The other day, I was looking out the window of my kitchen and Spence said, “Your birthday is coming!” I said, “Good grief. I’m going to be 42.” I continued staring out the window, doing some math in my head and eventually said, “When my dad was this age, he had only 14 years left to live.” After a few moments, Spence said, “Well isn’t that a lighthearted note to start the morning,” which made us both laugh.
I don’t mean to be morbid with these comments. I don’t really view them as morbid…more as an awareness that we have only so much time.
We lost our cat Bailey on Friday, December 1. She had been in kidney failure since last year. Over the past six months, she had started walking around the house at night, yowling at the loudest possible volume—a sign of kitty dementia. She was skin and bones and her fur had started matting because she’d stopped grooming herself. A few days before we put her to sleep, her eyes were watering uncontrollably, she was sneezing and I noticed her face twitching a bit. She stopped eating during that time, including cheese, one of her favorite foods. She was 18 years old and wasn’t doing well. As I slept that night on the couch so I could be close to her and provide some comfort & companionship, I heard her wheezing and watched her pace and knew it was time to let her go.
The hours leading up to that final step are always the hardest and most surreal. I’m preparing to go to work and Bailey is pacing around the house and in just an hour or so, she’ll be gone. I cried and cried and cried. I held her to the very end and once the vet administered the final shot, she was gone within five or ten seconds. I continued crying as I got to work and I cried a bit more as my colleagues, who knew what I was doing that morning, comforted me. And then I got busy working.
I did leave early that day because I was SO tired, but a friend today said she was surprised I came into work—she would have been unable to after such an event. (She told me her own terrible story about losing her beloved dog and the emotional toll it took.)
It didn’t occur to me not to go to work. I had a lot (A LOT) of work to do. But I also feel like I have practice in living in grief and living in life simultaneously, if that makes sense. Having both parents with cancer diagnoses and living with the fear and uncertainty of surgeries, treatments, and side effects; losing my father to cancer and then losing my grandmother only three weeks later; unexpectedly losing a best friend from grad school (also to cancer); losing two beloved dogs and (now) two beloved cats (three of these animals had cancer…jeezus), and living with the continued fear (anticipatory grief) of losing my mom…it all weaves together as a constant reminder that life and death are always intertwined. That the minutiae of life continues even as grief hangs like a thick fog.
Buddhism also helps. It reminds me that nothing is permanent. What makes life so precious is the fact that it is temporary. That we eventually lose everything. The Dalai Lama says we should always remember that at some point, our body will fail us. It is a certainty. And far from being sad about this, we should rejoice in the now, aware that it won’t last forever.
Even as I know these things, it does not make the loss any easier, any less heartbreaking. It doesn’t keep me from fearing the loss of my loved ones. My stomach turns with fear over those thoughts. But it does serve as a reminder not to be overcome by those fears today because today I can call my mom and say I love you. Today I can look at my husband and say I love you. Today we are all still together.
And the day we said goodbye to Bailey, I thanked her for the 16 years she spent with us. I hugged her and let her go because that’s all I could do. Our time together was over. And I took that heavy, grieving heart to work with me, knowing that it would occasionally be lightened by the company of my colleagues. Knowing, also, that I would cry when I needed to.
I will always cry when I need to. I recommend it.