Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

John Lennon was right—life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.  That’s what he told his young son, Sean, in the sweet and loving song, Beautiful Boy.

That song has been on my mind a lot lately.

Because I wasn’t planning to write this post.  I was planning to write a lighthearted Valentine’s Day post.  I’d even started it.  But then life, glorious life, with it’s curveballs and lessons and bewildering and sometimes pain-drenched surprises swept in.

While I was busy making other plans.

That is, until a sunny and golden Thursday morning a few weeks ago, when I sat on my sofa immersed in coaching a very cool client, planning a day full of coaching other wonderful clients.  That was my plan.  It was in my appointment calendar.

Then I heard a rustling noise coming from the bushes just outside my window.  The meter reader is lost, I thought.  Again.

“Excuse me,” I said to my client, and walked to the window to tell the meter reader where to find the meter.  Again.

But it wasn’t the meter reader.  It was a furry black dog and the rustling was the sound created as the dog vigorously shook Checkers, my tiny, frail, nineteen-year-old cat, who was hanging limply in his mouth.

What followed was not pretty, and I won’t go into it.  In short, my little cat died within the next few minutes.

And I had to deal with it.   All of it.  There was no choice.  No option.  My plans were meaningless.

Instinctively, I grabbed the phone.  I needed to talk to someone who would understand, support me, help me cope with the shock. Sitting in the middle of my living room floor, with tears still streaming down my face, I called my good friend Marlene, a cat lover who had a special affinity with Checkers.  I called Susan Grace, a friend and fellow coach, a constant gentle and loving presence in my life.  I called Jane, who has cared for Checkers when I was out of town, and her fury validated mine.  I called my veterinarian’s office, where the kind and helpful receptionist helped me figure out the logistics.  I told my neighbors Sandy and Blaine, who I knew would try to help me locate the dog’s owner.  One after another, throughout the day, they all patiently listened and offered their sympathy and support, all in different ways, all helpful and all received with my deep gratitude.

I called my two children, now young adults.  Checkers had been their childhood pet–a presence in their lives all but a few years. They’d found her hungry and pregnant mother when they were in elementary school, the morning after Hurricane Andrew swept through Miami when we’d had other plans.  We cried together, and shared stories about our sweet cat.

And as I spoke about the unexpected twist that life had taken, I was comforted.  The pain didn’t go away, but it helped immensely to share my pain with others.

Since then, each time I’ve tried to write that Valentine’s Day post, I got stuck.  The words wouldn’t come.  Whatever I wrote seemed forced and inauthentic.  Because it was.  Finally I surrendered to the truth: another plan had to be set aside.  I’d have to write something else, still from the heart, but more reflective of how I was feeling.

I’m telling this story not to seek your solace or your sympathy, but to share with you the power of connection in times of stress, pain, and loss.  This is why we come together for funerals and celebrations of life for those who are no longer with us.  This is why we laughingly have festive divorce parties, why we help friends pack when they are moving away, why we sit with them after their miscarriages.  We sit together with a bottle of wine.  We bring them fresh cookies, hoping to sweeten their lives.  These are not pity parties.  These are times of deep connection and validation.  We need each other in challenging times, and this is especially true for women.

Researchers at UCLA have confirmed that women in particular gather to “tend and befriend” each other in times of stress. Men don’t to do it as instinctively as we women do—men rely more on their fight or flight response.  While women also have a fight or flight response, we seem to also seek out the company of others as a way of coping with our stressful situations.  It’s been theorized that we developed this strategy long ago: in primitive cultures women couldn’t leave small children behind in the face of danger, fighting or fleeing wouldn’t work with babies in tow. So women gathered together to support and protect each other.  They, as we, tended and befriended one another.

So, whether unexpected pain slams into your life suddenly and fiercely, or whether it seeps in slowly and tortuously, notice your urge to gather and to connect with your friends and loved ones.  Heed those ancient instincts stirring within you–they’re healthy and normal responses.

Tending and befriending works.  And I think it’s good to know what will help us through times of upset and discomfort.  Because there’s one thing we can count on for sure.  As John said, life will happen, even when we’re busy making other plans.


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35 thoughts on “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

  1. Gwen

    Thanks Terry. This helped me pick up the phone and talk to a friend about some sad news I had received this week.

  2. Terry Post author

    So glad it inspired you to reach out, Gwen. Hope you find connection and comfort. Sending you love and speedy healing.

  3. Betsy

    Poignant and comforting — and so beautifully written. You easily (which means skillfully) take us from your most personal present to some objective research and then into how it can help us. Thank you, Terry.

  4. Terry Post author

    Thanks so much, Becky–that’s a high compliment from a skilled writer like you. Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Jackie

    Thanks for reminding us how much and why women need each other’s friendship and compassion. Don’t know where I’d be without my gal pals. So sorry for your loss but what a gift to share your kitty’s life for nineteen years.

  6. Susan

    Terry, I am so sorry for your loss. Your sharing with us in this way is so very authentic and so very touching. You made me think about “being there for someone” in a whole, new way. And how sometimes we just must go through such painful times. Thank you.

  7. Terry Post author

    Thank you Jackie and Susan. I think that tending and befriending comes more naturally to us women. We cherish and cultivate our gal pals. But I also think it’s important for men, too. And some lucky men are in touch with this instinct as well.

  8. Mary Ellen Telesha

    My heart goes out to you, losing our four-footed loves can be so sad. Thank you for sharing such a moving and tender time.

  9. Veronica

    So sorry for your lost Terry. I locked myself away for 3 days after I put my 9 yrs old chow to sleep, it didn’t hurt any less. I didn’t reach out, I now know I should have. Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Ann Burrish

    Coincidentally (or not), as I was reading this, my dear cat Keko came into my office, jumped onto the arm of my chair, and looked at me intently, as if sending me a message of connection to pass on to you. Anthropomorphizing here – or not?

    I am so sorry for your loss. I have grieved the passing of animal companions more than some human ones.

    Take care,
    Ann

    p.s. as I signed my name, Keko left the room.

  11. Terry Post author

    Oh Ann, I got chills when I read this. Who knows, but I’d like to think your cat Keko was delivering a message. What comforts me also is knowing that Checkers had lived such a long life, and gave us much love and laughter. I’ll send your message on to my kids. They’ll appreciate it.

  12. Michelle

    So so sorry to hear about your sweet cat Terry.
    I love what you wrote. In the last few years, I’ve isolated more than reaching out but noticed that as I’ve gone through mbi that has shifted. So nice to reconnect again with old and new friends. Much love to you!!

  13. Terry Post author

    Keep connecting, Michelle. It’s so calming and powerful! Glad you liked the post, and thanks for your kind words.

  14. Leah

    Terry – my heart goes out to you. We lost our Lucky (our sweet three-legged, stroke-plagued cat that believed he was a dog!) this summer. I love your message about connection. Just today I read another moving post about the importance of connection – from a man’s view point. I”ll send it to you. Sending you a big hug and lots of love,
    Leah

  15. Allison Evans

    I’m sorry for your loss, Terry. Clearly Checkers is still giving to you, as you are feeling so much love and connection as you reach out to your friends in grief.
    I’ve been mulling over the difference between compassion and pity. I think part of it is to do with the person suffering: is she willing to reach out? If so, she will experience compassion? Is she unwilling for anyone to know that she’s hurting? If so, she will experience pity. Your openness has made the difference!

  16. Terry Post author

    Allison — I think when we are in pain and we fear reaching out for support, we are afraid of showing our vulnerability. We believe we need to appear strong no matter what. Or, sometimes, we fear that if we give in to it, we’ll fall into a deep hole of despair that we’ll never get out of. This can especially happen if we’re holding a lot of suppressed feelings.

    But as the one offering support, we can offer compassion no matter what the person grieving is experiencing. It’s the difference between coming from a place of “oh your poor thing,” or “I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand.” The former amplifies and creates victimhood. The latter holds and supports. There is so much power in the simple and straightforward acknowledgment.

    Thanks for your thoughtful words.

  17. Theresa

    Terry,

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved family member. The pain, I know from recent experience, can be brutal. How lovely that Checkers inspired such a beautiful post though. Funny how much our pets continue to give even after they are gone. They are truly angels given to us when we need them the most.

  18. Anne Platt

    Hi Terry,

    Thank you for your post. As a fellow cat lover, I really understand your loss. Nineteen years is a long time to be together.

    Warm Regards,
    Anne

  19. amy

    Terry,
    I just read this today. I am so sorry. What a shock it must have been to find your sweet kitty like that. Many years ago Ron and I lost our first kitty. He was our first baby. It was one of the most painful things I have experienced. I send you so much love.
    -a

  20. Layla

    Terry, I am so sorry for your loss. When you are ready you may want to read “Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant–wonderful, comforting book full of whimsical paintings. It starts out like this:

    “The way to Cat Heaven is a field of sweet grass, where crickets and butterflies play!”

  21. Pedro F. Báez

    So sorry about your loss, Terry. My heart and my warmest, cleanest energy go out to you.

    Holding a space of love, respect and wordless tenderness for you and for the lovely memory of Checkers.

    Love you both,

    Pedro

  22. Kimberly Dawn

    Oh so, so sorry Terry for your loss! I love my baby Olive, my kitty so much. It can be heart wrenching losing our little ones. Especially in a very unexpected way. Big Hugs. May your heart feel so much love and oneness. xoxo

  23. Kerstin Waddell

    Dear Terry

    My heart goes out to you and your family. What a shock… You have chosen to open your heart rather than shutting it down – and others out. Thank you – you are reminding me to do the same. Sending you much love and a big hug XXX

  24. Terry Post author

    That was my hope in writing this, Kerstin. To remind us all how painful things in life do happen, often in a very unexpected way, but the important thing is to appreciate those who stand with us as we go through it. Thanks for reaching out.

  25. Vidica

    Dear Terry,

    This is a beautiful and poignant story about love and connection. It is obvious that Checkers was very special. I am deeply sorry for your loss and yet so happy to see that you are surrounded by so many loving and compassionate friends.

    XOXO

  26. Micki McCartney

    Terry-We just lost our old once feral turned lap cat, Blackie. It broke our hearts. I swear I still see him sitting in his favourite spot in the kitchen and just today thought I saw his ginger coloured ear…it was the top of a pillow…
    Love that you posted this blog about friendship of both the two legged and four legged kind; those still on the physical plane and those departed. Beautiful post. xox

  27. rebecca @ altared spaces

    “We sit together with a bottle of wine. We bring them fresh cookies, hoping to sweeten their lives. These are not pity parties. These are times of deep connection and validation. We need each other in challenging times, and this is especially true for women.”

    Yes.

    I have a couple people in my life lately that are telling me the same damn story…again. And again. I notice how I feel.

    I’m edgy. I yawn or I want to escape. I make caustic jokes and that’s not like me. I DON’T feel like baking.

    Then I read this and all I want to do is listen, sit, maybe give you a hand massage. And, the apple bread in the oven wants to make its way to you.

    We yearn to heal each others’ real pain. The fake stuff (what might be considered pity)? That gets itchy.

    It’s easy to tell the difference.

    Your cat brought deep love into the lap of your life. You’ve returned that a zillion fold to all of us.

  28. pratibha

    i liked n understood whats the meaning of this quote after reading ur touching story

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