ungroomed grief

My cats didn’t eat my husband’s dead body.
I asked.

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 lucky.
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.


  1. I am reminded of one of my favorite ‘passages’ from The Hobbit: this thing, all things devours — birds, beasts, trees; gnaws iron, bites steel, grinds hard stones to meal; slays king, ruins town and beats high mountain down (Golum). The answer is time. I think of how one of my two dogs is still anxious when I leave, as if she is concerned that I, too, won’t come back. Yes, our four-legged babies grieve. It is very real. Almost too much so in its open innocence. A year since we engaged so publicly in remembering Dave’s Leaving. Time, inexorable time …

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m coming up on 6 months since I lost my wife and I get this – the weight does not get less- we get stronger. The holes and gaps do not mend- the light shines through them, and the hope is that will fill them correctly or leave them alone. I struggle—- I still struggle— I protect those gaps and voids a bit better — they are me forever –But as you say — it is all of us — death is in life and light is in darkness— We are all in this together. 6 months now — that seems like a few days….. I am treading better on this journey. I still have far to go.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. True story…M said he didn’t attempt suicide at home because he didn’t want me to have to deal with the body, but most importantly he didn’t want to become “human fancy feast”.


    Things that can receive love are usually able to reciprocate it, so it makes sense they grieved, grew and changed too.


    Liked by 2 people

  4. Seventeen years ago I lost my best friend…I’d known him nearly forty years. I was told I wasn’t a widow. We’d had ten years but no rings… and there was no word. Now there is only joy, and love and gratitude that we had met and lived and loved.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. You amaze me. I wish i could understand my own emotions as clearly as you do yours. I want to cry when i read this but at the same time i so admire your strength. Give those cats a fuss from me. I am a cat person and i know they feel love and loss like we do. Xx

    Liked by 2 people

  6. We just passed the 3rd anniversary of my baby brother’s passing (he was 27), there was a 10 year age difference and I was a 2nd mom to him – and he was a first kid to me – and it changed me, I will never, ever be the same. With a loss so strong, I don’t think you ever can be, and I am okay with that. But you were able to put into words what I couldn’t “They don’t get less heavy, we get stronger.” So, I’ll send you hugs and hope to help carry your grief some days when it gets too heavy for you alone.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I am a Perdita too. I lost my baby sister when she was 27. Even though that was many years ago, there is still a hole in my heart. I know it won’t ever go away but it does get smaller after time. Give your cats a big hug from me. They do grieve too, indeed. xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

  8. There’s nothing unpolished about your musings: they glitter and sparkle like gems. I am struck by your preposition: a hole over the heart, which is magically different than what I’ve thought of as a hole in my heart. A hole in the heart is hidden within us, inaccessible to light. But a hole over the heart can still let things in, link us to the world and all the other hearts in it, beating and broken and stilled in this life….the little hearts, too, those that hold all the thoughts and feelings of our animal friends who can’t speak but somehow can.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is the most heart-rending piece of grief-writing I have read in a long time. My thoughts are with you and your cats. I am so very sorry for your loss. You write beautifully, eloquently. I felt for your cat, while I was grieving with you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, I haven’t made it past this first beautiful post, but I wanted you to know that I’m here for you, too. Thank you,all who posted replies, for your love and support. We in grief, be it new, or years worn, need and appreciate all the understanding, compassion and LOVE that people like you all take the time to bestow.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Way to let me down, WordPress. A “like” button doesn’t capture what I need here. A “you flayed me to the bone” button would be closer to the feeling.

    Raw, Ra. Raw.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow. I have never known a big loss, not like this. I can’t imagine the path you have walked. And yet you walk. “The sun persists in rising, so I make myself stand.” (Hunger Games) SO beautiful; thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sending you my warm, loving thoughts. You don’t know me, but your story has hit me so so hard. I can’t imagine the grief you must be going through, and the thought of losing my husband sends me to tears. You have taught me to treasure what time I have, what time we have, any of us, and forget the little niggles of annoyance when they don’t matter. Your story is inspiration, strength and so much love.


  13. Hey there, lovely Ra.

    Your words weave the most beautiful webs. Not unpolished but instinctive. Honest. Raw and also Rawr. We are visitors here and we are grateful you left the door open. Grateful that you share. Love you. *hugs*

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Beautiful comforting words – our dog Harrison was on Tom’s lap when he died and saw the paramedics working on him, and at times his face says it all – even if its been 3 yrs. Both dogs won’t let us out of their sight and to say they miss him is an understatement, I once read an article that said animals have no feelings, for that person she has never seen a cat or a dog grieve the person they love nor have seen them shed a tear. Yes we are all Perdita’s each going through grief in our own way and our own time. I have come to understand I will always grieve, but am learning to live with this part of me.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Oh Ra, I totally believe that animals mourn. Three weeks ago we lost our Oriental cat, Napoleon. He was fourteen years old. Our little dog, Cally, is 8 years old and they were inseparable. Cally was very depression and couldn’t understand where her brother had gone. A week later she went completely blind. She’s learning all over again where things are, and how to climb up and down stairs. Oh yes, we, and they are all Perditas ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  16. As always you made me cry with the depth of the emotion in your words. Thud. How is it possible that it has been a year already? But you have felt every single day and every single moment fully as did your sweet kitties. Your words inspire and I know they will bring hope to everyone who reads them that they are not alone and that all of us are Termites and that is okay.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for writing this. It is all absolutely true. Huge hugs to you and to Perdita, and to all the others that have a Dave hole in their heart. It is true that you don’t truly ever know how far a person reaches…each is the stone tossed into a pond…the rings just move out and out…until eternity. I am grieving my parents, and a friend who recently died. Tonight I play a concert, with one piece that reminds me of my friend. I am practicing not crying while playing, though I failed at ever rehearsal to get through it dry eyed. I guess it’s not important if I cry tonight. It’s important that she was my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hugging Perdita and you and just dropped to the floor.

    Wanting so much love and security to be renewed in your lives. Wanting so much for your grieving to be
    welcomed with softness and the loving, supportive arms to hold you for as long as it takes. Feeling grateful for your words and the healing they bring to so many. Feeling grateful for your courage and your strength and also for you having a people to lean into. Wanting to be a part of your net here, a receptacle for your grief, a place to go. Knowing that we are all Perditas and Ras. Here’s a little candle and a stone and a prayer and a feather, and anything that will support.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It feels wrong to “like” a post that is so raw with grief and loss, but they don’t have a matching button that says, “This is a really great post about tragedy.” This is that.

    Wonderful post, Rara. I hate that this happened to you, and to Perdita and Flash.

    Liked by 1 person

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