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.