Sitting Shiva

This is Day Five of the Seven Days of Shiva.  I’m trembling as I write this.  This morning I woke feeling like I remember I felt after I had minor surgery.  That was exactly three years ago, just two months before I was granted the miracle of Bugsy.

I feel muzzy, shaky, sick.  My eyes hurt.  They’re heavy as cannonballs.

Fangie’s death is major surgery.  I have had an essential part of the body of my life amputated.

How that looks on the page.  I remember my father once saying:  I can’t stand people who take their temperature all the time.

I think what he meant was, those who are that self-fascinated, they’re preoccupied.  They are closed, unavailable to others.  They have not got the capacity to care about how hot or cold others may be running.  They are fixated only on themselves.

But me now, I am fixated.  I have no choice.  This grief is a total, physical demand.  I am possessed by it.  The streaming thoughts, the memories, the bitter loss, the physical weakness, inability to eat, relentless weeping that comes in gusts and recedes, only to overtake again. There is just no room for any other subject.

The Jewish custom, after the death of a primary family member that Fangie was, is to “sit shiva” for seven days.  I am sustained by three things about the wisdom of shiva.

One is that the bereaved customarily sit on the floor or on low stools.  This expresses the reality that grief clobbers you flat.

I spend most of my time in bed.  Day or night, tossing and turning trying to find rest.  Finding it, from instant to instant, in small drops – and then the tidal wave convulses again.

Those who designed shiva knew this.  They encouraged laying low for the designated time.  So now that wisdom encourages me, gives me license.  I am trying to take that license, and not, out of disgusted satiety with this anguish, to gin myself up into the activity of denial and distraction.

The second wisdom of shiva I appreciate is the prohibition, throughout the shiva period, on much of the busy-ness or pleasures of daily life.  This refraining concentrates the mind.  One’s not distracted by trivialities.  I long to be distracted by trivialities.  I cannot be for long.

I haven’t a choice.  I think I want to do something useful or helpful or irrelevant, I take a step in that direction, and the grief clobbers me back down into weakness nausea and trembling once again.

My brother phoned yesterday.  He mused about how our lives are like many-roomed mansions.  Each experience we go through is one more room added.  We accumulate more and more rooms.  To foster the movement of learning into wisdom, through practices like shiva, we could make it our business to arrange these rooms, to bring them to closure.  And then, once each following year, to throw open the windows and doors once more.  To air the place out.  To check that everything’s left still more or less in order.  To take stock.  To make sure we haven’t moved away, left behind something important.  And then, once again, to close the windows and doors – not lock them, merely close them – and to withdraw into other rooms for another year.

That’s one more lesson from shiva.

I want to arrange this terrible room I’m in now so I will not forget its significance.  I’m not in gratitude.  I am not grateful for this experience.  I’m suffering it.  But I think I want to understand its significance.  I want to pay attention, for example, to the brutal reality that Fangie lies in the ground right outside that window to my right.  That he has left this plane, he has joined the enormous web of life and death.  There he is now.  Surrendering his precious body, his gossamer fur, his glowing golden-green eyes, his slender perfect pink paws, to others now.  To the little crawling beings.  To the tall oak standing guard over him.

And I myself, I want to pay attention to the excruciating smallness of my amputated self.  Maybe fitting that mutilated self into the bigger picture will come later.   What’s true right now is I am simply not able to skip past this agony.

I’m just going with this:  This pain must be a part of the picture.  Just as truly as the beauty of Fangie vivacious was part of the picture, as he so fully inhabited his brief moment in time as Mr. Welcome Fanga.

The third shiva wisdom I appreciate is that the community is invited to pay housecalls to the bereaved residence.  The community brings the nourishment of company in loss.  (And also actual nourishment – I mean food of course.  Jews are nothing without food.)  It is an act of human kindness to do this challenging visitation – it’s a “mitzvah” – that is offered by those who aren’t suffering the incapacity of grief at the moment, but who know what that incapacity is like.  This mitzvah is an act that is above and beyond mere self-regard.

In this terrible time – really, at the best of times in life, and this is the worst – I have often felt unequal to the usual self-regarding chit-chat of human contact uninformed by mitzvah – the casual blurting of unconnected irrelevancies, the conventional facile bromides unfelt and unthought-through, the itchy discomfort of superficial human connection, the embarrassment, the averting of the eyes to all that which is inconvenient or challenging.

You, dear readers, whose attendance in the parlor of this blog, whose comments I see are informed by knowing what this catastrophe is like, you who have followed the saga of Fanga, you who have loved him right along with me, you who are not ashamed to look at this devastating abasement of emotion, you who understand that the more we connect with feeling, with love, the more available we become to self and others – not like my poor dear father, who, thanks to the bereavement of his own bereft situation, alas alas I think did not understand this – you, my friends, as you read these awful posts and as you respond directly from the depths of your feeling, our feeling, you who know how this is – please regard.

In the mitzvah that was my brother’s housecall yesterday, he told me he knows what the loss of one’s dearest love is like.  He said that when he went through that, many years ago, he wanted time to stop.  Every moment that passed after that death, he felt himself drawing further away from the lost loved one.  He wanted to stay close to the love.  He wanted movement to stop.  He wanted time to stop.

I want time to stop at this moment.

I see that scratch on my leg.  It’s a mark left behind by Fangie’s goofy exuberance.  I see that scratch is healing now.  I do not want it to heal.  I do not want it to fade from me.

I cannot stand to think of letting Fang go.

You see the pearl right there in the front of the box?  The tiny one that’s lighter than the others?  That’s all Fang’s fur I’ve been able to collect.  The bigger darker balls are Bugs’s.  Bugs’s fur is easier to capture, because he enjoys when I brush him.  Not Fang.  Fang was so constantly on the move, I couldn’t get more than a lick at him.

And Fang’s fur — like the cat himself, as it turns out — was so evanescent, it would float away.  It has collected mostly only in cobwebs, dirt, other household debris.

I am glad I have had a clean pearl of him.  So small.  So short.

I reread this terrible raw post.  And then I feel some gladness purely, to tell you that this blood-letting is not the whole picture.

Bugsy is moving faster than I, I think.  He’s been confused, bewildered, off his game – but right now he seems to be leading the way forward.

He’s using this downtime to refine his biscuit-making skills.  Each morning, and then several times during the day and night as I constantly lie back down, he biscuit-makes.  He sidles up to me purring.  He does a few warm-up laps on the memory-foam pillow.  Then he advances on my arm.  He braces his butt on my chest.  He bears down, with  all his body-weight, to biscuit-making on my arm.  Where, before, he might get in only a few stabs at it here and there, and then Fangie would do something goofy to distract him.  Now Bugs has truly dedicated himself to concentrated biscuit-making.

Here is Bugs this morning, trying to persuade me that he’s cute.

Bugsy, Bugsy.  I faceplant in your cuteness.

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About nadbugs

Anita loves cats. This must be because she, too, has had nine lives. She’s been dancing since she could walk, she was a commercial artist and advertising producer, she earned a third-degree black belt in Aikido, she is a drummer with the Afrique Aya Dance Company, she is an attorney, and she’s a meditator and a devoted student of Nonviolent Communication. She also spent one lifetime sidelined with a devastating back injury in 1992. Since then – FELDENKRAIS METHOD® to the rescue. The FELDENKRAIS METHOD is all about dreaming concretely – thinking intelligently and independently by way of a gracious and kind physicality. The work affords all who study it a process by which to reach, with movement, into the mind and the heart, to make nine lives into one whole being.
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27 Responses to Sitting Shiva

  1. I wish there was something I could say or do. Instead I’ll just visit quietly each day as you sit shiva. Allow yourself what you need now, Dear Anita. Enjoy those soul-nourishing biscuits. Love and Peace, my friend.

  2. This post is exquisite, and I don’t mean in the beautiful sense. I am touched by your grief, and I will shoulder some for you. I know the loss. We are all here for you. Shiva is a very wise thing, indeed.

    As soon as I saw the scratch I thought “tattoo”. Perhaps a tiny tat over the scratch?

  3. lahgitana says:

    Oh Bugsy. You will lead her, won’t you? Will lend her comfort, and finally healing, with your purrs pitched at that healing tone and aimed right at her torched heart.

    AnitaBean, you slaughter me with your words, with the bare truth of your moments; the tears course down my face and I sob for the depth of your loss.

    Thank you for keeping the parlor door open. I would be one of those bringing food that you cannot eat, but the only way I can think of to nourish you through this awful, awful time.

    You are brave to face this terrible grief, but you honor Fang by doing so. And you honor yourself.

  4. Shakespeare once said, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” Thank-you for allowing us into your online home that we sit Shiva with you. We continue to send L & L and mega purrs. Our boys send big headbonks to Bugs.

  5. Anya says:

    I will read your post later, carefully and slowly , but for now, do know how I share your grief, I lost my Bandits on Friday. Buckets of tears is the title of my post today. I too cannot stop crying. Love and hugs to you.

  6. All of the above comments and then some. I read your post as soon as it reached my inbox, but I got lost in the tears. I just couldn’t stop sobbing and couldn’t think straight. So I just gave it some time and it seems like now I can say… what? I don’t know. Maybe I’d like to say… That I sit Shiva with you. That I – like Lahgitana – would probably bring you food that you can’t eat if I were there physically. That I understand so well what you’re going through. That your honesty is so welcome. That I wouldn’t bare it if you just remained silent through all of this. That I love Bugsy even more now that he’s leading the way. Well… I’m pretty sure I’m now rambling. So I’ll just say that I keep you in my thoughts and in my heart.

  7. Just want you to know that we are here, and were touched by your words.

  8. Oldcat says:

    I’ve lost cats after less than a week and after twenty years and they are all hard. For the younger ones I was mourning more for the lost years that will not happen. But with time you learn to let the pain fade and the other memories remain.

    But I understand the cat shaped hole in the heart very well.

  9. Hugs. It’s a terrible loss, and I understand the wanting to stay close but also a need to keep moving. I wish you well on the final days of your shiva and hope you will be able to move to a place of remembering the joy of Fangie without the intense pain of his loss.
    Bugs is adorable, I’m so glad he’s sticking close to you.

  10. MelanieJ says:

    I have typed out so many near-responses, but feel that my words are just so inadequate no matter what I say. I guess it’s not really the words that matter so much, do they? I, like the others, am here with you, even though I’m so many miles away, lending you a shoulder to cry on or lean on as is needed.

  11. I am so deeply sorry…..your raw emotion tore through me……..you are in my thoughts and prayers

  12. kolytyi says:

    I may be wrong but I think you blame yourself for Fangie’s death – why you did not realise that his life is in such a danger, or even you were not careful enough and he ate something poisonous, or why you could not help him? You are only a human being, not a god or God – but even, you are a human being full of Love. You might feel to be measly and trifling, powerless and hopeless. But you were able to show your love and share your love with a feline being. You tought him how to live, how to be happy, how to love. You tought him how wonderful being he is. And he learned this from you. And he evolved his unrevealed, unique spirit which would have not born without you. You gave the greatest present and you received the greatest present possible. Most people – me, too – have no opportunity or courage or the ability to give such a gift. The grief cannot be bigger than the gift you gave and received with Fangie.

  13. MTVA says:

    Deep love unfortunately equals deep pain at the loss of your dear one. But so much better to have lived in that love, than not known it at all – for you and for Fangie, Zichrono L’Bracha. I suffer along with you, as all of us who have lost our beloveds also do. You are right about grieving, there is no way around it it, we have to go thru it now or later, hard as it is. Thinking of you throughout these days and wishing there were something I could do to ease your heart. Know that we all love and care for you. And purrs to Bugs, who is being such a good boy, may he continue to be a warm comfort to you.

  14. Daisy says:

    I felt my eyes water when you talked about wanting time to stop. I’ve known that feeling. That dark, swirling vortex that envelops me with fear that I may never know joy again. But I would like to think that Fangie is probably reaching out to you through Bugs, and letting you know that time will help wash the sadness away, little by little. That after this dark storm, the clouds will part, and sunlight will bathe your world in color once again. Take care.

  15. CATachresis says:

    I have just come by to sit awhile.

  16. Anne D says:

    On stopping time–a quote from Willie Morris from his essay, As the years Go by Do We Grow Crankier of More Tolerant?–

    As I put down these words on this page, I am pausing to gaze out the windows of my workroom. It is an unseasonably warm winter’s forenoon in the deepest South. Down below me on the broad sloping lawn, I see the first robin bathing herself in a little puddle of water. In the distance, my beautiful wife is strolling languidly toward Purple Crane Creek, followed by my irascible cats, Spit Mc Gee, Mamie Harper, George W. Harper and Bessie Graham. The five of them are silently examining something in the grass. Could it be the first crocus? They seem so together there, caught for me in bittersweet frieze, in the belonging of the Lord’s earth. They touch me deeply, and I implore: Stop, Time, you tricky fellow! Stop right now!

  17. Just dropping in to sit a minute.

  18. MTVA says:

    Sitting here quietly in the early morning. I’m thinking how Fangie, and all our loved companions, are like a stnningly gorgeous sunrise. You see it and love it and drink it all in. Even after it is gone, much too soon, it’s beautiful memory never leaves you. And fills your heart with joy when you think of it, even though it’s no longer here. Love to you and Bugs.

  19. Pingback: Sitting | trifles

  20. starlight says:

    i’m deeply saddened.. but anyway, you still have lots of wonderful memories to hold on too..

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