Grief and loss are natural parts of life, however, during trying times it can be helpful to reach out for support. Vickey Thompson, a grief counselor in the Allen Park area, earns her living providing individual grief counseling services and running support groups for the bereaved.
When Thompson went through a rough patch in her own life, she relied not only on the principles of healing from grief and loss that she shares with her clients, but, much to her own surprise, on the unconditional love and companionship she received from a furry, little kitten. After just one short year, Shadow passed away from the feline leukemia virus.
Thompson shares with Natural Awakenings how Shadow brought joy back into her life during a trying time, and how the lessons Shadow taught helped her to handle his untimely death.
NA: What prompted you to get a kitten?
VT: I got Shadow without much thought. I was going through a tough time and I needed to love something, and to know that it mattered to something living if I came home or not.
NA: Had you owned cats before?
VT: No, in fact, when I first brought him home, I realized I did not know how to care for him. I called friends who had cats and asked a lot of questions. I was open to learning whatever I needed to know.
NA: Did you bond right away?
VT: Yes. That first night, and many nights after, Shadow cuddled up with me and I felt needed. I sort of felt like a Mom.
NA: It sounds like this little kitten brought a lot of happiness into your life.
VT: He most certainly did. Shadow was always happy to see me. He let me know that my coming home and being with him was meaningful. I felt loved, and I think he felt appreciated.
VT: Shadow loved to play and found joy in so many simple things. His wonder reminded me of how exciting life is from a child’s perspective. Also, he seemed to have no awareness of the past or the future; the “now” was all he knew, and so I attempted to stay in that space with him. He taught me that the only thing we really have, as far as time goes, is the present moment.
NA: Being present in the moment is a really important lesson. Did Shadow’s wisdom help you handle the news that he was sick?
VT: Absolutely. Shadow’s mom must have had leukemia, but he and I did not know it and we did not spend our time living like he was sick. We enjoyed all the time we were given and only when it was clear Shadow could no longer enjoy life did it end.
NA: What was the biggest blessing that Shadow brought into your life?
VT: My kitten taught me many things about life and unconditional love in the 355 days we had together. He help me to live in the present, because it is the only way to truly enjoy life. He taught me the value of sleeping when you’re tired, eating for enjoyment and exercising and playing joyfully. During my time with Shadow, I learned that the amount of love and care I feel for something does not determine how long it will be with me. Opening my heart and giving all that I have makes the time and the life I’ve shared a blessing. When it ends I will feel pain and sadness and I will have memories to treasure and hold in my heart for a lifetime.
NA: What happened after Shadow passed on?
VT: You can love again if you are willing to open your heart beyond your pain. After taking time to mourn the loss of Shadow, I did get another cat from the Wyandotte Animal Shelter. I named him Hero. He is different from Shadow, and yet, he too is loved a lot.
Learning About Life From Our Four-Legged Friends
Death seems like a painful ending to a life filled with love and joy, but what is the alternative? Rather than regretting the loss, consider the sadness inherent in living a life without joy and love at all. This is exactly the idea expressed by Alfred Lord Tennyson in the famous quote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
To truly embrace this sentiment, it is necessary to live fully in the moment; to appreciate the blessings of life as they come, and allow them to pass on in their own time. Looking to the animal kingdom, whether it be wild animals living in their natural environments, or the domesticated breeds who often become a part of their human families, can provide a unique insight into living authentically.
● Animals don’t destroy their environment; they consume what they need, and give all they have to give.
● Animals don’t retaliate, hold on to grudges, hold on to mistakes, criticize or gossip.
● Animals don’t rationalize or come up with reasons to not live the best possible life they can.
● Animals understand self love and love for others. They understand the importance of balance. They forgive quickly and love with an open and sincere heart.
● Animals communicate with their bodies, their hearts and their souls, relying on a combination of instinct and intuition.
Animals have long been valued for their companionship, but when humans are willing to open their hearts, sometimes it’s the animals who have the best lessons to teach.
Source: Natural Awakenings Magazine of Wayne County