Farewell to a Friend
A few days before Christmas we had to say good-bye to Rosie. She’d been off her food for a couple of days and when I caught myself begging her to eat a treat, rather than her begging me for treats, my husband and I decided it was time to visit the vet.
The tumour they found in her throat was large and aggressive and so we made the decision that every pet-owner dreads. Rosie was a faithful cat, who’d been skilfully managing us for more than 16 years.
What I loved most about Rosie was that she always had to have the illusion of being in charge. If you lifted her onto the bed, she’d immediately jump off, wait a couple of minutes and then jump onto a side table, and walk across you to her favoured sleeping position. As she got older and struggled to reach my desk she trained me to pick her up and pop her on top of the printer. From here she would navigate to her bed on the corner of my desk and sleep the day away - unless I was on a video call, which was her cue to wake up and participate!
Over the years Rosie has featured in several blog posts. From My Guilty Confession when I came clean about owning a cat with a digital addiction, to a more recent post reflecting on how often we are only brave on the inside. Rosie was certainly one of those cats which can be accurately described as quite a character.
This year I have been greatly influenced by the work of Brene Brown and especially her work around empathy and how it is so different to sympathy. Now please don’t judge me, but I decided that Rosie’s death was the perfect opportunity to turn myself into a lab rat and observe firsthand the difference between being given sympathy about Rosie’s death and being offered empathy. I not only observed the impact of sympathy and empathy from the things others said to me but I also took careful note of the messages I told myself.
The sympathetic responses to Rosie’s death included: “16 years is a good age for a cat”, “At least she didn’t suffer”, “This time of the year is kitten season so you’ll be able to easily get another cat”. None of these made me feel any better; in fact some of them made me want to lash out!
The empathetic responses to Rosie’s death were: “16 years is a really long time to have lived with a cat, you are going to really miss her”, “It is so hard to saying good-bye to faithful friends”, “Of course you’ll be upset upset, she was a big part of your life”. These types of statements were affirming and connecting and whilst some of them caused me to cry (again!) they also helped me accept what had happened and begin to move on.
"Empathy is feeling with people. Sympathy is feeling for them. Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection." - Brene Brown
I also decided to practice gratitude, mainly in the form of self-talk, that most important and frequently overlooked things that humans do. “I’m so grateful that Rosie hadn’t died a year earlier as she was great company in the early days of Weaving Futures when most days I was working from home,” “I’m so grateful that she stopped eating just before we went on holiday because this meant we took her to the vet sooner”, “I’m so grateful that we had the experience of being ‘managed’ by this tiny (she was 2.8kg when she died) dominating cat”.
What we say to others when they are going through tough times is really important. What is also important are the messages we tell ourselves. I am extremely grateful for the work that Brene and her team are doing in helping us all to develop more empathetic responses towards ourselves and others.
Til next time
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