Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Lessons of Loss

Death has touched my my 9-year-old over the last two years. She sat a foot from the coffins of her great aunt and uncle at their double funeral. She watched the cremation service for her grandfather, mourned the loss of a schoolfriend's mother and attended the burial of the kind man at church who had given her his collection of vintage toy cars.

The disappearance of familiar faces baffled, but did not unduly grieve her. She tried and failed to imagine the people she'd known nailed into the wooden boxes. She gathered fragments of memory - her grandpa's flourishing bow when he opened the front door, the ice cream the friend's mother had bought her - and tried and failed to comprehend that they would do these things no more.

But life continued its orderly path without them and she moved serenely onwards with it.

It's taken the disappearance of a small black cat to teach her the reality of loss. Harry was her baby. She'd race upstairs from school to see if he was on her bed and shrill a special signal if he was. She would read her homework books with his head on her knee and lie beside him on the trampoline where he sunbathed. Her duvet is slack and cold without the weight of her sleeping pet. Her bed, once her refuge, is now haunted by his absence.

'Pets,' a woman stacking cat food once told me, 'help children develop.' Ten months after acquiring our kittens I realise she was right, but not in the ways I'd expected. Harry has taught my little girl to grieve. More than that. He has taught her, more vividly than Sunday School preaching, the value of invisible gifts - of dependence, nurture and love - that privileged children take for granted.

For her birthday this month she had craved Hollister tops, Vans shoes and an iPod Touch. Now she would willingly ditch all of them. 'There's only one thing I want for my present,'  she says. 'And that's to cuddle Harry again.'


7 comments:

  1. So sad and so poignant to have learned this lesson at 9 years old. Beautifully written post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had a lump in my throat as I read this. Although I am technically a grown-up, I love my two cats. One of them is the image of Harry. Will you get your daughter another kitten? We have never gone for more than a few weeks without a feline presence in the household.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not a fan of pets, as you know, but I'm not devoid of emotion when someone loses one. I'm so sorry she (and you) are so sad. Hope you all feel better soon X

    ReplyDelete
  4. So sorry you've lost Harry - I hope your daughter gets over the loss of him soon, being able to remember him with fondness. Lovely photograph by the way. x

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh bless her. My first dog died when I was 10 and I wailed for days. It is a sickening feeling. This is one of the reasons I won't get the pet my children are constantly asking for, despite knowing how happy they would be

    ReplyDelete
  6. That was really touching - I had a lot of pets when I was young - and that too is when I had to grapple with the concept of death when each one inevitably died. Pets are invaluable - they teach so much about, empathy, respect and care ...

    ReplyDelete