My cats didn’t eat my husband’s dead body.
The very nice lady said she would have noted any bite marks or removals from the body during the autopsy. They have to do an autopsy when someone dies and isn’t found for two days. They have to do an autopsy when a 35-year-old man dies and there isn’t any obvious reason why.
You have to wonder when that man dies, alone in a room with two cats– two cats who had not been fed and couldn’t know if they’d ever get fed again– if the cats would eat his body, but they didn’t.
I have two cats.
I had a husband, but he passed away when I was in prison and now the cats live just with me.
Our first cat is Perdita. We adopted her. She was meant to be mine. My husband swore up and down he wasn’t a cat person, but she very quickly became his joy. They were best friends. She would ride around on his shoulders, and run to him when he called. He would run to her when she called, too.
Our second cat is Flash. We adopted him to be a companion to Perdita during our busier moments, but he’s also been a pretty great companion to me.
The four of us had many quiet adventures together. In my mind, I can still go to a place where I am sitting on a dark carpet. My head rests on my husband’s lap. Perdita is on his lap, too, and she pushes at my head as if by accident. I know it’s no accident, and I complain to Dave. “She’s pushing me.” He puts down the book he is reading to us, and pets our hair at the same time. We relax until we hear a telltale grumble. Flash is waking up because Dave stopped reading, so Dave picks up the book and starts again. I pretend to stretch, knocking Perdita a little farther off Dave’s lap. She complains to him, and he laughs at her meowl. A low chuckle that warms us all. He doesn’t laugh as much as he deserves.
I forget sometimes that they lost Dave, too.
It comes back to me in moments. Small moments. They’ve survived this trauma.
One day, for instance, the food bowl was empty, and they started a ruckus of howling and meowling. I snipped at them, saying– “Stop that, calm down, you guys are acting like you’re starving when you don’t even know what it is to be hungry.”
And then I remembered that they do.
The last time their food bowl was as empty as that, the last time their water was as low, Dave was dead. They were locked in a room with him and no one understood their screams. They didn’t know what happened, they didn’t know where I was.
I think it’s called post traumatic stress.
It hits me in other moments, too. Less small ones.
The day I brought home my husband’s gloves from his workplace, and began the slow process of a panic attack. I held the gloves to my face and tried to smell him, tried to remember. Perdita came over to me and pulled the gloves from my hands. Animals play those kinds of games– cats especially– so I was going to simply pull them back but I saw her face. She pressed her nose down to the glove, and put her paw inside it.
I realized that she was doing the exact same thing as I was.
She was grieving.
A little tear rolled down her eyes and I thought of all the millions of times that Dave would swear those were real tears– just like mine, just like his, no more or less valid. I would tell him, “You’re being like a newbie parent who says that their infant is smiling when really they’re just farting. Perdita is probably just malfunctioning in a normal cat way that appears as a tear, and you’re anthropomorphizing it.”
But she would cry her little tears, and he would rest his head on hers, give her a hug, and hear her pain– the pain he thought he saw.
In the years and years with Perdita, I never once agreed, but that day, with the gloves, I realized how wrong I’d been.
I rested my head down on hers, just like he used to, and I let her cry.
There isn’t a word for a cat who lost her best human friend. There isn’t a word for a child who lost only one parent. There isn’t a word for a parent who lost a child. There isn’t a word for someone who lost their partner of a year or decade or 7 decades and didn’t get married. There isn’t a word for a girl like me who lost her best friend.
I’m one of the few grievers who gets a word.
I’m a widow.
I was married to Dave for near a decade, and somehow the word legitimizes the grief. It is a badge I am allowed to wear, for some time.
Dave lived a big life, a creative one. He interacted with people on all artistic levels. He made his world, he made impact. I lost a husband, yes, but many people lost a Dave.
Still, people see the title. Every time someone grieves for me because I am a widow, I imagine Perdita crying over Dave’s lifeless body.
I am a widow, yes. She is a Perdita.
Grieve for her, too.
Death has taken a part of all of our lives. I am not the only one with a hole over my heart.
It is in these heart-holes where we find room to fill ourselves up with other things. It is in these heart-holes where light has a way to reach us.
I lost a part of my heart. I lost Dave.
I lost a husband. I am a widow.
I lost a best friend.
I am a Perdita, too.
I may fill the hole in my heart with something wondrous and bright. I may fill it with a big, wild, beautiful life.
Or, I might let it consume me.
The holes our hearts can bear is not an explanation of loss so much as it is an explanation of letting. They are not a result of death, so much as a cause of life.
We get to learn from life, as we go, and the beauty of being a part of a collection of people is that we get to learn how to live life from each other’s lessons. And most of our learnings from death come to us in the letting of grief.
We need to grieve. Fully and completely without any consideration of the word — or lack of word– given to us by the dictionary.
Almost all of us have a hole over our heart. Almost all of us are Perditas.
And if we were allowed to say it, if it was something we could comfortably put in our Facebook profiles or bring into conversation, we would bring with it the learning that comes from loss. We would bring with it the light that we used to fill that darkness, and in that– we would become a little more found in a time of great loss.
Emotions don’t get better. We get better at holding them. They don’t get less heavy, we get stronger.
The road to that strength, the road to healing, is about finding a place where we have room to see our lives and the deaths that polkadot them. It is about having a place in our hearts where we can live our experience or, even better, a place where we can share them. A place where we can wear anger and grief and happiness in equal measure.
Hearts grow. Hearts heal. Hearts break. Hearts, like all of us, dwell in possibility.
It’s important to be able to wear your experience, without worry that your life-earned badge is not defined by a single world. It’s important to be able to look at someone, and see their loss, and understand it needs no definition.
Death is built into living, grief is built into loving. Possibility is built into every crack that runs through our veins.
We all wear our loss.
I am a widow,
but we are all Perditas.
A year ago today, I was at Dave’s funeral service.
Awhile back, I wrote the story of how I got there and what I saw. What isn’t written is all the stuff I didn’t or couldn’t see… the love you all carried, the blues many of you donned in solidarity, and the holes over other people’s hearts.
This is covered slightly by Deb and Matt and AR, who all made it out to the memorial.
I am grateful for everything you all did to support us, and continue to do.
Thank you, for existing so wonderfully.