Vale, Bucket, the Biggest Bucket of Love We’ve Known

Image-15These posts are never easy to write, but I need to write them. Although our animal’s lives cannot ever be adequately summarised, I still feel the need to write each pet’s eulogy, to try just a tiny bit, to honour what they gave us in life, and to honour the grief we feel. This one is for our cat Bucket, who passed away last week from a swift and aggressive illness, the cause of which heartbreakingly remains unknown. The unanswered questions about his death–and I have many–haunt me, but this piece is not about Bucket’s death, but his wonderful life.

Bucket was named such because from the moment I picked him up–a skinny, horribly flea-infested, unwanted kitten that was being all but given away on a cold morning in Kingaroy (his price was a mere $3) he proved himself to be the biggest bucket of love I’ve ever met in a cat. He was one of three, all brothers, and my hubby and I were torn as to whether to take one kitten or all three. We started by picking up each one, to get a vibe. The first one struggled to be put down, so we put him down. The second one pushed us away, so we let him go. The third one practically crawled up our arms and clung on for dear life. Take me home, right now! So we did. I took him to the bedroom and closed the door and sat down in the corner of the room to give him some space to investigate his new home. He didn’t want space, though, he wanted me. He climbed right back into my lap and made no efforts to leave.

Being utterly infested with fleas, I had to go to the local vet to see what to do. At his tender age, the only thing I could do was give him a medicated bath. He didn’t like that one bit, and I had to do it multiple times before all those awful fleas were gone, but finally he was relieved of them. We lived in a rural location at the time, on six acres, surrounded by other acreages. We already had another cat (Jasmine), two dogs, and three horses. He was my first kitten in ten years and I had forgotten how absolutely delightful kittens were. Pure joy. (Except for the amount of times he climbed up my legs! I wore nothing but jeans for a year to protect myself.)

Bucket’s first love was cuddling, but he didn’t just receive hugs, he actively hugged back.

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His second love was mischief. At these times, our ‘bucket of love’ became a ‘bucket of trouble’. He loved the dogs, love being very much a verb, an action. He would sneak up behind them and grab onto their tails, swinging off them in a rollicking jaunt while they ran around trying to dislodge him. He would come out to the lawn with us while we threw tennis balls for the retrievers. He raced them down the hill and always got to the ball first, but as he couldn’t pick it up in his mouth, he let them pick it up and then he raced them back up the hill, where we got the ball back and threw it again and the game would start anew. When he was still less than a year old, my stepmother visited us with her poodle puppy, and Bucket and Cocoa spent an hour chasing each other up and down the hallway before locking onto each other, somersaulting over one another, wrestling enthusiastically until they both collapsed, panting with exhaustion and happiness.

These days, all our cats are one hundred per cent indoor cats, but back when Bucket was younger, he got some time to range outside on the property during the day. We started to rethink this idea when two days in a row he discovered a baby hare, killed it and brought it back into the house, happily devouring its intestines. Not long after that, our third cat Sapphy, a stray who walked in off the street not long after Bucket arrived, was bitten by a brown snake and spent a week in hospital, and we closed the door to outdoor excursions.

Because we have so many animals, it’s difficult for us to go away, but on the odd occasion it’s happened, we’ve had to have house sitters come to look after our furry family, and everyone reported that Bucket struggled with our absence the most. He was a cat who needed his cuddles.

He was a generous soul, and over his life with us he accepted into the home two more dogs, four more cats and a human baby with maturity and grace. He was one of those magnanimous animals, with love to spare for all. He was our biggest cat (part Manx, was always my suspicion)–very long from nose to tail, a hefty seven kilos at his peak, a ball of muscle beneath all that soft fur, the kind of cat you could sling over your shoulder, fireman style–with a huge heart inside.

For ten years, he was our most loving, affectionate, cuddly boy, a ginormous bucket of love. He’s gone too soon and we miss him terribly, but we know we were so blessed to have had him in our home and life. I am proud to say he had a good life, a really good one. He gave joy and he received it and I know he knew he was loved hard till the very end.

His ashes will be back soon, and he will go in the garden next to Daisy, his most favourite canine friend.

Grieving the loss of a dog, and how I learned to help myself and others

daisy hanging about

There are seriously so many photos I could show you of Daisy, but this one does capture her joyful-seeking nature so well, just hanging about in the sunshine, next to the blooming lavender she so loved to roll in, maybe thinking about the twelve pancakes she just stole from the kitchen bench, her eye probably on a pile of manure she’d like to tuck into next. A clown, through and through.

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I usually write something whenever we lose an animal, but Daisy’s loss (on February 10) was so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t do it. But this post is not just about Daisy, it’s about dealing with grief for an animal that has been as much, if not more, a part of the family as any human, and it’s about supporting others during times of loss too.

In our society, there is a culture of not valuing animals as much as we value humans. The laws of our country consider them to be ‘property’. There are ‘minimum standards’ of animal care in our legislation but these are, in my opinion, not nearly adequate enough as they don’t even begin to take into consideration an animal’s emotional welfare (boredom, loneliness, despair, fear). Indeed, many people still believe animals don’t even have emotions. It’s little wonder then that we don’t have recognised grief pathways when one of our four-legged loved ones dies.

We have a lot of animals, so we’re always going to lose a lot (something that distresses me every time we do lose one and I realise I will have to endure this pain over and over). But there is also truth in the fact that not every loss is the same, just as not every human loss will impact us in the same way. For me, there has never been an animal that would break me down (and open) as much as Daisy’s loss.

So what do we do?

In the depths of my crippling pain, I found comfort in the book Buddhism for Pet Lovers, by David Michie, largely because it gave me very practical steps on what to DO after the loss of Daisy. In Buddhist philosophy, when any living creature dies, their soul goes to the bardo (the space between lives) for up to seven weeks, and during this time you can influence the future life of your loved one. This is not dissimilar to the Catholic tradition of saying prayers for the deceased. There were specific things I could do: dedicating actions of merit to Daisy’s fortunate rebirth; donating to charitable organisations; saying mantras; meditating; and holding her close mentally and emotionally, continuously sending energy of good fortune.

Out of the blue, my writer friend Kim Wilkins (aka Kimberley Freeman), made a donation to the RSPCA on Daisy’s behalf and when the notification came to me it meant so much to know it wasn’t just me holding this vigil for Daisy. Support often comes from the outer reaches of our circles, I’ve noticed. Of course, my mother was holding great thoughts for Daisy (her granddog) and some friends too. There were several friends who held long conversations (in person or online) with me, who knew the pain and could validate it. These conversations were so necessary, taken with time and care, and never with a hint of hurrying me on. All of them turned up at just the right time and I’m so grateful for their care.

Recently, two of my friends have lost animals and I’ve done the same for them, making donations in their name. I now have an action plan for myself and for my friends in the future. So here it is. This is how I will support my friends when they lose a treasured animal friend.

  • I will make a donation to an animal charity in their name.
  • I will send them a bereavement card, just as I would with the loss of a human.
  • I will light a candle for their animal and I will say a prayer/mantra for them to move through the spiritual realm with ease and find only good fortune on the other side.
  • I will dedicate good works of merit to their animal’s name for the same reasons.
  • I will offer support and I will listen, allowing as much time and space as is needed to grieve.

Perhaps this list may help you too, if you have recently lost a furry friend or you know someone who has. Rituals are the guide maps through the big moments of our life. By embracing some of these, we might be able to start to navigate our way through the long, dark night of the soul after our best friend is gone.

We had Daisy cremated. She currently resides in the back of the wardrobe because on the day her ashes came back I simply couldn’t face them. But I have been building a garden, slowly, and it is nearly ready for her plaque to go out there. Daisy was such a huge fan of lying in the sun in the garden. I’m sure she’d approve.