What my pet cat Jillu taught me in her short life
Jillu has the purest, most loving heart I have known any human or animal to possess. She had an unassuming but really caring presence. She would often sleep and wake up next to me. During the lockdown, the chair next to me was occupied by her as I worked. I would pet her often. Her purrs and rubs and demands made me feel loved and important.
In the days since her death, I often thought of what was the hardest about losing her. Yes, thoughts of having prevented it somehow took up a lot of space initially, but I did accept later that we did the best we could. What has stayed however, is the absence of how her presence used to make me feel. She was with me for seven years and has seen me in my formative growth curve. It feels like a part of me is gone.
Newer ideas on grief counseling suggest that more important than letting go is the idea of the healthy role of maintaining continued symbolic bonds with the deceased. Two other important ideas are the implications of loss on the mourner’s self identity and the possibility of post-traumatic growth as one integrates the lessons of loss.
Therefore, I am outlining some very important things she taught me because of the way she was present with me:
Love should not come at the cost of who you are: No matter how much she loved me and my family, she would simply not co-operate or actively guard her boundaries if we we’re petting her when she did not want it. At the same time, she did not compromise on who she was. She did not become social with guests just because we wanted her to. She was able to love us without changing herself. She wants me to remember how I felt around her, whenever I think of what I should do in a particular situation — whether to maintain a relationship or let it go.
We always have more than one relationship with important beings: Jillu was my pet, my companion, but she was also my daughter, my mother, my caregiver, my friend and my confidante. She taught me that important relationships are never singular and linear. They are a cyclical multiplicity. And when we lose someone like this, its more than one relationship that we lose.
Being fierce and being loving can co-exist: Like every other female-bodied out there, I’ve struggled with being loving with closed ones without losing a sense of who I am. Jillu was known to us to be fiercely independent and getting her wishes fulfilled but also really loving at the same time. Even those of us in a very traditional household could accept this dichotomy without getting scared of it. When she passed, people like my dad too shed tears — those who have cried maybe once or twice before in their entire life.
It’s okay to ask for love: In this world, we are so scared of being needy. We are badgered with the idea that needing something is weak and bad and we are all supposed to be individual islands functioning all by themselves. Jillu however had no shame in asking for love. The loud purs, the rubbing and sitting on our laps, the loud and obvious kneading, the gentle squinting of her eyes and her play-time bites are all proof that she saw love as a strength. Had she not, we might not have experienced the closeness we did with her. She was also completely accepting of the people she loved. She never judged me for my emotions or way of life. She did not claim I was too much and abandon me. She was just there, her quiet, homely, friendly and comforting presence.
Remembering that we are not always in control: We were not looking to adopt cats when we got them. It just happened. Her original name was Fem but it was Jillu that stuck. Nur was lost and injured for five days and he still made it. We rescued Jillu immediately after the fight with the street cat and got her medical attention, and she started to get better too, before suddenly deteriorating and passing away. So, while we try what we can, she was also a reminder of the fact that some causes, conditions are also beyond our control, and we need to work on accepting and integrating them.
Try everything: Jillu was way more adventurous than my other cat Nur is. She would smell all the food we offered her and eat at least a little bit of almost everything. She would also study visitors with a keen eye and inspect the building compound closely when we went down for walks. She would spend time near the plants and eat a new leaf everyday. She believed in trying everything and will always be a reminder to me to not hesitate from new things.
Happiness will visit me again: Two days after she passed away, I was walking in our familiar spots and I was sorely missing her, when I felt like she visited me. She told me, “I was magnificent, so missing me is natural. But if I could find my way to you all the way from Turkey and spend seven years with you, this companionship was written. And more such things are written. Give yourself permission for things that you are holding back on. Happiness will come to you again.” And it is since this evening that I feel better. I miss her but fondly.
It will take time to not feel the gap of where her cute little self used to be, when I sleep, wake up or just do my things. My friends will miss her presence in video calls and everyone will miss her antics and cuteness that would be memorized in photos and videos. But, learning to live with her lessons, how she made me feel and her acceptance and love of my full self are some things i will always cherish.