On a warm sunny day in early October, she left for the last time. How could I have known that I would never see her again? That afternoon, she lay on my chest enjoying the warm sun that bathed us both, purring in her sleep.
When she first went missing, I looked for her everywhere I went. White plastic bags along the highway or small mounds of snow would catch my eye, making me think I’d finally spotted her tiny white body.
Posters and signs and search parties later, reality began to set in, and one gray day in late November, I laid my face down on the hardwood floor and watered the ground with my sadness for her early good-bye.
From time to time, nearly eighteen months later, I still catch my breath when I think of her. Tears have wet my face even in recent months. I told myself that she would come back like she always did, but that time, she did not.
A new year is a cycle wherein we go through the same rise and fall that we did during the last rotation. That loss and grief is cyclical is nothing new. And as was the year that my little Ella went away, winter continues to be my quiet, reflective turn around the sun.
I still feel the pain of her loss as I do the pains of other winter losses. Even nature seems to join in my sad song, shedding her glory for a bare, stark landscape of grays and browns. The sun hides away and clouds are ever present, seeming to turn an entire season into a place of empathy for a heavy heart.
The hardest thing about losing Ella was that I never saw it coming. I was not prepared. One day, all was well; the next, it was over. For months, I felt sure that if I simply persisted enough in my search, one day, I’d turn that corner in that neighborhood or on that block and I’d finally see her. But that day never came.
The thing about early good-byes is that though they are often final, life offers many stages wherein we relive them. A year after Ella disappeared, I found myself searching for her again and re-awoken to the pain of her absence.
In a world where loss and early good byes are commonplace, to pause for a cat seems trivial. But to not would seem to imply that grief and loss move on a varying scale of weight and gravity making one less or more than the other. And while it is obviously true that losing a child or spouse or friend or family member is indeed harder and greater than losing even a beloved pet – it is also true that grief, whether big or small, demands that we take time to pause and reflect and heal.
A piece of my heart left me with the disappearance of that small white bit of fur, but greater good-byes have gnawed away at my wintered soul. Memories of ill-timed good-byes spin around me like loose floating particles in a shaken snow globe.
The loss of friendships once dear to me.
The loss of a state I had called my home.
The loss of connections and places of belonging.
The loss of loves and loyalties and an entire identity.
My easy smile.
My light heart.
My carefree spirit.
Like the corners of my leaf-littered yard, I conceal withered pieces of happiness whose times have worn out and altogether expired. What once was is no longer and what remains are the handprints and impressions left behind in my now-hardened cement.
Winter has done her work on me once again, and I find myself fighting the cold that has crept in. Fighting the apathy that wants to take over. Fighting the tiredness that comes after a season of long nights and short days, after a season of dark and gray and brown.
Welcoming a new hello after an ill-timed good-bye is trickier than it might seem. Loosening a tight fist and clenched jaw happens only with hard work. And when the long waited-for melt finally comes, it does so with a bittersweet mix of releasing what was in order to, with free and empty hands, take hold of what is to come.
Every gray November brings a shifting landscape, but after she has had her time, she gives way to the thaw.
And when it comes; when the icicles hanging around our deliquesced hearts begin to release their watery captives, the drops fall down to hydrate the very places within us that have been brown and gray. They wash away the dark and rain on us with soft promises of new life.