On Tuesday, we lost our cat, Shea.

Shea in Seattle

As these things do, it happened slowly and then suddenly. Her health had been noticeably declining for a year, but still it was a complete surprise when the last day came.

I’ve lived with seven cats, but Shea and I were closest.1

It hurts more than I imagined. I see, now, that Shea was a very important “loop” for both Shannon and me.

Modern cognitive science has come to appreciate that while some of the feedback loops that comprise our selves may be wholly internal to the brain, many include the rest of the body and still others include the outside world.2 As David Chalmers says, the mind bleeds into the world. In I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter beautifully describes his relationship with his wife in these terms.3 Countless others have also described these loops in terms that include culture, which is easy to think about because the inputs and outputs are so tangible. Human relationships are easy to see as loops of explicit communication.

There are many channels, though, to our relationships. Besides the technical and rational, we engage in emotional and aesthetic communication. A cathedral is more sublime than ordinary shelter; a beloved family member is meaningful to us in ways quite different than a close coworker. The emotional and aesthetic channels form very powerful loops, even if they are less available for conscious perception and understanding.

I only appreciate in the loss how strong my emotional loops with Shea were. She was an important part of how I understood Shannon, as they lived together when I met them; their mutual affection was meaningful to me. Shea and I formed bonds of reliance on each other, and her desire for routine helped me establish rhythms as the contexts of our lives changed. Her perception of me as a large cat has irreversibly influenced my own self-image.

Shea reflects

Her presence defined home. Now I feel homeless.

This is hard to describe and I am certainly failing now, but I hope it serves as a mnemonic in the future. Along those lines, let me list some memories I hope to never lose:

  1. Only the second, Kitty, spent as much time with me and under very different conditions. He was an outdoor cat during childhood and we lived apart for the second half of his long life. 

  2. I appreciate that this is a dramatic simplification. 

  3. A passage that describes learning to experience fluently with another’s perspective was read at our wedding.