Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

On Oct. 2, 2021 at 1:32 a.m., my 16-and-a-half-year-old kitten crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Miss Ophelia was a diffuse tortoiseshell Manx with green eyes, playful energy, loving disposition and bossy personality. She performed her auditions for The Voice at 3:00 a.m., and she generally ruined my sleep for the last four years — she never stopped looking every night for her big brother Sméagol after he preceded her into infinity on Thanksgiving 2017.

Explaining with words how this feels to people with pets is unnecessary, and people who don’t have pets will never understand the explanation. The loss of a pet can be debilitating, and it carries all the same stressors as the passing of human family and friends. Perhaps this is even more salient to those who do not want children and maintain fewer strong relationships with people? But this isn’t a contest. I certainly am not trying to bring home the gold at the 2021 Olympics of suffering. Everyone experiences grief in their own way, and it’s no one else’s place to qualify how others process their emotions.

As destabilizing and chaotic as all of this would be under normal circumstances, Miss Ophelia was not a normal circumstance. I kidnapped Miss Ophelia in 2013. I stole her away from my grandmother’s home in Aiken, S.C. Gramma had gone into assisted living, and the facility did not allow pets.

A huge rift had already split the family into various factions over the way Gramma’s finances were being mishandled since the death of my grandfather. My uncles had decided they were going to throw Miss Ophelia out onto a farm to be a barn cat, and they had stopped caring for her properly. My kitty was NOT a barn cat — she would have been killed by coyotes, other cats or cars. So, I stole her away, and my grandmother died believing that my mother had kidnapped both Ophelia and her brother Ivan and had them put to sleep out of spite. That is the lie my uncles concocted to explain why the cats had disappeared.

I stole/kidnapped/rescued both cats to protect them. But I never told Gramma because I was afraid she would disown me, and then there would have been no one left to shield Gramma from my uncles’ worst intentions. I was the executor of her estate. The fact that I was also her power of attorney was hidden from me, which is why my uncles were able to do as much damage to the estate as they did before Gramma died.

It took six years to process the estate. It should have taken six months, maybe a single year. This dragged on for various malicious reasons, and Miss Ophelia was a constant reminder of all these damaged relationships. But I loved her intensely, and I cared for her deeply. Not just for Ophelia’s sake, but also as an expression of my responsibilities to Gramma. The estate finally closed earlier this year. Strange, but it’s as if Ophelia was ready to go see Gramma, Sméagol and Ivan now that she no longer needed to distract me from the horrible people in my family.

My giving Miss Ophelia peace was the final act as executor for the estate. It was arguably the most hurtful of all the various choices I had to make over the years. Escorting Miss Ophelia into eternity held the significance of being the act that completed my obligations to respecting Gramma’s legacy.

Since Miss Ophelia went away I have allowed myself various indulgences. Colloidal oatmeal soak baths with candles, colorful LED lights, essential oils, and wind chimes were times of gentleness in dark rooms where I could let warm water wash all sorts of ugliness away. I also allowed myself huge quantities of rich foods, in addition to the normal fresh fruits and veggies, because I needed to nourish my body, not just my heart. I avoided exercise, and allowed myself to binge Netflix without remorse. I recognize in this moment that rewatching The Walking Dead from the very beginning was my way of letting people with worse problems demonstrate to me that surviving and thriving is still possible. But I needed to do all this, because stress weakens the immune system, and an outbreak of shingles was making my outside feel as excruciating as my inside. Part 2 of 2 will focus on self care during intense physical pain.

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