Daniel Weishut
Trying to reach, teach & touch...

The death of a little Wulf

I am recuperating from the dramatic loss of Israeli democracy, oops, of my little Wulf. Wolfje (or Olivia, as she was named by a neighboring family) and her offspring, passed on a couple of days ago. Usually, cats give birth with no complications, but usually is not always.

I took things quite badly and have been crying a lot. Although I purposely have done away with a series of items that she used, I am repeatedly reminded of her by all kinds of things. There is an egg in the refrigerator that I had boiled for her. The litter box, which she did not want to use until the day of her death, stands in the living room. The six little treats that she loved but refused on her last day are still lying on the floor, next to her childbed. Her hair is everywhere. When I lay down, she does not jump on me, and she does not meow in the morning, when she wants me to wake up. While driving, it occurs to me that I must go home, because Wolfje is too long alone, and then I remember that she is not there anymore. Moreover, I hear cats everywhere and this distracts me. When I am sitting with a client, I am supposed to listen to her, and not to the sound of a cat outside. When I am in the supermarket, I am supposed to go after my errands and not after the meowing I heard. The pain is especially strong as the birth of the kittens was supposed to be a celebration, and it turned out to be a tragedy.

Little story: I am not the person who suffers often from feelings of guilt and when I do, I usually take immediate action by apologizing. I guess I do not like feeling guilty. What about the present situation? I wonder if I could have acted differently and saved the cats. Perhaps I could have, but I am not sure. Although I tell my clients that it is possible to apologize even after one’s death, now I doubt if I believe that myself. It probably helps in cleaning one’s conscience, but it does not reach the other, let alone bring her, him, or it back. Would the same be true for losing something else that I cherish, democracy? Like with my cat, I see how things go wrong, am willing to pay a lot to save it, but still feel helpless and am afraid it is too late. Corona feels like a sedative; people are just too distraught to notice that something much bigger is at stake.

Sitting shiva

It is a Jewish custom to have a shiva, a week of mourning, after someone dies. People come to visit, take care of you, and the only things you do is sit and talk about the deceased. It is a nice and comforting custom and I think one should have a shiva for the loss of cats as well. I contemplated if I am going to be silent about the loss, or talk about it, and opted for the latter. In the meantime, I have told many people that I am mourning the death of 1 + 6 cats, including some people I hardly know. Responses vary; some are empathic, some do not know how to handle my disclosure, and some say things that I find hard to digest, such as: “Next time think more before deciding who you let into your house”. I believe I will take things one step further and use my mental state as an example of a ‘normal’ grieving process in my ‘psychopathology’ class. My experience is that most ultra-orthodox people – like my students – are not fond of animals, but I hope they will understand and learn from my story. With all the present limitations of movement and most of my work being done by phone of virtually, let us see if at all I will be able to teach.

Yesterday, when I went to feed the animals at my friend Ahmad’s place in ‘Anata, in his absence, I saw that at his neighbor’s there were many people. I asked if there was a party, but I was told that someone had died. I thought that perhaps I should go and pay a visit, as I know Abu Osama, the neighbor, and Bedouins have a similar custom of sitting shiva, where they talk about the (good) qualities of the person who passed away. This makes me realize that regarding Wolfje, especially in the first days after her passing, I was attuned only to her good qualities. Now, I recall that she was quite an aggressive cat; something I used to complain about. She would attack me when I did not respond rapidly to her wishes of physical attention or food or when I tried to move her from my lap or – worse – my laptop. As a result, I have several scars on my hands from bites and scratches. Also, not a few of my clients were afraid of her and cats in general. It is cold, dark, and raining. I decided not to go to Abu Osama, since I did not know him too well, did not know who died, and considered that he would possibly feel uncomfortable being visited by a Jew.

Today, after feeding the animals, my car was surrounded by a group of small Bedouin boys, wanting to say hello, and again I saw many people going in the direction of Abu Osama. I drove away, but then decided to call Mohammad, Ahmad’s brother, and ask who had died. It turned out that the brother of Abu Osama, and Abu Fadi (whom I know as well) had died. Though the brother lived in Jordan, they do hold the traditional mourning ceremony here. Mohammad said that of course it would be proper for me to visit, and that they will honor me if I go there.

A men’s thing

And they did. Upon my entrance, there were about 30 men of all ages sitting in a circle and everyone rose. Many knew me, and at once they freed a seat for me. I shook the hands of Abu Osama, of a well-known sheikh (married to Ahmad’s sister), and of Jibril, a friend who asked me to sit beside him, disobeying the Israeli instruction not to shake hands, during this period of fear of Corona. I was seated at the part of the circle with the older estimated men, covering their heads with keffiyehs. Keffiyehs exist in an assortment of colors; Palestinians usually wear the ones in red and white, or occasionally white only. Younger men were sitting at the other side of the circle. I was offered a little cup of strong Bedouin coffee and a date, as a symbol of prosperity.

Men continued to enter, and they shook the hands of all those present (including me). As a matter of politeness, I probably should have done this as well when I entered, but this was the first time I attended such a situation on my own, and I had forgotten that it is customary to shake hands with all. At some point, I heard talk about Jews. Jibril’s brother, who was sitting at my other side, then made it clear to all that I am Bedouin. I admitted, explaining that I am from Ahmad’s family. I stayed for about a quarter of an hour, and then left despite pressure on me to stay. It was the first time in a Bedouin men’s circle that I had understood at least one word, that was mentioned by almost anyone who talked, which was Corona.

On exit, a bunch of Bedouin children waved goodbye. My cat is gone, but would it be possible to save Israeli democracy?

About the Author
Daniel Weishut holds a PsyD in Clinical and Organizational Psychology, focusing on intercultural friendship, and an Executive MBA in Integrative Management. He has served in a variety of functions in organizations for human rights and social change. He teaches at Bar Ilan University, Hadassah Academic College (Jerusalem) and at the Professional School of Psychology (Sacramento). He has a private practice as psychotherapist and consultant.
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