As someone getting closer to 60, and as a pet sitter for seven years, life and death are more present companions these days. Perhaps, as a pet sitter, I have seen too much death, more than 100 animals in the last seven years. Perhaps I am simply more aware of passages than I used to be since I have fewer years ahead of me than behind. Luckily I get to see new life as well, the circle of life, and somehow that makes it…well, I guess manageable is the word.
Death is nature’s way of making things continually interesting. Death is the possibility of change. Every individual gets its allotted lifespan, its chance to try something new on the world. But time is called and the molecules which make up leaf and limb, heart and eye are disassembled and redistributed to other tenants.” ― Peter Steinhart, The Company of Wolves
First, a little over a year ago, it was my dad. He passed away, but his dog, the lovely Butterscotch, had come to live with us a couple years before that when Dad could no longer care for her. When Dad was gone, somehow he lived on in the dog he loved so much. Butterscotch used to sit on Dad’s lap, and when she came here, it was my lap she chose.
Her arthritis makes that harder for her to do these days, and is a reminder, along with her “sugar face” (as my sister puts it) that her allotted life span, like mine, will be up someday.
A few months after my dad passed, a cat I cared for regularly was diagnosed with advanced kidney failure. She was close to death, but force-feeding her every few hours for several days, and daily sub-cutaneous fluids, brought her back from the brink.
There is something powerful about saving a life. The bond is practically unbreakable, and though she was not my cat, still…she was in a way. Without me, or someone like me, she would have died then and there. She was not thrilled with the fluids, but she was alive because of them, and I was the delivery person. The vet said she might even get a couple years of life from the time of her diagnosis. We were going for it.
Nine months later, out of the blue, she developed a mass on her heart. It was massive and threatened an awful and probably painful end. I sat with her as she was euthanized the same day the mass was discovered. To say my heart was broken is an understatement. I saved her once, but could not do so the next time she needed me. Her time was up.
In between B’s kidney diagnosis and her final day came Annie, a little feral kitten whom the Angel of Death was courting hard. She would have been gone in a few more days, eaten from the inside out by hookworms and other infections.
She let me capture her one day, and many skilled hands nurtured her back to health. She lives with us now, and gets less and less medicine by the week. She has learned from the rest of our gang how to be an indoor kitty. Her newest and most endearing habit is “sneaking” out of the cat room like a teenager sneaking out of the house, and scampering back when we find her out of the room. She’s allowed out now, and has the run of the house, but she hasn’t quite figured that out yet. We hope for a long and happy life for her, with many years between now and when she will be “disassembled and redistributed to other tenants.”
Somehow the idea that we have an allotted time span, and then time is called, and we are disassembled and become part of something else, is comforting. I like the idea that we live on in some form or another, that our molecules become part of all that exists, like all the stuff I put into our compost pile that becomes part of next season’s veges. I have no idea what form my molecules will take next, or even if I will be aware of that, but I hope so. Not that have any desire to be rushed off stage, but I am terribly curious what I will become part of when the time comes. I wouldn’t mind if I were part of an indoor cat who lives in a lovely home with nice sunny windows overlooking a colorful garden with a little catnip in it for fun. If the powers-that-be are listening, and taking requests, that’s mine. Fingers crossed.