It’s not often we willingly take on pain and loss. In fact, most of us usually do our best to protect ourselves from it. And when it’s not possible to protect, we like to trick ourselves into believing we won’t have to face the loss by not acknowledging it. Even though there is no true stopping pain and loss in our lives, we certainly try to do our best to make it so, or believe it so (and push the thoughts far out of our mind when they sneak in).
I recently signed up to foster kittens for the SPCA. With the joy, love, and opportunity to contribute, also comes guaranteed loss and heartbreak.
I have been taking care of four beautiful baby kittens for the last two weeks. Mora, Kent, Kirkland, and Daisy. They are hilarious, mischievous, and the sweetest little beings. Four kittens purring and cuddling you at once is an experience that fills my heart with so much joy it overflows.
Before they came into my life I knew giving the kittens back would be hard, but when I thought of fostering I put more emphasis on the time with them and the joy and love. Coming home from their vet appointment last Friday (where they told me they’d be ready to be brought in the Monday morning) I was so overwhelmed with grief and sadness that I couldn’t stop the tears.
In theory it seemed much more acceptable than in practice.
I started hearing myself take these feelings as feedback that I wasn’t strong enough to do it, but thankfully I was able to catch myself and be a voice of reason through the tears. “Of course you can do it, it will just be really hard, painful, and very sad.” What I meant when saying this, and what people often mean with, “I can’t do that” is that they can’t do it without experiencing discomfort, pain, sadness, etc. And when we are programmed to avoid pain and sadness, it makes sense that if something requires pain and sadness, we will tell ourselves we simply cannot do it.
This whole experience has got me thinking about my relationship with pain and loss, and my willingness to have it and feel it (and why or why not to even embrace it).
What do we miss out on and how do we limit ourselves, when we decide that experiencing pain and loss is on the “can’t do” list? How would things be different for us if we embraced it, if we actively went for experiences that no doubt involve pain and loss? If being strong wasn’t about being able to do things without pain, but in fact it was doing things that involved pain? I know I can survive the heartache I will feel when it’s time for these munchkins to start the next part of their journeys. I know I will live through it. It really isn’t a question on being able – it’s a question of being willing to feel all the yucky and painful feelings that will arise without making an evaluation of the experience being bad/wrong or myself being too weak for it.
After coming to grips with the reality that I only had a few days left with my babies, I got an email telling me their siblings tested positive for Panleukopenia and since they were exposed they would now be on a hold – and with me for longer. I was happy to have more time with them, but so worried about their health. Panleukopenia is highly contagious (especially with littermates) and has a 90% fatality rate. My worry about losing them moved to a whole other level after this news. I was so scared they would die, and I’d worry every night I’d come down to find them sick or dead in the morning. The thoughts broke me down into a sobbing mess. It’s been such a rollercoaster of worry, relief, sadness, joy, and overwhelming love that I feel with these kittens every day.
The possibility of them getting sick still tears me apart, but I was able to find some peace with acknowledging that even if they were to get this virus and die, I will know that I gave them the best life I could have. That they were loved with all my heart, had the best care, and had loads of fun. Thinking of what I can do and why it’s still so worth it, despite any outcome, allows me to breathe just a little easier.
Today I dropped off these sweet babies and my heart is aching with pain. I could hardly get out the words to tell the workers at the SPCA who I was dropping off because I was choking back so many tears. They are still healthy and thankfully seem to be out of the woods for catching the virus. I’m so grateful to be losing them in this way. They are going to have their surgeries tomorrow and then be put up for adoption. I miss them terribly. I know their forever families will be so happy with them and I hope they have the best lives they possibly can. I will always cherish our time together and they will always hold a place in my heart.
Sometimes we are brave enough to risk the chance of pain and loss; otherwise, we really wouldn’t have much in our lives. But often to take those risks we want to make sure it’s quite likely that pain won’t happen. Or we try to limit ourselves, holding back and not getting “too attached” until we “know for sure”. On the other hand; to go all in when the pain and loss is not only possible, but guaranteed, seems like another story. Fostering has opened my eyes to this story. And though it’s a tear jerker, it’s well worth the read.
This is so hard, harder than I even imagined, but it’s the kind of hard that I want in my life. Because without the hard, I couldn’t have had all the joy and love. I hope to keep fostering, and giving love to others who need me, for as long as they need me.
Through this process I have discovered on a whole new level the kind of person I truly want to be. How I want to love and connect and contribute. To love without ownership. To love without needing to hold on. To love without limits, despite knowing our time is limited. To make room in my heart for more relationships than will fit in my life.
I want to be someone who willingly breaks my heart wide open; who actively seeks opportunities to connect and love, unrestricted by fear or outcomes, and faces the pain and loss that will come with that bravely and authentically.
As I sit here tonight with a heavy heart, missing the kitten cuddles I grew accustomed to, I’m committing. Committing to living with a broken heart. Committing to living a life where I keep breaking my heart open, trusting that it will keep beating, and discovering whether it might even beat harder.