How Do You Start a Funeral?

Innocence is the most enviable quality in children. They are pure and trusting and live every day from an open heart. As parents, we pray the utopian world in which our children live will continue indefinitely. Above all else, we want them to be happy. For eight years my son, Jackson, lived in utopia, filled with friends, cuddly pets, and legos up to his eyeballs.

Then one ordinary day, our most beloved Birman stopped eating. And so began her quiet, six-week decline, from which she would never recover. Multiple vet visits, round the clock eye dropper feedings and homeopathic treatments made no difference. No one could tell us what her mystery illness was. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. We still lost our best girl. She was only two years old.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” Jackson said weeks after, not able to accept something so senseless.

“Love never dies,” I told him, failing to comfort with words that felt hollow. I don’t know which one of us I was trying harder to convince. In our physical world, we want our loved ones close enough to touch, and pet. We want to hear their purrs and coos of happiness. We want to feel their love around us. Something as esoteric as love never dies got lost in translation on an eight-year-old boy and also on his forty-year-old mother.

In typical bereft fashion, I kept asking “Why?” in my nightly prayers.

I have great pain inside me that wasn’t going to come out any other way.

I couldn’t argue with that. Anyone who makes it to their forties has seen their share of pain. And as someone who was never good at expressing emotion, it was no shocker that this was the answer I got. Grief is the great tsunami of emotion. It wipes out all of the debris piled on top of our hearts, leaving hope for better days in its wake.

Our best girl took a part of our happiness with her when she went over that rainbow bridge. And she took a part of Jackson’s innocence too. He no longer believed the world was perfect, painless, carefree. His heart was a bit heavier, not quite as open.

The one shred of goodness I could find in this disaster was the lesson of compassion. Before Kayli’s death, Jackson could not understand another’s misfortune or pain. He had no frame of reference. He most certainly does now. Losing Kayli has given him the depth only loss can give. He can now appreciate the goodness in his life because he has lived through its opposite. It’s a small consolation, but it’s all I’ve got.

“How do you start a funeral?” he asked me when her ashes came back.

“What does your heart tell you?” I asked.

“The Spirit House!” he exclaimed and ran out of the room.

Of all the things we happen to have in our house, we have a Spirit House. It’s a small, ornate wood replica of the great shrines of Burma. It gives shelter to the spirits of our loved ones who have passed on.

“It couldn’t be more perfect,” I said.

We said our prayers and put her ashes, fur and food for her journey into Kayli’s Spirit House. He checks on her every now and then to see if her food bowl needs refilling.

Six months had passed and I was knee deep in research for a book I’m writing.

“Oh, great,” I said to my husband, eyeballs glued to some website on Goddess Worship. “We named our cat after the Hindu Goddess of Death.” I instantly pointed a finger at that being the reason she died.

“No way,” my man of few words replied. He couldn’t quite see the connection.

Upon further reading, I learned that indeed, Kali holds that title but she is also the Goddess of Rebirth. Six months after that, we were finally able to embrace the idea of renewal by welcoming a kitten into our home. It was now my turn for the life lesson. Jackson had mourned and moved through his loss beautifully. He welcomed Rosie with a heart open wide. I, on the other hand, was petrified. I was afraid to love her and to lose her. I had to take pointers from my son on being brave. It is brave to love after loss. The fear is understandable. But if we can find a way to love again, we have learned how to truly live.

I wish with my whole being that I could take it all back and Kayli was still just asleep in her favorite chair. But I can’t, so I’m forced to accept the lesson left behind and go forward with as open a heart as I can manage. I am trusting the passage of time to heal and release the heaviness in my heart, so I can love with abandon once more, just like my son. I can take comfort in knowing that living and loving after such loss so early in life, will give Jackson the gifts of compassion and grace he will know how to call on when he needs them the most.

Yes, now I do believe Love Never Dies.