As a fair warning this week will be an exploration of the thoughts and sentiments around death. They are meant to let you know that you are not alone in grieving at any point in your life. If it still makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip this entry over. Those reactions aside, it is necessary to explore this part of life so we can reflect on our own and how we've lived it for ourselves and with others. Having a road map such as the Kübler-Ross Model (The Five Stages of Grief) can help immensely.
After 17 years my cat, Bagheera, is dying. I've had a good, long run with him as he has been there through moves, triumphs, shame, and is one of the last living reminders of my own father who also passed away from cancer. That said, when I realized his end is going to be soon my eyes soon flooded with tears. All those years of memories are carried in his diminishing frame and I keep reliving them with every stroke of his fur or dab of water on his tongue.
While his unkempt black hair is hardly reflective, it has acted as a mirror back into my own life, decisions, and direction. Perhaps part of the sadness is that I see so many of my own weaknesses first in his frail form. One clump of dark fuzz reminds me of the opportunities I have missed. Another, the shame of some of the decisions I've made in life. His matted tail reminds me of the fine line I walk as a small business owner between success and failure. It scares ME, and yet HE is the one who is on the edge of life!
"You can't go, if you do then who will help me carry these reminders?!"
It's not fair that he is in this state. Yes, he's old and he's lived as best a life as I can afford. But...but...I should have done more. For him. For myself. If I had just worked a bit harder I could have afforded a test sooner to detect what was wrong, right? Maybe if I give him some milk it will hydrate and give him some nutrients? Yeah, just one little thing to change here and he'll be perky just a bit longer. How do I buy him time?
How? For that matter, what of my own? I only have so much and can never know when it runs out. This precious little life in my lap may be a dying flame, but it is a beacon whose light shines on what has been wasted. The moments of the past that could have been different.
"What have I done with it all, Bagheera? Have I been meaningful? Have I given enough?"
Fine. Yeah I get it. Life's short, make the best of it. Nature is cruel and I should have seen this coming. The vets can only offer choices. They mean well, but...no. It's hardly their fault and for that matter how can I be angry at myself? I didn't cause this. Yet why do I still feel frustrated? What a jerk I am to selfishly believe he can carry MY emotions and reminders of my past. Grrrr! Is this the point? What even matters right now. Everything I have worked so hard to acquire is worthless. My store, my car, and I've even sacrificed time with friends and family to tend to my dying cat - who I knew was going to be going soon anyway!
"You know, I've yelled at you for peeing on my stuff and jumping on my desk when I was typing things like this. But...you know what, bud? I can't yell right now even though I want to do that. That's what frustrates me so much."
He's hanging in there, even after a few days of hardly any eating or drinking. I've gone through all this stress and coping just to see him stick it out. Where's the message? No, it's not about death. There's something else here. Some kind of ultimate psych-out? A karmic investment for my future? God and I having another chat as we often do? This isn't about death at all. It's about me, isn't it? Well, I can handle that. You leave Bagheera alone, life, and you come to terms with me. What's going on here? Give it to me straight.
"I'm sorry, old man. You got caught up in something that's not even about you. And, here I am visibly and audibly stressing in front of you as you're in your own circumstances. You get some rest, dad's got some work to do and he'll tell you about it when you wake up from this nap. It...it is just a nap, after all. You'll be up for more water soon. I know you."
It may not be a nap. Not this time. There's nothing I can do if it's not. Heh, how silly was I all through this time? I had a darn-good SEVENTEEN years with this cat. He knows it too! All this fret, worry, and throwing my life under the bus for his that is coming to a natural end (all things I should be extremely grateful for!) just resolves into "que sera sera." Yeah, I've failed and I'm grateful I can learn from those times. I've also triumphed and brought home results of that to share with my cat. So in the end this is life: doing the best we can with what we have and the people with which we share it realizing that it will end all the same yet enjoying every moment we can.
"I'm ready if you are, Bagheera. Take your time if you need to but I'm here with you and for as long as I'm around, you'll be with me too. Sleep well, buddy, we had a helluva run together."
Such is the journey we take when we face the loss of someone precious to us. A relative, classmate, or in this case a pet. But it's not a journey you must take alone. This area is filled with many talented people, parishes, and professionals who can help you grieve and hopefully lead you to a fulfilling acceptance of your own. To that end, as the final pages in Bagheera's book are being written even as I write this blog, I would like to thank you for coming with me on this journey as I will with you if you'd let me. I'd also like to thank the professionals at NOAH Pet Clinic for their professional care. Lastly, when the time comes, I'll be thanking the staff at Groff Funeral Home Pet Loss Services for their aid in closing the back cover and giving me a lasting reminder of one of my best friends.
Here's a song I'll offer in dedication to anyone you have lost in your lives:
You're gonna carry that weight...
P.S. - After all is said and done and one book finishes, I intend to begin a new story with the Humane Society of Erie County as is often featured in Tom Cats and Dogs right here. Please support them as well when you can as well as other shelters like Back to the Wild especially when it comes to their latest and very crucial need.