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May 12, 2023

Releasing Emotions: A Lesson in Life I Learned From My Cat

It started with the discovery of a flurry of feathers.  The fluffy grey tufts were so small, no bigger than dimes, and tossed throughout my bedroom floor like deflated party balloons long abandoned after a party.

Moths, geckos, and grasshoppers had thankfully been my only gifts from Tino these last couple of years.  I don’t take these spoils away from her immediately, but rather, I try to be a good cat mom, praising her hunter skills and recognizing her gift-giving nature.

However, if there’s a moment of possible escape for her prey, I try to save each little life, reptilian or powder-winged, even if it means a paw slap and a sour emerald stink-eye from my pretty little cat when I do.

But the feathers.

This was next-level horror.  Eventually, I found the remains of the poor thing. Battered, but not bloody, and definitely dead lying limp in the back of my closet.  She’d killed it while I was away, a detail of the scene that brought up mixed emotions for me.

On the one hand, I was proud of Tino. She’d been hunting the ground-grazing birds for months, eyeing them from my porch, then stalking tiger-like through the grass, her black and white spotted fur not at all camouflaged on the straight, bright green grass.  Every single bird saw her coming, no matter how low she crouched.

I was also kind of touched.  Her first bird kill she’d brought to me, gifted and tucked away in my room. What a treasure.  I felt important! She really loved me!

Guilt also accompanied this discovery because I hadn’t been home for the initial showcasing of her lifeless trophy.  Kind of like how parents must feel if they miss their kid’s ballgame, and their kid hits a home run.  I felt bad I wasn’t there to shower Tino with praise and affection for her triumph.

But the bird.  The poor little thing.  I scooped it up in a paper towel and eyed its delicate features.  So much intricate detail in its grey coloring, spackled and lined in blacks and whites.  Even if its eyes were vacant, the feathering around its tiny head and beak was mesmerizing.  Its fragile bones and wings, so light.

I wrapped it in the paper towel, gave its departed soul some Reiki love, and searched for my garden shovel.

My back porch doubles as a raised deck, looking out over shrubbery, trees, and flowering plants –  Tino’s kingdom and her hunting grounds.   I chose a spot near a tree and dug the first hole I have dug for a dead animal in decades.  Plucking a purple flower from a nearby plant, I placed the dead bird carefully in the hole and filled the hole up with dirt.  Tino crouched close by, her green eyes shining and alert, watching every move I made with her kill.

A few days later, I awoke to something bashing and thumping in my room. It was 6 am, and the morning light was just starting to percolate through the house.  Peering over the side of the bed, there she was: my white kitty perched like the Sphinx, her black tail twitching, her eyes gazing straight ahead.  Just beyond her, motionless, was a fresh kill.

This new victim made me sad.  The body was still warm.  I wrapped it and set it high in a houseplant, out of Tino’s reach, and waited to be sure the soft bird was actually dead, and not traumatized into a coma or something.   When I was sure there would be no more fluttering or frantic chirps, I buried it.

Days later again, Tino’s third bird was brought to my room, carried jubilantly in the jaws of my murdering kitty.

Distraught, I didn’t praise her, but nor did I scold her.   I calmly removed the bird, admired its tininess, and proceeded with the paper-towel wrapping, flower-placing, Reiki-giving, hole-digging routine I now had down.  Moving along the shrubbery, passing graves #1 and #2, I dug grave #3.

I don’t know how I feel about all this killing and burying, praising and admiring, allowing some deaths, saving others.  The mix of emotions is confusing.

Sometimes I wonder how to move gracefully from one emotion to the next. Shock, pride, joy, love, guilt, remorse, sadness, gratitude – each spiraling out and back again.  The confusing cocktail of emotions that one sole event arouses.

And not just our pets and the animals they kill, but any event that ramrods our life.  The balance of emotions can be trying.

How we can feel devastated over a breakup or loss, but at the same time lean into feelings of relief, refreshing opportunity, and maybe even grateful freedom?

It’s moving through the emotions I want to get a stronger handle on. The “catch and release” approach helps me feel emotions, then let the emotions go.

Tino caught and killed. She did not catch and release like many skilled hunters I know.  She caught, killed, and hid her birds in the back of the dark closed closet.

What would become of us if we locked our jaws tight onto every emotion we caught, then hid them in the back of the closet?

Learning how to “catch and release” comes into play when emotions of every tint on the rainbow shoot through us all at once.  Learning how to transition consciously from one emotion to the next is what will enable us to grow as humans.

If grief is more than an emotion, but something we will always carry with us, then at what point does grief and sorrow for what was lost then butterfly into grief and gratitude for what we had?

We easily embody all the good feels that light us up with the joy they bring. But those hard feels though, man, can they sink us with their heaviness.

Why a graveyard of 3 little birds spins me into these deep-space thoughts I am not sure. I blame it on how peaceful my back porch is which allows my mind to drift past the horizon, and dig deep into the emotions Tino roused with her hard-won, long-practiced gifts of success, given in love, pride, and affection.  Followed by the sad burials I had to endure because of her gifts.

While burying the birds, and placing fragile purple flowers by their heads in the dirt, it was hard to feel joy in Tino’s victories.

She didn’t even eat them. My mother’s cats would catch and eat gophers they discovered in the backyard – skull and all.  At least there was purpose in the kill.

I have a feeling that some animal of the night dug the birds up not long after I buried them, which hopefully meant their death served more purpose than boosting Tino’s ego.  But I’m not going to sleuth too deeply into this and leave whatever next happens to dead things up to nature.

Rather, I’ll linger on the scope of feelings her triple kill left me with. It’s good practice for me to give each of the emotions riled up from this experience their due space.  Feel pride for my pet’s skills, gratitude for her affection, and love that bloomed knowing she gifted me her best.

But also feel the sorrow for the death of these unfortunate birds.  I’ll catch each of these emotions in the moment.

But, unlike Tino, I’ll learn to release.

~ Christy

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Christy Nichols  |  Contribution: 11,645