Once upon a nightmare ...

Two months ago, I had a horrible nightmare, twisting the beautiful relationship Bear and I share into sadness and pain. However, with time, the devastation of the experience spun into the unlikely and unexpected gifts of healing and acceptance. Today's post shares my path from the grief resulting from the nightmare to a place of peace and the ability to move forward with my life.




I wake with a jolting start; I feel as if lightning struck me in bed. Awake. Bear. I quickly look around - he's not here. That's strange: Bear's with me when I go to sleep and when I wake up! Oh. The reality hits me like another bolt of lightning - this time searing my soul. Bear's been gone for months; I can only see and feel him in my dreams. Or nightmares. 

Yes, I see the familiar furnishings of my bedroom, which confirms the last stretch of my memory wasn't real. My heart aches as it races - beating out of my chest. My face feels damp and sticky: sweat and tears. Again. Another nightmare, just like every night since I released Bear from his pain and mine began.




Nightmares.

The nightmares aren't new. Once living on my own, they became nightly occurrences. I'd wake up with bruised toes, legs and arms, never knowing why. It wasn't until these hell-on-earth experiences stopped that I realized I thrashed so violently during my nightmares, I kicked and punched the wall and anything within reach. Paradoxically, the bruises on my body showed the scars of those battles long after they passed. But the terror existed in my mind, and the thrashing was my effort to escape or outrun it.

Bear put an end to those horrible nighttime terrors, though not immediately, and not without being thrown from my back numerous times. I had a nightmare - Bear climbed on my back and purred. The ordeal slowly evaporated as he laid on me and purred: it wasn't real! His weight and vibration comforted me and grounded me. I was safe. 

He didn't care how many times he flew off; he climbed on my back time and time again as long as it took, purring. With his presence, he let me know I wasn't alone and I was safe. He stood guard to protect me as I slept: poised to fight external threats to me as well as internal.




My fifteen years with Bear.

During my fifteen years with Bear, my life transformed: no more panic attacks, no more nightmares, no more loneliness, finally acceptance, love, devotion - even peace. Healing. Being thrown back in the fire was something I never anticipated. I thought I'd mastered the terror lurking in my soul. 

For years, I did the mental math of Bear's time with me. "Bear's three. I have twelve years left - give or take." "Bear's TWELVE! THREE MORE YEARS!" In later years, contemplating life without him was sure to provoke a massive panic attack, nearly impossible to overcome. None of my management and relief techniques worked on these monster panic attacks. I could not fathom my life without Bear.

For fifteen years - Bear was every breath I took. Every laugh, every frustration and my capacity to love all reflected Bear. Despite my rational mind, I knew our hearts connected. Our hearts beat as one - with each of us sensing what the other needed. And each of us KNOWING we are safe. 

For the first time in my life, I felt loved and worthwhile without giving until I had nothing left, people-pleasing or even trying. He loved me, and I got the memo with every expression on his face, deed and impression. The size and depth of his heart and his love ensured I would love him back. 

And then came the icing on the cake: his larger-than-life personality. If Bear misbehaved, it would be all out, with nothing to lose. With his behavior, he intended to end any discussion once and for all.




How Bear and I met.

I found Bear outside my front door as I carried in groceries. He seemed to want something - but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what. When I approached him with food, he hid under the deck among the dead leaves. From where had this kitten come?! Why was he so terrified? Why did something about him seem so familiar? 

The first day, I put treats on the border stones and went back inside. When I checked on my offering of treats five minutes later, the treats were gone, and the kitten was still staring at me from underneath the deck. We repeated this a couple more times, and then the kitten disappeared.

Later that week, the kitten was at our front door every morning when my ex-husband left for work. The kitten must've heard our door open and run out from under the deck. The first time this happened - he let me pet him. I set out wet food - but the kitten rolled on his back as if he wanted me to rub his belly. I'd fallen for that enough with my other cat. No thanks! 

Then he wrapped his arms around my arm and pulled my hand to his belly. Seeing that belly laid out right in front of me is likely the earthly version of approaching the pearly gates of heaven. I felt excited, a bit scared and unsure - but with a sense that I belonged to this time and place and things would be okay. I belonged - my presence was welcome and without fault.


So I gave in - tentatively at first. I rubbed Bear's striped belly a couple of times and went back to scratching his ears. Those striped arms wrapped around my arm again and pulled my hand back to his belly.


Did I have good things in my life before Bear? Yes. Absolutely. But they seemed to be given and taken arbitrarily - without rhyme or reason. Taken no matter how good I was, no matter how much of myself I gave for others and no matter how well I obeyed or how well I did in school. Being the best I could be, giving everything I had, and following instructions, no matter how crazy, never spared me being on the receiving end of a hit, a kick or a terror-provoking invective. I froze to protect myself. If I didn't move or fight back, he might forget I was there. So I lived my life quietly, within narrow limits, hiding in plain sight and praying to be ignored.



Back to this nightmare.

As dreams and nightmares go, the beginnings are often blurred or forgotten with the emotional salience of the rest of the experience. I chased Bear around outside. How did he get outside? How did I find out he was outside? The answers and the complete story elude me. 

I ran one way - and another - trying to catch him: as we did in real life. I forgot he was dead. Bear darted around as he did years ago when he escaped outside just for me to chase him (if I stopped chasing him, he'd eventually come back inside after taking his sweet time nosing around). I can't remember how I caught him in my dream - only that I did. I was so happy to have him back. I smelled his Bear scent, gave him belly rubs and relaxed into peaceful happiness.


As I got to our front door, I realized that he'd be dead again if I brought him inside. However, I could let him go outside to run free - and be alive. I immediately knew that I'd give anything for him to be alive - even if it weren't with me. Not one cell in my body was selfish. I woke up mourning him anew. I woke up without him. In this case, real life was even worse than the nightmare. I felt shaken, upset and confused.



The realization.

A day later, the meaning of the "nightmare" hit me like a truck. I didn't hesitate to choose Bear running free over being dead inside our house with me. I chose life, freedom and health for him during the [what I now saw as a gift] dream. I affirmed that he was better off free from pain, free from age - even if it meant he wasn't by my side. In my dream, I chose to let him run free. I didn't need a second to decide; there was no second-guessing.

Even more bizarre, this dream happened the night after our post [Missing Bear] about how badly I miss Bear and how hard it is for me to accept that he's gone. While I still feel some element of shock at Bear's death - this dream signified me accepting his death. I still prefer to have him by my side, but I'm no longer fighting the reality, and I've found a measure of peace.


Maybe Bear showed me [in my dream] that mourning him was missing the point. Yes, he'd love to cuddle with me and be by my side. But his body was tired. And Bear knew he helped me to the point where I'd survive losing him. And he did. Bear made me laugh, he made me cry, he taught me about courage, he taught me about love and, above all, he taught me that I deserve love and happiness. In the beginning, he loved me, and that was final. I didn't have a choice. And as uncomfortable as it made me at times - it also changed my life in ways I never could've imagined.


Even more, with Bear's help, I re-entered the world I'd hidden from for so long. I learned to take one step - and then another. Before long, I was further than I'd ever expected or thought possible. I learned not to take every moment so seriously. 

Bear gave me the courage to blog about our shared life. To venture forth and believe that someone might be interested in what I say and our stories. And I met my fiance through the stories I tell. Bear helped me be ready to accept my fiance's love and not lose myself in deference to another to be loved.



A new reality.

No. There will never be another Bear. As a good friend pointed out, why would I WANT another relationship like I had with Bear? Our relationship was so beautiful, so remarkable, so EVERYTHING - that I wouldn't want to share the same thing with another cat. That kind of relationship belongs to us and continues to connect us for all time. 



My reality is not a brave new world - but a world I was thrust into without any choice. A world that I begrudging accept and make the best of so that Bear, the cat I love more than any other, can retire to his tasty whole chicken farm [and chase torties and other flightless birds - meanwhile causing all the trouble he excelled at in real life]. I move forward in my life without a safety net. 

For fifteen years, as long as I had Bear, everything was okay. I didn't need to rely on friends or family. Bear filled those spaces with extra love to share. Today, I feel vulnerable and scared. I lost my safety net, my sense of home - and, it seems, my heartbeat and ability to breathe. 

But my life is good - I am otherwise blessed - and I won't take that for granted. Bear gave his life for mine; the best way to honor him is to continue living [and not just surviving] as best as I can. He's still with me, and he lives on in my work and how I live my life. Thank you, Bear. Every day we shared, you were better than I deserved, and I continue to fight to live up to your love and the faith you placed in me.


Holding my new kitten Latte is a humbling experience. Her four-pound body is so precious and so fragile. When she looks at me with "those eyes," I'm scared by the trust and love she puts in me. I was that fragile once. I was that trusting and that innocent. I know the blissful ignorance of possessing that state of vulnerability - and the devastation and brokenness when betrayed. 

When the pain starts at thinking how fragile her little life is, I know I will do everything in my power so that Latte dies knowing she is loved and her love and trust were well-placed. I did the same for Bear: I fulfilled that promise every day for fifteen years. The recognition that I didn't take advantage of or take for granted that state is a gift that dulls some of the sharp edges of my grief over losing him. Seeing that I accept the trust placed in me and make choices so drastically different from my parents heals my brokenness and makes me stronger than before.


NOTE: Please do not take this as an endorsement of allowing cats to run free outside - that's dangerous and something I'd never condone.

© 2021 Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat - Published by K. Kern. 
All text, pictures, images, and other content are original and copyright by Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat [K. Kern], 2015-2021. No content on Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat may be used without the owner's [K. Kern] written permission. If you see this post posted on a site that isn't Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat, please contact cats@mommakatandherbearcat.com. 


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31 comments

  1. "Every day we shared, you were better than I deserved, and I continue to fight to live up to your love and the faith you placed in me." Kat, you must not believe that Bear was better than you deserved. You had a relationship that was perfect for both of you, and you were destined to be together and love and cherish each other from that very first encounter. Of course, this post made me cry as I read your words and looked at all those beautiful photos of dear Bear. But I know he is still looking over you and will guide you as you and Latte get to know each other and develop the bond of love you both deserve as well. Sending you lots of love and warm hugs, Janet

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    1. As he would say, I need LOTS of guidance! He'd say that without him I'd be lost - and that's pretty much true - though I'm finding my way :)

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  2. This post is so tender and hopeful. Sharing Bear’s love for you and your love for him gives me great peace.

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    1. It was so hard to write - but Latte gave me a new perspective and hope.

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  3. Sweet Bear continues to heal and in my heart I know he is smiling, his legacy lives on through you and the love you give to Latte and Ellie. Hugs dear friend.

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    1. This is true. Bear kind of "broke me in" to have the kind of relationship I have with him, Ellie Mae and Latte.

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  4. I completely understand and may I say this is the most beautiful post. If I were handing out awards you would get several. You and Bear had a bond like no other. Take the time necessary to learn to live with his passing. You certainly have lots of good years to remember.
    Hugs Cecilia

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    1. Thank you - that means so much! Yes, our bond was unique and wonderful and I have so many happy memories!

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  5. Beautiful post. You and Bear shared something very special.

    The Florida Furkids and Mom Sharon

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  6. Beautiful and loving post about Bear and your relationship ~ our fur persons are so dear to us and teach us so much ~ may you and Latte be blessed with a loving and healing relationship ~ Bear ~ You and Latte are special ~ lots of hugs and love to you ~ thanks for writing this loving post and awesome photos too ~ Xo

    Living in the moment,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

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    1. Thank you. Yes, I've been blessed - with Bear, Ellie Mae, Kitty and now Latte.

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  7. K;

    I'm glad you've reached that "7th stage" and I'm pretty sure Bear is too. I'm sorry
    you had to go through everything to get TO this point; death is such a bitch like that;
    making us endure what we must. And while you think your "safety net" is gone; it's not
    really, because you have, the boy, ellie and now latte in the physical sense, and bear
    who's truly around..... 24/7/365/366.... promise ♥♥

    L

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    1. Needing other people is hard for me because in my past, they haven't been reliable or trustworthy. But I'm working on it. It's easier for me to depend or rely on a cat than another person.

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  8. I was going to write almost exactly what the Tabbies wrote. She is right. That safety net IS still there in the person of the Boy, Ellie and Latte. They need you But, YOU need THEM as well. You are supposed to be together. Be at peace. Let yourself be at peace.

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    1. Needing other people is hard for me. My past tells me they aren't reliable or trustworthy. But I'm working on it.

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  9. Bear's healing will be forever in your heart and will continue forever and ever.

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  10. I am sorry for all you have been through. I truly believe Bear is watching over you and protecting you still. XO

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  11. You were destined to be together and gave each other such precious gifts. This is twice in one week I've read something along the line of setting a pet free from their pain and beginning your own. I honestly never thought of it that way but what profound way of putting it.

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    1. Yes. I actually wrote this a month ago - but this past week, I saw a similar reference. It's nice to know I'm not alone in the sentiment :)

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  12. Bear will always be with you…and I believe guiding you through life. You still have that safety net with Ellie and now Latte.

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    1. As he would say, I need LOTS of guidance! He'd say that without him I'd be lost - and that's pretty much true - though I'm finding my way :)

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  13. Bear's impact on your life, and his meaningful presence, will never leave you. Hugs and purrs from the kitties and me.

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  14. Bear will always be with you, and your souls are intertwined for eternity. That's how love is. As for your safety net, like so many others have noted, maybe you have one now with The Boy, Ellie and Latte? Hugs to you, dear friend.

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    1. Thank you. Before this "dream," I wasn't sure about our souls being intertwined. But now I see there are ways for us to communicate beyond words.

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  15. It's quite clear, your handsome stripey pants boy will always reside in your heart and soul and that's a good thing. Continue to be gentle with yourself and savor those unearthly visits we are fortunate to have with our spirit pets. Hugs and tail wags.

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  16. You definitely shared a special bond with Bear and it's evident in how you share your experience and in your writing. Hugs to you.

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