Grieving Miles, Two

Perhaps, he didn’t mean to leave us. Maybe, there wasn’t some higher purpose he had to fulfill. How burdensome, after all.

He just, went away.

It is easy to endlessly conjecture about why he had gone, or why he had been with us at all, in retrospect. Many times, we make the meaning we want to have, after the fact, not before it.

I want to believe that the cat we had just lost served us in some, divine sort of way, beyond comprehension. As if he were merely passing through, with a simple but necessary mission of unconditionally-loving his owners, offering them boundless joy, and inducing the most satisfying level of comfort they could ever ask for.

If so, then, mission accomplished. He left with the highest marks.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder the less rosy alternative – the ever-growing elephant in the quickly shrinking room – that, perhaps there was none of that, at all.

Only the reality, written in his eyes, that in what would be his final moments, he actually wanted to come back, too soon.

I struggle to write this, after having previously arrived at a far less bleak conclusion. Surely, this isn’t the alternative I want to believe. Not as the sort of person who believes in some kind of after-life, and some kind of Higher Being that knows ultimately more than we ever will. Being that sort of person, makes me, in turn, the same sort of desperate, finite figure in search for meaning, craving the truth of knowledge like a certain, tragic, being in a Garden, once did.

Perhaps if I knew the answers to the questions I keep asking, I wouldn’t actually want the truth. The version of Miles’ story in my mind, is good enough. In fact, all the details I have to work with, are more than what I could have ever expected.

It is fact that we never learned of Miles’ actual origins – only that he and his sister Madu were found in a box in a Starbucks by a German expatriate family, who then proceeded to leave the country and needed new owners for their newfound pets.

it is fact that Miles was always a clumsy cat (and much to our delight early on), never accounting properly for his own weight (and by weight, I mean belly) before pouncing upon, or jumping from, or leaping towards, anything.

It is fact that Miles stole his sister’s food, both secretly and blatantly. His appetite was insatiable.

it is fact that Miles slept, belly up, about as often as he did the way regular cats do, with limbs tucked in underneath and slight shoulder blades, protruding. Apparently, such a vulnerable posture from cats implies that they trust us completely.

That last fact might be my favorite thing about him, and in part, why all this hurts, too damn much.

I never would have imagined a cat be so, at ease. It was as if he had already, intimately known that precious lesson that eludes so many of us who are searching constantly for the next, best thing.

The best thing, is right now. This very moment. The present is the greatest of gifts.

Again, I project. I don’t mean to, but I do.

I have to make some sense of this senseless loss. I still just don’t understand why he had to go, so quickly.

Chances are, he doesn’t understand either. Life was pretty good for that cat. He lived on the 15th floor, in an ocean view apartment, and ate raw chicken meat, cut into little bite-sized pieces by his loving, doting owners mother.

She did it because we loved him, and he loved her back, and I never would have known why and how I’d ever love a cat as much as I did Miles, and I never would have known how a cat could possibly ever love us the way that he had.

There’s that old saying from Tennyson that comes to mind:

Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

I hate latching onto cliches for the life of me, but this one, I hold onto, with every ounce of strength I’ve squeezed out of the fruit born from my grief.

I do so, because I don’t know if the meanings I’ve made of his loss, are as true as I’ve come to believe.

I don’t know the greater purpose he might have served beforehand, had he had one to begin with. I don’t know whether his “time was up” or he had done what he needed, and left when it was over.

And if I can’t find any solace from asking questions to which I’ll find no definitive answers, then I must look elsewhere to find the peace and comfort I need, now.

I mustn’t keep asking why he had to leave so suddenly. I mustn’t wonder why he had ever come at all.

I must only acknowledge how surprisingly wonderful, refreshing, and joyous it was to have such a lovable cat. I never would have imagined how much he’d mean to me, spanning the entirety of his life, before ever coming to terms with the finality of his death.

That’s the only meaning I can hold onto with the utmost certainty. I can’t afford to wonder what sort of purpose he had to have completed by the time he left us. It is enough to hold onto the pure innocence and goodness he exuded with the life he had actually lived.

It has to be enough, because he was blameless, all throughout.

I couldn’t possibly answer any of the questions that begin with “Why?” Frankly, I don’t really want to.

But I’m happy to return to the question with which my answer is sure.

What was Miles, to me?”

For a season, much like a breeze. At times, sudden and wild; other times, soft and gentle, but almost always, arriving unexpectedly. I couldn’t have predicted that he’d come the way that he came, that he’d leave the way that he went, and that he’d last just long enough for us to know that surely, his sweet caress, no matter how fleeting, we would never, ever forget.

In Memory Of

Day 10, 500 words, 31 days.

Yesterday, I found out that a friend’s father had passed away. His dad had been ill for several years but his death was still sudden for the family.

Today was his memorial service. There was no wake, and his casket remained closed. My friend, a pastor, told us all that this was how his dad would’ve wanted it to be – that we remembered him not as a shell of himself, but when he was still alive and well.

There are some stories I don’t believe I have the right to tell. It is not for me to disclose the personal challenges my friend’s family had to face in caring for his father. Neither am I fit to share how great a man he was, or describe what sort of legacy he had left behind for many.

The truth is, I hardly knew this man. I barely even know my friend – I just met him several months ago after moving here to Penang. I’ve since attended his church service whenever I can and when I do, I would see his father, mother, and sister, seated on the same seats, on the same row, every Sunday.

Many spoke of how full of faith my friend’s father was. It looks as though he remained steadfast in this way, well until the end.

It wasn’t very long ago when I, too, had to give some final words at a memorial service. It was for my grandmother. She passed in November of last year.

Her death felt very sudden for me, though, my family had more time to prepare – however one prepares for such things. For me, it was the shock from having just spoken to her hours before she had gone. She wasn’t able to reply to anything I had said – I only trusted that she knew that I meant every word of it.

Really, part of the pain was in the distance – the removal from all that was good, and hard, in the final years of her life. I had been away several years, seeing my grandmother only ever so often, updating her on whatever was new in my life, without ever being sure how much she actually cared to know. Knowing her, she must have just been glad to see me. She loved me, anyway, and regardless of anything.

In the same way that my friend’s family wanted to honor his father’s memory by urging that we remember him when he was still strong, I too, wanted to hold on to the image of my grandmother as she was before age, and death, finally caught up to her.

The woman I knew lived her entire life, religiously. Yes, she was truly devout in her faith, but it was her dedication to all that she deemed valuable and worthy of time and care that struck me most deeply. She nurtured her garden with the same sort of undivided attention and love as she did her grandchildren. She devoted herself entirely, and unconditionally, to her family as a humble, modest, wife and mother. These were my true memories of her – not those of her bound to a wheelchair, or witnessing her memory fail her, or seeing her have no energy to eat, let alone speak.

To me, she sealed her legacy on this world a long time ago. Her faithfulness just never seemed to waver, long after all the hurt.

I did not know my friend’s father. All I have are a few stories, testimonies of his grace and faithfulness until the end. Someone said it today that we were all there to grieve him because he was so great.

It is true. I know this when I remember having such difficulty getting through my own eulogy for my grandmother. I grieved her wholeheartedly, because I believed we were losing someone whose kindness was unlike any other. Yes, there are other kind people in this world – especially the sort that history loves to revere as its timeless giants. But it matters little unless you felt any of their kindness firsthand. Hers was one that touched me through and through – and this was what felt so hard to lose.

I’ve written this before, and today only reminds me of how true this has since become for me: the gift of grief is in its reminder, that in spite of insufferable loss, we are still, in fact, capable of loving.

Services like today often lead me to reflect upon the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind, and often leaves me admiring those who have died, having left their mark in unforgettable ways. But at some point today, I realized something else – we celebrate a great life, in vain, if we cannot be compelled to lead the lives we have remaining, better than we had before. If we cannot love better, then the love given to us is lost inside of ourselves, only to be held like a private memory, and not like the selfless gift it is meant to be.

Those who have lived long, and loved well, and finally, lost this battle with the life we’re so intimately, maybe desperately, acquainted with, have given us a final gift – that is, to let our love carry us on.