A Good Death to a Good Life
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” – Anatole France
I lost last week. Well, I lost my productivity last week. By choice mind you, but still as I sit here at my cluttered desk in the early gray morning, the furnace still clicking on even though it is early April, I am feeling that slight tug in my belly that says, you suck, you didn’t get all your shit done, you are behind now. I know this voice, it is my habitual taskmaster that keeps me tethered to feeling not good enough. It is the seeds of constant anxiety I battle with everyday to not grow into full on panic. Panic that can paralyze me and render me obsolete on the couch for days at a time.
My choice last week was to choose love. Instead of filling my life space with doing, or as Brene Brown says, performing, perfecting, pleasing, I turned my back on my habitual taskmaster and my never ending quest to prove I am good enough. I put everything I could on hold to be present with my dying cat, Lupe. On Monday, I finally had to call pet hospice to have them come and put Lupe down. I knew this time was coming. Lupe was 18 years old and declining rapidly. She had, what we think was a brain tumor, that finally was too much for her little body to handle.
So I did things differently than I normally do. I stopped and spent every free moment I could last week sitting with her on the couch, gently petting her, bringing her treats and water. I let go of my task list so I could let go of this cat who has been with 14 years. I picked up her frail body and held her close and tight, not wanting to let go but knowing the time was coming. Knowing the kind thing for Lupe was to let her go. On Thursday Lupe died peacefully curled up in her favorite blanket on the couch. It was a good death to a good life.
I adopted Lupe in 2002 from our local shelter. When I went to the shelter I specifically was looking for a cat no one else wanted and was least likely to be adopted. Lupe was 4 years old at the time and was surrendered because her owners had moved. She was a tiny light gray cat with whispers of orange tabby. She was unresponsive sitting in the cold steel cage, a water bowl and some food next to her. In the get acquainted room, she sat on my lap unfazed and unimpressed by my hand gently petting her tiny body. She didn’t seem to care about a single thing. When I brought her home she hide under the bed and in the back reaches of the closet for about 6 months before she started to come out and trust me. I don’t know what happened to Lupe before she came to live with me, but I am so glad I got to make a difference in her life. I was able to give her a warm, loving home in which she thrived. For Lupe, I was always enough.
I woke early this morning startled from a dream. In my dream, I was in a co-worker's apartment in Brooklyn after a work event. I was hiding in the bathroom because the meeting I was suppose to lead flopped and everyone else took over. I failed at my duties. I was not good enough. As I stood at the sink looking in the mirror, Lupe my cat, jumped up on the vanity and pushed her tiny gray head against my hand for a pet. In the dream I knew Lupe was dead. Just three days before I knew I had carried her limp, still warm, body to the back room so my other cat Riggins could smell her body and know she was dead.
But there in my dream, Lupe was vital, warm and living. I remember all I wanted was to hold her tight to my chest one more time and whisper I love you over and over. I wanted to feel her purring body that was soft as bunny clinging on to mine just one more time. As I picked Lupe up and held her I woke from the dream confused and sad—shrouded in grief.
The dream felt so real, I wanted to linger in that dream space and yet, I also felt betrayed. I had already said good bye. I had already done so much of the hard work of letting go of a loved one. I had buried her in corner of the backyard under the young maple tree. I had wrapped her tiny frail body in a white cotton pillowcase with petite pink flowers, laid her gently in a shoe box and tied it with twine.
I had done some much hard work. I laid in the darkness thinking I didn’t want to have to do it again. I couldn’t do it again. The hardest part of being a loving pet owner is giving them the best gift we can, a good death. If we are lucky enough to have a long life with our furry loved ones, most of us will come to the moment where we will have to give this most selfless gift. We will have to let them go in love and dignity, peacefully to reduce their suffering. It is a honor and privilege—and it is hard.
So no I didn’t get my Open Heart Letter out to my email list, I didn’t answer all of my emails, I didn’t participate in the painting class I am taking. Instead I choose to give myself time to be with my cat in her final days. I choose to love. It is what made last week more than good enough. This is the stuff that really matters and I am thankful I am wise enough to know it.
Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart
8 Ways You Can Survive and Thrive in Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty- So last month I officially enter mid-life, or can we say early mid-life. I find so many things shifting inside about what next and reevaluating every aspect of my life. I love this list of ways to thrive in midlife. It is about slowing down but staying engage. It is about owning limitations and embracing the vitality of life. It is about saying no to striving for more to make room for what I want.
True Story: I’m a Cat by Sarah Von Bargen- Holy crap this is just what I needed to read this week. I was laughing so hard. For anyone who has a cat, you must read this.
Meditation on Loving Kindness by Jack Kornfield- Here are the basic instructions for practicing Metta or loving kindness meditation. This is the first form of meditation I practiced before moving into a vipassana practice and I can say it changed my life. Still is.
Zen Calligraphy: the Creativity of Non-doingby Alok Hsu Kwang-han- A beautiful meditation on creating and non-doing.
Love Obsessive Organization? So Does Austin Radcliffe- Love these photographs. I, on the other hand, am not obsessive about organization but I appreciate it.
And finally, Lap of Love Pet Hospice Service- I can not thank the folks at Lap of Love enough of helping us through this difficult time. Dr. Courtney Brookens Graham, DV came to our home so Lupe was not stressed out by traveling to the vet. Thank you Lap of Love.