My cat Ripley died on Thanksgiving day. When Monday came, I called in sick to work. I needed an excuse. Had a person died, I would have been told to take my time coming back to work. My fluid network of friends, family members and co-workers would have hardened into a solid support structure.
As it was, I received some sympathy, but little empathy. I was back at work the next day talking to my client. I was a zombie and answered all his questions with an automatic "OK." Wrapping up the conversation, he said I was the most agreeable person he'd ever worked with.
I sought comfort from books about coping with grief. But I felt their descriptions of the stages of grief and their steps to recovery were too generalized and presumptuous. This was my pain. How did they know that time would heal my pain? Maybe they were wrong. Maybe I would never recover.
I found a Web site called www.Petloss.com. Ordinarily, I would have mocked the cheesy graphics of the home page and cloying music it played. But it's tough to be a snob when you're suffering and I headed straight to the chat room in search of empathy. It was filled with people who had been through the same hell. I talked about my pain and they listened and understood. They understood that my Ripley was a family member. They understood that most people don't understand. They understood that I couldn't see an end to the pain.
My pain was very raw when I first went to the chat room. Many had lost their pets months, even years ago. I went to the chat room daily for weeks and eventually there were pains rawer than mine. People who had just put their pet down that day. People who were just about to put their pet down. People whose pets disappeared. Now people were asking me for advice. They were looking to me to assure them that there was an end to the pain. I couldn't tell them that it was hopeless, so I told them to remember the good times with their pet. I told them not to feel guilty. I told them that time would slowly ease their pain, but that everyone has their own timetable. I told them all the things I was unable to tell myself. Only by giving comfort to others was I able to find comfort.
I still stop by Petloss.com to chat with the friends who pulled me through my roughest times. I'm also there to help the first-timers. I even had some good news to report. We just got a new kitten, Lucia, from the Orange County Animal Shelter. She has a tough act to follow. There was less pressure on the young bride at Manderely to live up to the memory of Rebecca. But Lucia lives in the moment and is slowly helping me focus on life rather death.