Who I am.

I write about the landscape of grief, nature, and the wisdom of fools. The author of four books, my essays, poems, and reviews have been published in over 50 journals, including in the Huffington Post and Colorado Review. I’ve won the River Teeth Nonfiction Book Award, the Chautauqua and Literal Latte’s essay prizes, and my work has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and named a notable by Best American Essays. My account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with my wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. http://www.markliebenow.com.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pets and Grief

For the first three years of their lives, my cats Buff and Minya grew up with Evelyn and me. Then Evelyn died unexpectedly in her 40s of a heart attack. They were with her when she collapsed.

Even though they are not able to tell me what they remember about Ev, they still connect me to her. They knew her and remember how she loved them. Much of how they to relate to humans they learned through her interactions. We were a family of four. when they die, the family that knew her will end.

            In the beginning of grief over Evelyn’s death, they gave me a reason to get out of bed because they had to be fed. When I cried on the couch, they would jump up, sniff my face and lie down next to me, knowing that something was wrong and wanting to comfort. They helped me cope and work my way back to caring about living.

            In the evening they would lie in my lap, or sit by my feet when I didn’t move for hours. They would chase each other around the house and pounce on their toy mice, making me laugh. When I came home from work, they’d take a break from lounging in the afternoon sun and greet me. We had long conversations about loneliness and anger, grief’s weariness, and philosophy — all the “why” questions that death brings up but never answers.

            Eight years ago Buff developed diabetes. I put him on insulin and switched him over to low carb food. In the last year, Minya developed a thyroid problem. As we were dealing with that, she began having seizures. The vet said it was a lesion on the brain. They could do an MRI to find the location, and then, because such things are on the surface of the brain, do surgery and “flick” it off. Thankfully both of her situations are being controlled with medications. 

            I don’t know how long they will live. They’re almost 17, which is 84 in people years, according to the chart in the vet’s office. They aren’t as active any more. Buff used to play with my laces when I was tying my shoes. Recently, after a five-year stoppage, he began coming over again when I put on shoes. He has a lingering memory from the past, and it is in this memory place that I hope Evelyn still lives for him.

            Odds are, they won’t live many more years. I do not want to have to put them to sleep. I had to make this hard decision with our first cat. A peaceful, natural death is preferable, and hopefully it will come when they’re lying in the warmth of the sun.


            A few months later, Buff developed an inoperable blockage. We had to say our goodbyes and put him to sleep. 

            I watched him grow from a shy, playful kitten to a teenager to a 16-pound adult and then into an old man. He was a beloved friend and companion who was always around. Even when he was arthritic and found it hard to move, he would still hobble over to rub against my leg and purr. 

            Death has torn another hole in my life, and I grieve the loss of another beautiful, noble and compassionate creature.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with animals and grief's journey. Sharon died 3 months ago and it was so painful for her to give up the horses and goats she loved. They were part of who she was, but fortunately I still have our one-eyed, toothless pit bull rescue and several feral cats to feed every morning. Yes her animals keep the connection to her memory and help me with the journey. Peace.

  2. Thank you. Our pets and animals accept us as we are, and love us no matter what. They're a bridge that keeps us connected to our loved ones.

  3. I have the dog I inherited from my 20-year old daughter. We got Suki to be a life-saver for my daughter when she got cancer and was very depressed. Turns out, it's my life that has been saved by this sweet little Havanese.

  4. We are so close to our soul animals in intimate ways hard to name but easy to feel. I'm so sorry you lost yours, Mark. I just shared this piece. It's one so many will get.

  5. Thank you, Elaine. Soul animals. I like that. I know how important Daisy was to you when Vic got sick and after he died.

  6. When my mother died some eight years ago, my cat was the only family I had left for thousands of miles. What you write reminds me of how she consoled me. She herself left this world a year-and-a-half ago. I was very lucky to have had her in the time that I did. Home is not the same without her, as indeed it was with any previous loss, and as it must be in this world.

    Nice post, as always.

    1. Thank you, Virgil. We are lucky when we have pets that love us at a time like this.