Life is a journey; we all follow our own personal trail but we are joined along the way by others. Some of those companions are with us for only a short time. Some walk with us for what seems like an eternity. But sooner or later, our trails will part. And when they do, it’s sometimes hard to say goodbye as we trudge on into the dark woods alone.
We recently lost our dear old cat to cancer. I guess for a lot of people, the death of an old cat would seem a fairly trivial thing. But for our family, the passing of this beautiful, delicate little creature was a significant and painful event. For each one of us, the cat had, at some point in our lives, seemed like our only friend. She had lived long enough to know the emptiness of Big M’s life before I arrived; she was the sole companion to Y while the rest of the family lived in the UK. For Little M, she was a dear and trusted confidante through some very difficult times of adolescence. And for me, she has often seemed to me to be my only ally in this sometimes difficult life I now live. Her loss is therefore keenly felt by everyone, in their own – very personal – way.
Losing a dear pet can be as painful as losing a human friend or relative. The difference is that with a pet, you can almost guarantee that heartbreak comes as part of the deal as you are much more likely to outlive them. Many people – perhaps understandably – chose not to enter into this bargain, choosing instead to forsake friendship, companionship and love to safeguard against the pain of loss. Some might argue that love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin, and if that’s true, then surely only a fool would choose a course of action whose inevitable outcome is pain. As nothing in this world is permanent, surely the only way to avoid the pain of loss is never to have loved in the first place. But to do so also robs us of one of the principle joys of life itself; Are we to live out our lives in monochrome emotions just in order to avoid a broken heart?
The pain of loss is not down to love, but to our own foolish desires to hold onto that which we cannot hold. We all seek to create happiness for ourselves in this turbulent world, and when we believe we’ve achieved it we try to hold onto it with all our might. It’s like pausing the video on a favourite scene in your favourite movie. You can replay that scene a thousand times and gain some superficial pleasure. But without having seeing the entire film, that single scene has no meaning at all. A few seconds of imagery has no meaning unless set in the context of a much bigger story. Love is like that; a transient, dynamic thing that cannot be held but which can completely transform your outlook on life; in isolation it means nothing.
It is the holding on that causes pain, not love. Attaching yourself to something that is moving with unstoppable force while planting your feet in the ground can only result in pain and failure. No matter how strong we try, we cannot stop the world from turning, and as sure as night follows day, the world will change. Those things you love will move away from your grasp, no matter how hard you try to hold on to them.
Turning your back on love and refusing to share your love with the world cannot save you, because in doing so you turn your back on life itself. Love is our natural state, we give and receive love as easily as breathing in and out. If you hold your breath, you will die; if you refuse to share yourself with those around you, forge into the wilderness alone, you will surely also wither and die. To live a full life, you must love freely and be loved without thought of return, as a mother loves her child; unconditionally. Love given on condition is not love. When we grieve for the loss of a loved one, we are not actually grieving for them but for ourselves, left behind. This is a form of conditional love: I love you because of how you fit into my happy world illusion. When that part of that scene vanishes we grieve for the loss of our illusion. Our attachment to an unreality exposes our folly and leaves us shattered on the ground.
The way to love freely is to avoid attachment. When that beautiful carriage called love passes you by, don’t grab hold and try and stop it in its tracks, but hop on board. Enjoy the ride and where it takes you. When it comes time to get off, step down onto the ground with grace and cheerfully wave it on its way with thanks for having bought you to a better place, and the chance to experience a new world with all its possibilities.
If you truly love another living creature, you would not wish to prolong its suffering. And when it passes, you know it has passed to a place where there is no suffering. So if you truly loved them, why would you not be happy? To mourn its passing is natural. But to fret over a carriage that is disappearing around the bend on a journey beyond your sight is pointless. Is it not better to open your eyes and see the beauty of where that carriage has bought you?
Love does not end just because the object of that love cannot be seen. Love is timeless and knows no distance. It can reach across time and space and touch anything as easily as if it were right next to you. Love does not die; love is undiminished by death. If you have let another creature into your heart and loved them, they will stay in your heart and that love will live on with you forever. Not as it was, but in new ways. With each thought, love returns renewed like a flower that returns refreshed each spring.
Sleep well, our little friend x