I had a void I was trying to fill.
It’s early afternoon on a Sunday. My husband and love, Felix, is on the balcony, grilling. I am in the kitchen making a salad. “Bring me the bowl for the corn, please,” he shouts, popping his head through the door.
As soon as I do, there is a house-rattling sound from the sky above. A helicopter.
As we rush back inside, the noise intensifies and the glass in the cabinets begin to jiggle. Through the family room window, we can see neighbors dashing out, necks craned toward the sky. We and our kids do the same. Our quiet cul-de-sac has suddenly morphed into something you’d see in a Hollywood movie.
We find out that a biker, on a cliff-side trail, lost his balance and fell. The paramedic helicopter hovered above attempting to rescue the injured biker from the brush far below. We watched in mesmerized awe for awhile.
As soon as the dramatic scene outside died down, we went back inside. Immediately we knew something else was wrong. In all the commotion, my husband left the balcony door open — normally a major no-no in our household because Marshmallow, our cat, is not allowed outside.
“Marshmallow!!!” Felix and I shout at once, rushing to search our bedroom, bathroom, the kids rooms, closets, sinks, tubs and drawers; but our cat is nowhere to be found.
OMG!!! A ton of weight drops in my belly.
As Felix and the kids run outside to search, I can barely manage my chores, constantly looking out the window, desperately trying to spot the ball of white fluff that is Marshmallow.
Later that night, loading plates into the dishwasher, I’m overcome by panic: my lovely sweet boy, my precious kitty is gone. He’s trapped somewhere in a harsh and dangerous world, and there is nothing I can do.
Eventually, I lay myself down on my cold, kitten-less bed. I can hear my husband’s restless shifting from side to side; he gets up numerous times, calling Marshmallow’s name into the void of the night.
The next day, I can’t function. I am a mess on all levels. I even cancel my hypnotherapy clients.
Gloomily, I take the kids to school. "Don’t think about it, Mom," my teenager points to my frown, "because if you do, it will suck even more. So what’s the use?"
"Mom, gather all the good times we had with him and place them right in your heart," my sensitive 11-year-old preaches.
"Easier said than done," I smile back at them, faintly. Knee-deep in my sadness, I cannot receive the wisdom of their coaching.
Over the next few days, I post missing cat flyers and knock on neighbors’ doors. I sit on the balcony, sipping chamomile-lavender tea, crying out his name; my voice echoes through the neighborhood.
I should have done something different, I blame myself, but deep within I know I gave my entire heart to this cat. I did everything a responsible pet owner should do.
Suddenly, my Mom’s words, when I shared my sorrow with her, surface in my mind. "Don’t worry, he will come back when he chooses to — if he chooses to. Cats, like people, have their own fate; trust in that."
All of a sudden, I realize how many issues my cat’s disappearance has brought to the surface — from not trusting life to misplacing my need for love outside of myself.
I’m starting to get that there’s a difference between loving and enjoying a pet, knowing that all the good emotions that experience gives us already exist within us, versus depending on a pet to fill our inner emotional holes.
With that in mind, here are the 9 life lessons I’ve learned from the cat who left me:
1. Don’t rely on anyone else to feel good — people (and pets) are highly unreliable. Rely only on yourself. There is something inside of you that is always reliable.
2. Mind your own business. Cats are here to mind their own business and do what pleases them, and we should do the same.
3. You're more powerful than you realize. Cats are not small and fragile, unsafe and unstable in the midst of a wild, cruel jungle-world. They're solid and powerful, safe and guarded, and so are you.
4. You're never really lost. Once a cat knows home, it can always find its way back, if it chooses choose, and so can you.
5. You're not helpless. Cats have installed mechanisms to defend themselves if there is something or somebody rubbing them the wrong way. They're free to hiss, scratch and leave the unwanted, and so are you.
6. People are luck to know you. Cats honor others with their presence and affection. It’s their gift to others to be cherished and appreciated. Likewise, our presence, affection and attention are gifts to those around you.
7. Don't care what other people think. Cats don’t care about other people’s opinions of how, where and with whom they live their lives, and neither should you.
8. You're perfect the way you are. Cats don’t worry about others’ opinions about their appearance. Cats know they're already perfect in their own uniqueness. You're perfect already, as well.
9. You are full of love! When a cat jumps onto your belly and purrs, it's letting you feel the love you already have inside you.
As I’m finishing this article, my husband storms onto the balcony. "I just spoke to Oleg," he exclaims, eyes wide open, hyperventilating. (Oleg is our dear friend whose mom gave us Marshmallow). "They have kittens again!"
"Really?" I bolt upright in excitement, then immediately sink into despair.
I’m scared of another possible loss because I know how much it hurts.
And yet, at the same time, wonder and excitement sweep through me: I can’t hide from life, holding myself back, fearing the pain, for without it, there is no joy.
Life is both. Besides, I would not have traded the few years of sheer delight I had with Marshmallow to avoid my current distress.
It’s five weeks later, deep in the night, and I’m gazing at the restless, playful kitty jumping from pillow to pillow in our bed. His tiny body is arching and his gray eyes gaze deep into mine.
I catch myself thinking that life is a series of moments, and these are the moments I will cherish and drool over when I am old, too old to have babies and kittens.
When one day, I’ll be sitting in my recliner on the balcony of my home, gazing at the panoramic scenery, an intricate mix of hills and ocean. And I’ll sink into deep satisfaction, knowing I’ve lived a rich life, full of experiences, engaging fully, without holding back. And that I’ve used my kaleidoscope of human emotions to the max.
Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a Medical Hypnotherapist and Holistic Consultant. She is the author of Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family. Call her for an office or phone consultation to attain mental-emotional alignment and close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.