Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It Always Rains On My Birthday

But more terrible to love nothing.

That's not strictly true.  Sometimes it's just overcast and gloomy.  And sometimes, as it did this year, my birthday falls on Father's Day.  Since I lost my father over twenty years ago, Father's Day is a rather melancholy occasion, and since I am now within spitting distance of sixty, my birthdays are becoming less welcome events.

This birthday was one of the sadder days of my life, unfortunately.  In fact, I have been bawling so hard and so continuously the past twenty four hours that my teeth ache and my eyes are nearly swollen shut.

Today, after weeks of dithering, I finally put down both of my dogs.  Tux, a Black Lab mix, was eighteen.  Cosmo, the little white bichon, had recently passed his sixteenth birthday.  Both had been suffering from the various, inevitable ailments of old age: blind, deaf, incontinent, arthritic.  The writing had been on the wall for a while, and yet I resisted, because I sensed that both of them still had strong wills to live, and still had some "quality of life" (if such a thing can be measured by robust appetites, naps in the sun, the pleasure and comfort they took in greeting me at the door every evening).

There seemed no pressing reason to take the fatal step until last week, when the vet discovered a sarcoma on Cosmo's side.  At sixteen, and in fragile overall health, Cosmo was not a candidate for surgery and radiation.  The tumor wasn't painful, but she warned me it would eventually rupture; the result would be a bloody open wound that would necessitate immediate euthanasia.  And yet still I resisted...  

I have, over the course of my life, put down four dogs previous to these, so you might think I would have an easier time deciding when to take action.  Truth be told, I wanted someone else to make the decision for me -- my girlfriend, my vet -- but all they would tell me is, "You'll know when the time is right."  So for days (well, months really)  I've been much preoccupied with the matter of when.

This morning, I awoke and roused them to go outside, initiating the first step in our longstanding daily routine.  However, this morning neither dog could be persuaded to get up off the bed where they always slept next to my own, nestled belly-to-back, "ebony and ivory, together in perfect harmony."  And that's when I decided that, birthday or no, this was the day that I would have them put down. 

I called the vet and made the appointment.  Then I defrosted a package of ground beef for their last meal.  The smell of warm greasy raw meat was enough of an inducement to bring them shakily to their feet.  They staggered to their bowls.  Ah, food!  That most elementary, dependable pleasure!  I watched them devour the rare treat with gusto, their tails wagging stiffly in unison, like metronomes.  We had a couple of quiet hours together (that is, they dozed while I sobbed) before I bundled them into the car for their final trip to the vet.

I was grateful that my favorite doctor was attending today.  She and her tech inserted the catheters and, per my request, administered preliminary sedatives.  (When I asked her for a sedative for myself, she kindly explained it was outside her scope of practice.)  "Do you need more time?" she asked.  I didn't want more time.  I was doing my best to stay calm, so as not to distress the dogs unduly.  I was determined not to give full rein to my grief until they were gone.

The injection took effect almost immediately.  Little Cosmo's heart stopped beating first, stalwart Tux's a moment later.  The entire procedure, from start to finish, took less than five minutes, and was entirely peaceful.  It's shocking how easily and quickly life can be extinguished, little more than pinching out the flame of a candle.

I was surprised to see that the vet and the tech -- for whom this is a routine part of their jobs -- were weeping.  "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," they repeated.  "Thank you," I said. "But this is part of the game, isn't it?"  We know this going in, when we enter a relationship with another -- whether human or animal -- the day will come when we must part. And it's going to hurt like hell. 

There's no escape from death.  What we cannot escape, we must endure.  There's no way to tunnel around the pain of loss.  Love will, sooner or later, exact its toll in tears.  Not for the first time I am reminded that grief is just plain hard work.

I made arrangements for their individual cremations.  I'm amassing quite a collection of little urns.  I have given instructions that they will some day be tucked into the foot of my own casket.  (Please don't tell the cemetery, which officially frowns on interring animal remains with human.)  Silly, isn't it?  I don't believe in an after-life, and yet take comfort in imagining myself lying for eternity, surrounded by my menagerie who will guard me in my endless sleep as they guarded me in life.

I paid my last hefty vet bill, and drove home with the windows open, the chilly rain pelting my cheek, slowly and carefully as a drunk.

I returned home, the dogs' leashes in hand, my house as cold, dark, and silent as a tomb.  I dragged the dogs' beds outside so that I wouldn't see them empty tomorrow morning.  A friend called, but I couldn't talk for fear of triggering a fresh volley of tears, and my headache was already ferocious.  My girlfriend called to check in.  She assured me that I had done the right thing at the right time, which was really all I wanted to hear.  I found a stray vicodin, leftover from a previous surgery, washed it down with a shot of bourbon, and fell asleep for several hours, listening to the gentle rain thrumming on the eaves. 

For the first time in more than twenty years, I am dog-less.  It's going to take some time to adjust.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Agnostic at Easter

As anyone who has read my blog can readily ascertain, I am not a religious person although I would not define myself as an atheist, since even that label implies a measure of certainty I can not claim.  

I see no reason to believe in an After Life, at least not one in which I will exist as a conscious being.  This lack of belief is not a choice on my part.  Indeed, I would much rather believe, for I imagine it brings great comfort to those who do.  Some of the people whom I most love and admire are Believers, and it would be presumptuous, even cruel -- not to mention pointless -- to challenge their faith.  I once tried to explain this to a friend: how I envied her gift of faith!  She sharply reprimanded me, explaining that faith was not a gift: rather, it was something a Christian had to work at.  I've often thought about that; maybe she's right.  But trying to convince myself that something I don't believe is true is like trying to pretend you're in love when you're not.  I'm not willing to lie to myself or others in that way.

Yet, I try to keep my heart open to all possibilities.   

When I look out upon the grass growing lushly, the daffodils and tulips blooming, I wish I were reminded of the Resurrection and the promise of Eternal Life. Instead, I find myself remembering my father's premature death twenty-five years ago.  He died suddenly and unexpectedly the Saturday before Easter, and his death was so shocking and terrible to us that Easter has become an anniversary of this event, a day of remembrance and some sorrow for both my sisters and me.  As the years pass, I am more inclined to contemplate the great gifts he gave me, the occasions of joy we shared, his wisdom and humor, but there is always a part of me that mourns his loss afresh on Easter Sunday.

And this Easter, I learn of the death of a friend, only a few years older than myself, and I am reminded of the ephemeral nature of life.  This is a woman who I thought would live to be very, very old.  Both her parents had lived well into their nineties, and she seemed cut from the same enduring Norwegian peasant stock.  But more than that, I have never known anyone who had more zest for life than she.  I have never known anyone who laughed as much, gave as generously, took more pleasure from this world.  How could death defeat her unassailable energy and boundless cheer?  I used to gently mock her, call her goofy and giddy, but honestly?  I was always a bit envious of her capacity for joy.

It really seems impossible that we will never meet with her again in some cafe, to be regaled with tales of her latest adventures or admire her latest thrift shop acquisitions. 

What kind of woman was she?  She was the kind of woman who wore unusual hats, and carried a handbag with a clock embedded in it (because she was chronically late).  She made krumkakke every Christmas.  She hired a belly dancer to entertain her guests at her sixtieth birthday party.  She spent every penny she had (never much) and dealt with her lack of medical insurance by cheerfully resolving never to get sick.  She had a series of (scandalously) younger beaus, and then settled down with a much older one -- who died in her arms.

Tonight some friends and I will gather, a sort of informal wake I expect, and reminisce.  I will probably drink too much wine and I am sure that I will cry.  I will try to take comfort in the fact that she spent the last two years of her life with the people she loved most, and lived long enough to hold her only grandchild.  I will try to learn from her example how to embrace the life I have, and not to squander another moment of whatever precious time is left -- be it counted in hours, weeks, or years -- in misery or despair.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fred Phelps Is Dead

Fred Phelps, patriarch of the Westboro Baptist Church, has finally died.  

He will not go to Heaven.  He will not go to Hell.  He did not have a soul that will live on in any form, corporeal or spiritual.  

He will be buried.  His body will decompose (is, in fact, already decomposing as I write this).  In fifty years, he will scarcely be remembered, and the people he tormented will be gone too.

His ultimate fate is no different than my own will be.

His death gives me no satisfaction or hope.  His death does not mark the end of human cruelty and malice.

“Life ... is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Especially the life of Fred Phelps.