I’m not a therapist or an expert in mindfulness. I’m just a writer and comedian from Chicago with a soft spot for snacks and cats.
I’m also in my mid-thirties and constantly trying to figure out how to “life.” (Read: I believe in growth and self-discovery now that I have a trail of questionable decisions---I mean life lessons--behind me.)
I first learned about the benefits of mindfulness when I turned 29. I was recovering from an economy-related job loss and a massive break-up, all while adjusting to first-time home ownership; so my mother did what all moms do: gifted me six months with a health and wellness coach.
Along with hypnosis CDs, positive affirmations, and inspirational books, my coach briefly mentioned the practice of mindfulness.
The idea of remaining present during times of stress or anxiety seemed pretty impossible at first, but as the years went on I found myself putting it into practice quite often--mostly in terms of simple things, like eating my favorite snacks.
It was easy to be present with a box of cheese crackers or sour neon gummy worms. The textures and taste sensations; the feeling I got when I reached the bottom of the bag and put the final chip or candy in my hand, knowing our time together was almost over.
It seems grossly unrelated, but this very simple exercise in mindfulness proved to be immeasurably powerful this past Christmas when after only four months, I had to make the very difficult decision to euthanize my kitten, Tom Petty.
I will spare you the details of his passing, because if I didn’t you’d be sobbing too much to read the rest of this blog post, and I guarantee that Tom Petty would have wanted you to read this blog post.
That’s just the kind of thing a cat named Tom Petty would want.
I will tell you that I rescued Tom Petty a week after my 22-year-old cat, GC, had passed. And that a week after he settled in, I had to rush him to the emergency vet where he was diagnosed with a devastating virus he’d likely succumb to before his first birthday.
Finding all of this out about Tom Petty was like opening a brand new carton of Rocky Road only to discover there’s just one spoonful left.
I could be sad that there’s so little left to enjoy (and that someone at quality assurance was so incompetent as to let a thing like this happen…), or how sad I would be when it was all gone (How would I go on? ALL THE STORES ARE CLOSED RIGHT NOW AND I ALREADY HAVE MY PAJAMAS ON.)
Or I could be present with that last spoonful. Not thinking about how sad I was or how sad I would be when it was gone, but rather focusing on my moment with that chocolate ice cream and marshmallows and peanuts.
And for four full months, that’s how I lived with Tom Petty. I practiced mindfulness with him daily. I stayed as present as possible while feeding him, petting him, playing with him.
And also through the health scares and multiple vet and emergency visits.
Even through waking up Christmas morning at an Extended Stay America across from the Veterinary Specialty Center.
When the stranger at the breakfast bar wished me a Merry Christmas, I could have rolled my eyes and been angry that on Christmas Day my kitten was dying and I was standing in a lobby that smelled like hot coffee and hotel pool.
Instead even just my limited understanding of mindfulness allowed me to stop and think about the power and love contained in the small gesture of a stranger wishing me a Merry Christmas during the most stressful days of my whole year.
I would have to make the difficult decision to help Tom Petty humanely pass later on that evening. But just like the last snack at the bottom of the bag, I took in every single one of his last moments. And in the days after, as the grief poured over me, I was able to remember four months of companionship as if it were decades.
As someone who is not a therapist or an expert in mindfulness, I believe that the tools included in Mindful Mood Balance for Professionals and the 3-Minute Breathing Space would have been even more helpful. Discussion groups, information, and activities that help clients harness the full spectrum of benefits that mindfulness can offer during times of depression, stress…and even grief.
Come to think of it, taking these courses is sort of like opening a box of chocolate chip cookies that replenishes itself with each bite you take, all while sitting in the comfort of your own space, on your own time.
And perhaps with a purring kitten asleep on your lap.