Grief is one of the most painful emotions to feel… no wonder so many people do their best to avoid feeling it. It can come and go, and it takes as long as it takes to process. It’s not one that we can hurry up.
Today I want to let you know through personal experience, how incredibly helpful EFT can be, to resolve some of the deep sorrow.
The start of our journey with Emma Cat
We lived in a townhouse complex in Rivonia, South Africa with our Jack that we took in from a friend who relocated to Australia. We walked Jack every day, and in 2010 an adorable black cat just opposite our unit started to come and say hello every time we passed.
She was sometimes on the big communal lawn, and sometimes up on the wall of her own people’s property. She’d come rushing down the wall, with a few miaows, when she spotted us. Andrew started playing games with her on the lawn — like pulling along sticks that she could catch. We became very fond of her.
And then one day, she decided it was time to move in with us. Oh, dear. We tried giving her back to her people time and time again. They came to fetch her, locked her in their house for 3 days at a time — and as soon as they let her out again, she found her way back to us. They had 4 doggies and a new kitten, and we suspected it was getting a bit crowded for her nature.
Guilt and Clarity
In May 2013, I had my book launch (for No Problem. The Upside of Saying No) in Cape Town. At this stage, it was still a very blurry picture about whose cat she really was. We packed for 10 days, closed windows, locked our house and switched on the alarm — as one does in South Africa.
I had a sick feeling in my stomach every time I thought of her. On our return, I went to Emma’s owners and asked about her. I was mortified — they had not seen her in 2 weeks! I went searching in the communal garden and found a hungry, dusty kitty. She ran to the house with me, and had a full bowl of food and lots of water right there.
Of course — I felt awful. I cried big tears and felt horrible that we never even considered she might not go back to her ‘own’ house for food and water during our absence.
It was finally clear… Emma had chosen us.
Both us and our neighbours had to make peace with that. They were sad, we were happy and guilty at the same time… and Jack had a new little companion. I felt so much better every time I had to go somewhere for a few hours. Emma was not afraid of dogs, Jack grew up with cats and did not chase her.
The next Phase
Jack got very sick in 2014. Eventually we discovered he had liver disease. During those ill years, Emma truly was a great comfort to us and Jack. She often lay right next to him on his bed when he was unwell. On the last day of his life, she was right there next to him in our garden. When we came home from the vet after he crossed the Rainbow Bridge, she was behind the front door, welcoming us home with her sweet miaows and purrs.
Then, we decided to move to the UK in 2017. On the one hand it was an exciting adventure… and yet, my heart almost couldn’t take what I had to do. To leave my aging parents, my sister and her family, all my friends, and my whole life was painful. But to decide what to do with my adorable Emma cat, was another level of pain and grief that I can almost not describe.
She was an anxious cat — noise freaked her out. She was already 12 years old, with arthritis. So taking her to a cold, wet country, on a noisy airplane, was not a great option. We spoke to many vets and friends who took their cats on international moves and none of them recommended moving her. Also — the original plan was for us to fly back to SA every 8–12 weeks (Andrew still had a business in SA). What were we going to do with our beautiful cat, who was used to garden-living, in a tiny flat in London, when we went away so often?
My heart was broken when we realised that all the factors pointed to us having to find her another home. I almost couldn’t stand the pain. She had completely opened my heart over the course of the few years she was with us. I’d learned to feel a love for her that I have never felt for anyone or anything else. To leave her was unthinkable.
I cried buckets as we mulled over the options. The grief and the loss I already felt, months before we were due to leave, took a toll on my health. It felt too painful to face at the time. There was so much on my plate to move to another country and hemisphere. I didn’t take the time to properly process my anticipatory grief.
A new Home
We found someone we trusted a few months before we were meant to leave. It nearly broke my spirit when that plan fell through 2 days before we were meant to take her to that new home!
I had to write a Facebook post with a desperate cry for help to find Emma a good home on such short notice. We felt massively relieved when a friend of Andrew’s, from his hockey team 20 years before, offered our Emma a loving home. I was so grateful, yet also besides myself from the pain, loss and feeling like I was abandoning her (alongside everything else I was leaving in SA).
It was one of the most painful days in my life, the day we took her to her new home. I can understand that people can die from broken heart syndrome.
We took her there on a Sunday and spent a few hours settling her in. We had the help of an animal communicator. She guided us with things like crystals, leaving some of our clothes with our smell on them, her favourite blanket, her own bowls. She also shared tips to settle her with a new kitty sister. I visited her a few times in the next 2 weeks, so it wasn’t a complete cut-off. It was painful every time I left again — thought slightly easier because I could see she was eating well, getting along a bit better with their other rescue cat, and had loving people around her.
My feeling of responsibility for her was enormous, and I found many things to feel guilty about.
- “What if this was not the perfect home?”
- “What if she and the other cat never get along?”
- “What if her new people didn’t look after her as well as I would?”
- “What if they missed something in her health?”
- “What if ….”
On and on my mind went. Guilt and grief were intertwined, making it a horribly painful time for me, with a stomach ulcer and weight loss as an added bonus.
Thankfully, she settled in well. She and the other kitty tolerated each other, and when there was a thunderstorm or New Year fireworks, both cats and both dogs huddled together till the danger passed.
We kept in touch with Emma’s new family regularly over the 4.5 years. I bought her food and meds every month. Whenever we visited SA, we made an extra trip to go and see her and her new family.
Every visit brought a mixture of emotions … We were grateful to see she was happy and healthy, yet sore to realise she didn’t come running when we arrived. Of course — I’d wanted her to move on from us and feel at home with her new family. But oh, the sore heart because we had to leave her with someone else. My heart hurt with every visit.
Suppressing and Getting Help
Even though I work with EFT, sadly I made the same mistakes that everyone usually makes.
One: I did not get enough timely help for all this pent-up, painful emotion.
My animal communicator friend asked sometimes whether I talked to her from afar… and every time with big guilt, I replied that mostly I couldn’t bear it. It hurt too much to think of her. I sometimes could, and enjoyed those but often I would just fill my mind with something else to keep the guilt and suffering away. I regret this now. Hindsight and all that.
Two: We think once we get in touch with the grief, it would be too painful, and we’d get completely sucked into a deep pit of pain and grief, never to surface again.
Both, I can tell you from experience, now, are untrue and unnecessary.
I did get bits of help over the past 4.5 years. At the end of 2020, I attended a 3-month grief course (with EFT). The pandemic highlighted to me all the loss and subsequent grief, and I wanted to feel fully equipped for clients in deep grief.
During that course, we had the opportunity to process some of our own losses. Emma came up in many a session… there were many layers.
A dear friend and colleague also offered me a session or two to process some of the confusing feelings around giving her away, and what it meant.
I can tell you this is not a topic to tackle by oneself.
Those safe containers made it possible for me to even approach the topic, because there was another human being with me, holding me gently and calmly. Opening very painful boxes when we’re by ourselves is not recommended.
Thank you for reading this far. Soon, the final chapter in our sweet Emma’s life, with tips, and things I’ve learned from my painful grief journey.