“Our fear of death is all the greater when we have not dared to live…Daring to live means daring to die at each moment. But it also means daring to be born—daring to pass through important stages in life where the person you used to be dies, in order to make room for someone with a new view of the world.” —Arnaud Desjardins
There’s this modern idea of “a good death” which I have never really understood. Partly, I think, because at 42 I had never really experienced death personally.
My childhood dog died while I was away at college, the various fish and hamsters we had growing up never stuck around long enough for me to get really attached, and by the time my grandparents died – all four of them within a few years of each other – I hadn’t lived near them in years.
But last week I lost my cat Wilson. He was 18 years old and I had to help him “transition.”
As I talked to people about Wilson’s condition (there was nothing medically “wrong” with him, but many of his parts were wearing out and he just wasn’t himself anymore) and this decision I kept hearing “He needs you to help him.” “He won’t do it on his own,” but it just didn’t ring true to me. It felt like a cop out. A rationalization. A way to get out of doing the hard work of watching someone you love die (and cleaning up the associated messes that go with it).
But a few days after the fact I am a believer.
Wilson went easily into the deep sleep and took only one last, shallow breath after receiving the shot. His body was so old and frail, I really believe that he was ready.
As I sat there holding him afterwards, I could see him taking off with leaps and bounds into the beyond – the old Wilson once again – off on the hunt. He was so happy and free, it made me feel the same.
As I looked for a quote to go with this post I realized that I don’t have a lot of quotes about death. It’s something that I have – not avoided exactly – but put on a shelf marked “not applicable to me.” Today I realized that is not true.
Yesterday on NPR I heard a story about prolonging human life and the interviewee asserted that humans may one day live to be 125 or more. My immediate reaction was, “No thanks!” I have no desire to live that long. I’d love to make it into my 80’s but after that I think I’ll be ready to see what comes next.
Wilson was 89-92 in human years, depending on how you calculate, and I think he was more than ready. He went easily into his next life. It was a good death indeed.
Thanks to Dr. Mary Pittari of A Peaceful Parting for helping Wilson transition with sensitivity and compassion.
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