I have a very pragmatic view of death. I’m not afraid of death, or being dead. Dying is maybe another story, but I suppose you can file the process of dying under the folder of grievous injury until it becomes fatal injury.
I’ll admit that I cheat. Christianity is pretty straightforward about death. When asked once during a counselling intake exam if I had suicidal thoughts, I told the on-duty nurse, “Does hoping for the return of Jesus and the end of the world count?” (I never did get an answer!) So when people ask or worry about what happens when you die, I’ve got a ready made answer in my pocket. More obnoxiously, I truly believe it.
My paternal grandmother died while I was on my honeymoon after getting married. The hardest part about that was being unable to make it to her funeral. My paternal grandfather died some years later, and the hardest part was I had never been to a funeral before, and seeing everyone suffering. My maternal grandmother died – same deal as the last one. I felt like a huge callous asshole because the process was sad but I was enjoying being able to see my cousins all together for the first time in a long time and meet their kids. I would hope I’m never the kind of asshole who would say things like “She’s in a better place now.” But I did feel that way, and there’s very little grief in the passing of someone who’s old and had a long, interesting life full of love and family and friends.
So, why on earth, after all that, do I lose my proverbial (and sometimes, thanks to stomach-churning stress, literal) ever-loving shit every time Gary gets sick?
Animals are cool creatures in the theological sense. They don’t need to be saved, or baptised or receive communion because a) they’re animals, they can’t talk and can’t freely consent and b) they don’t have to because in God’s eyes, they’re just dandy already. In the Garden of Eden, supposedly everything, even the lions and sharks?? i guess, ate grass and were besties with the prey animals they would eat after the fall.
“Will Gary eat grass in heaven?” I fret out loud one day.
“I dunno, I’m not sure you have to eat there.” said the systematic theologian in the house.
Animals typically have shorter lives than humans, unless you’ve invested in a parrot (then God help your dumb soul). I’d walk home from work, kicking snow and frowning angrily that I’d have to wait dozens of years before being reunited with my beloved cat after he died. I’d run through checklists of things to do to keep myself from going totally insane: cremation & an urn so we don’t have to leave his body behind if we move, see if I can get an ink stamp of his paw prints for a possible tattoo, etc.
What was my problem? I’d seen three grandparents into the grave with hardly a wobble. I have tokens to remember them all by that I cherish but I’ve mostly let go and trust we’ll see each other again someday. By the same argument, Gary’s had a long life too (at 11-12 years old, he’s nearly 65! Of course, with 40 being the new 30, that’s still young, I suppose.) Poor Colonel Meow died at age 3 – barely middle aged.
My brain stuttered on the good life part. Was it a good life? He got regular meals, and cuddles, and a warm house to live in, but he also had to share space with a bossy cat and a neurotic one. He was sick a lot. Over the years with us, he has slowly lost weight and is currently the cat equivalent of your grandmother shrinking to 4 feet tall. We’ve had to stuff a lot of nasty things in his mouth to cure UTIs, IBD and more. There are probably some brain problems he’s always had that we could never fix.
The problem, I started realizing the day I was in the grocery store, browsing for human foods that were safe for kitties to try and fatten him up, was one of stewardship. I wasn’t responsible for my grandparents. I didn’t have to think about their care and feeding, their health. I was responsible for this greasy little beast and I think I’ve failed him. I mean, look at me: loaded down with plain chicken baby food, high-calorie cat goop, raised bowls in case his stomach acid is bothering him when he eats. This is the guilty panic of a parent who keeps missing their’s kids hockey game.
Having identified the problem calmed me down some in the days since I figured this all out, with Chris’ help. In the meantime, Gary’s also had a fairly successful checkup at the vet since his tests indicated his guts are, as I tried to explain to my boss, “all fucked up inside”. He’s on an exciting regimen of vitamins, anti-biotics, and steroids, and regular check-ins with our most excellent vet. I’m not all the way okay, but I’m on my way there, and I’m pleased to say that Gary’s energy and appetite has gotten much better in the past week. He was so full of pep he gave me a ferocious bite yesterday trying to pill him. Thanks for the blood blister, little man.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.