Befriending Grief: In which Walhydra exclaims, “What, you again?”

Shadow the Cat

Drawing of upward expanding spiral with words at the top: "Wait! I thought I already finished dealing with this!"Over the centuries, Walhydra has learned only one thing for certain: whatever she thinks she has finally learned will come back for another try.

So….  She is unhappy but not at all surprised at the return of grief over the slow decline and death of Shadow the Cat, familiar to Walhydra and Hubby Jim for the past seventeen years.

When Shadow died in August, Walhydra’s amanuensis Bright Crow recorded the following:1

It’s so ridiculous,
+++comes over me suddenly
+++like a storm.

I want to fight with someone,
+++shout at them
+++to give him back.

+++on the order of
+++another husband lost.

Shadow cat, 5/30/2015

A cat is not just a cat
+++when you’ve
+++fed and groomed and
+++nursed him for years.

Sat with him,
+++changed your whole house
+++just so he could get around.

Sat grieving with him still alive
+++very much
+++alive with you.

Held and petted him
+++that last


Haunts & visitations

Recently, Walhydra has been experiencing persistent moments of wanting Shadow back.  She sits at the kitchen table at dinner and glimpses him peripherally in the next room.  Coming home from shopping or dinners out, she looks forward to seeing him—and then remembers.  Hubby Jim reports similar experiences.

Close-up profile of a cat.A few weeks ago, Walhydra changed the wallpaper on her phone to an image from about four months before Shadow’s death.  Sometimes she sits starring it, somewhat zoned out.

But the picture doesn’t satisfy.  The window glow causes the image to fade.  Not only aesthetically, but viscerally.  It doesn’t substitute for what is gone—or for what remains.  There are no dimensions.

Memory is holographic.  It changes and regenerates itself moment by moment.  It shifts depending upon how we look at it.  That being the case, memory is a fair but only pale substitute for the living being.

“I can’t hold it.  I can’t rub its belly.”

“Never mind, dear,” says Goddess.  “Remember what your said to your brother recently about the death of your mother a dozen years ago?  How now her memory is like a person who stays with you?”

Walhydra sulks.

“You said, “She’s more alive now than she was when she died.’”

“Hm.”  Walhydra lapses into silence.

The truth, though, is that this portrait does evoke Shadow’s presence well.  The powerful intelligence of that face, even at end of life.  The eyes which look at you even when he seems to be staring across the room.

As Walhydra ponders more deeply, she can feel that evoked presence.  With some relief.

Once and future grief

Early one spring morning, Walhydra awoke to find Shadow playing bundling board between herself and Hubby Jim.

They called it bundling because Shadow’s nightly presence there kept the two of them from playing spoons.  In January, Shadow’s spinal disc degeneration had worsened rapidly, causing escalating loss of mobility.  Even so, he would struggle up his ramp to sleep in the warmth between them.

And Walhydra remembered quietly.  Shadow’s older brother Sonic had done the same before his death in 2020.  So had their first cat, Miso, back in 2006.

Walhydra shared their daily morning communion, holding eye contact while giving Shadow a belly rub. As she did so, she felt the most painful grief she had felt yet over the loss to come.  It’s the sort of pain one usually wants to break away from.

But Walhydra didn’t want to break away from this intense moment of connection with Shadow.  So she stayed, simultaneously experiencing the present joy and the future sorrow.  She held onto both for as long as she could.

Cat curled on the middle of a sofa framed in shadows and light.

Honoring the emotions of the body

Maybe that’s the one other thing Walhydra has learned.  It is absolutely essential to honor emotions at the moment they arise.  However painful, however incongruous with the other events of that moment or one’s own wishes.

She remembers a story that Crippled Wolf told for her years ago.

In the 2006 movie Eight Below, a team of husky and malamute sled dogs take care of each other and survive for six months in Antarctica after a severe storm forces their human companions to abandon them….

Dewey, one of the huskies, falls off a steep slope and is fatally injured. The other dogs stay to comfort their teammate until he dies, but then they move on—except for the youngest dog, Max.

Max, seeming not to understand what has happened, stays beside Dewey’s body for a day or so longer before following the others.

Crippled Wolf sees himself in Max. Rationally he understands what death is, yet that deeper animal part of him continues not to understand.

How can a person simply stop being?

Months after Shadow’s death, in another one of those moments, sitting on that sofa next to his spot, Walhydra misses and then remembers him.  Yet now she understands something.

Grief can become the vehicle in which the ones we have lost travel on with us.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Flying crow



Image sources & note:

  • “Learning spiral graphic,” by Mike Shell (11/9/2019, unpublished).
  • “Shadow 2015,” by Mike Shell (5/30/2015, unpublished).
  • Shadow studies II,” by Mike Shell (4/18/2023).
  • I’m infatuated with this cat,” by Mike Shell on Flickr (6/17/2023).
  1. Angry grief,” poem on The Empty Path (8/25/2023)

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