunts being sick means and what Amy’s loss feels like in the midst of it. Or how much it meant on Tuesday when I told my coworkers what was going on and my friend Ethelyn immediately started crying and said, “I’m so sorry, Derek,” which she absolutely didn’t have to do… Or how much it meant that same day to go to my boss and tell him what was going on and that I felt like I needed to go home after lunch and pet a cat and take a nap, to then hear him say, “Yeah, go do that.” And that’s STILL not touching on the words of best friends and family members!
There is just plain GOOD in some people that can’t help but come out. Don’t you fucking dare let anyone tell you anything else. And when you find it, you wrap it around you and know that it’s proof that if only for a moment, God existed.
But these cats get me too, man…
So, I don’t know…I needed to say some of that before I went into how cool it is to have the cats and tell that whole story. That’ll be next time, probably…
But I guess I also needed to tell you that in the worst moments, there’s always light. Mr. Rogers used to say, “Look for the helpers.” Sometimes those are people. Sometimes, they’re cats and/or dogs, and maybe hamsters or some other thing. Sometimes, they’re songs. Sometimes, it’s just your own ineffable sense that it’ll all be okay. But it’s always there and you can always find it if you’re able to look.
I’m going to hug my guys a little tighter tonight. And a couple of you reading this pretty tight the next time I see you, too.
Until then. Find your light. Stand in it.