Somewhere in me I knew that day would come, but I never really considered it to be something that would really happen. It had been three years, and my wife, Rachel, and I were already becoming surrounded by loss, when we adopted our two beautiful cats, Charley & Ellie. They brought a joyful and warm presence to our home, a home we were both finding too quiet without children. As soon as we met them at the rescue centre we became a family of four. Then sadly three weeks ago we said goodbye to Charley. My heart is broken, our loss swells around and falls from my eyes. I keep seeing her come into the room, as if my memories are pouring out of me. Cut adrift in memory I am feeling alone. Alone, even so Rach and Ellie are very much here and the three of us are doing our best to support each other in our shared grief. Yet not invisible, losing a furry companion is certainly a lot more recognised in our society than not being able to have children.
The invisible loss of our children was where Charley and Ellie really helped us. They met us in our childlessness grief, they asked nothing more of us than to love them and offered our bruised hearts love in return. The two of them, with Rach, helped save me, by providing connection, a home, a family where I wanted to be alive and not numb. Even so numbing and opting out of living a meaningful life appeared so attractive at times and surprisingly easier to consider than a life without children. Easier, as I wrapped up a life without children as being a failure, as letting Rach down, as getting it all wrong, as being less. Yet as I recall sitting for hours on our kitchen floor with shingles, with Charley on my lap, as she recovered from a major op for an injured leg, my experiences tell a different story to the voices that have tortured my heart and head for so many years.
With Charley and Ellie I am the dad I would have been to our children, not perfect, but loving, kind, caring, playful and happy. That is a tough sentence to write, as it feels big-headed, but also it starkly paints aspects of my loss. A loss that eroded my sense of self, my confidence, my desire and passion. And now I am in the midst of my grief for Charley I feel cut adrift from myself again. My confidence hasn’t collapsed as it did through the years of trying and grieving, but it has been hit, hit hard. Looking back that is one of the most difficult aspects of my grief my loss of confidence. For a long time I was frozen, struggling to try things or when I did it was under masks, as if I was a spectre. To regain my sense of being present and to offer myself rather than who I’ve been told I should be is a work in process, but one Charley really helped with. As she accepted me as I am, her actions, wanting cuddles, curling up with me, trusting me and caring for me, suggest something else to the stories I tell myself about me.
As I reflect as I type these words that is one thing I realise about my grief, is I make it so much more complicated by how I speak to and treat myself, stomping all over my experiences. As such I tend to struggle to allow myself to not be ok, to be sad, to be upset. I manged it the first week after we said goodbye to Charley, but since then it is as if I should just be able to get on and not be missing her presence on the table or asleep on the chair next to me as I work. That to trip, stumble and fall isn’t allowed, there are so many messages that I have taken in that removes me from my experiences and makes life so much more difficult to navigate. Especially when I am not at my best I find myself reverting back to what I have been told and how to act accordingly, rather than what it is I feel and sense. I end up telling myself I am getting this wrong again, that I am grieving this wrong, that people will think less of me because I am struggling. That is what has cut me adrift, listening to those cruel words and not accepting I am struggling because I loved and still love Charley. My heart hurts this much because Charley meant the world to me. And to be honest I would rather have this pain than not know her love for me, for Rach, for her sister, Ellie. But I deny the pain as to feel, as to be with my experiences wasn’t encouraged, to me it felt, it was about keeping up appearances. Doing that nearly took me when I denied myself the depth of my grief for the children Rach and I can’t have. The effects are still rippling through. I won’t do that again. Charley deserves to be honoured. I deserve to be with our love, it is there I will find healing and connection with myself, not in just getting on, where I am left cut adrift from her way of being and all her love has taught me and continues to do.