Those who are interested can watch the funeral service by clicking here. I encourage you to watch the whole service and not just President Obama’s eulogy.
Category Archives: death
As you may have guessed from my lack of updates, this year has been very challenging. It has felt like a whirlwind. I’m still not sure I’ve had time yet to properly absorb Min’s loss, and the year has just marched right on. I don’t know where the time has gone.
In February, I had my right CMC thumb joint replaced, in a procedure called CMC arthoplasty. As joint surgeries go, this one was relatively simple and the recovery period was relatively painless and easy.In March, I adopted Emily from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, who had been there for nearly 5 years… with reason. That reason: she was (and still is) very, very shy and scared of most people. I chose to work with her 3 years ago and gained her trust, but even after living with us for 8 months, she’s still wary of my husband. And she came with unexpected health issues: she ended up needing most of her teeth pulled due to severe gum inflammation that was autoimmune in origin and was just diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease last week. By the summer, another joint of mine was dying; my right ankle was no longer functional, and I became unable to drive and was only able to walk by seriously limping and leaning on walls/furniture whenever possible. Also in the summer, Kosette, our 17 year old cat with multiple health issues, suddenly changed. Come August, she no longer was acting like “our” Kosette. Uneven pupils prompted a vet appointment where the worst was confirmed: a brain tumor. On August 6th, we put her down, to prevent her from suffering from the increasing anxiety and confusion that were surely to come. My ankle replacement and bonus toe/metatarsal surgery scheduled for August 27th, we decided to adopt Ethel (again from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs) earlier than we would have otherwise. Only 10 days or so after losing Kosette, we brought Ethel home. And just over a week later, I had ankle replacement (and bonus toe/metatarsal) surgery… which was by far the hardest joint surgery I’ve had, in terms of pain after and the recovery period. One month non-weight-bearing on my right foot when my left hip was due to be replaced in 2011 and is not capable of bearing any extra weight and my left wrist had been replaced in 2008 and couldn’t bear more than 10 pounds. I’m still not sure how I got through that month, but I did. And now the end is in sight with this surgery. I’m doing Physical Therapy; I can walk almost normally; I can drive. I’ve yet to start seriously belly dancing again, but I’m hoping to get back to that sometime this week. In addition, I’m a member of the board of directors at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, and we’ve had a lot of struggles this year.
And that’s the summary of my life since losing Min this January.
Is it any wonder I feel adrift sometimes? That sometimes I still see Min or Kosette out of the corner of my eye? That I still feel like my mornings and days are too empty because I’m not spending ten minutes or more of every waking hour at home feeding (or attempting to feed) Kosette? That I wonder if I even had time to process losing my right ankle, to properly grieve the loss of a joint the way I’ve needed to in the past prior to joint surgeries?
To wonder where this year has gone. It feels like I just took a breath, and suddenly it’s almost Thanksgiving.
I have no regrets about anything that has happened this year. I just wish this year had happened over the course of 2 or 3 instead of just one. This has been one of the hardest years of my life thus far. But has it been a bad year?
No. Losing Min and losing Kosette were part of loving them. When I love a cat, I know that one day, that cat will die. And I make a choice every time that I will love this cat as much as I can for as long as I can and I will not hold back any love or affection out of fear of future pain. In a way, those final weeks approaching the end of a cat’s life have a sacred beauty all their own. The love fulfills its potential in those weeks. Do I love this cat enough to truly put their needs before my own? Is my love strong enough to let the cat go? I learn what my love is truly capable of in that moment, when my vet asks, “Are you sure? Are you ready?”, and I nod or say yes even as my whole being is screaming NO.
And then, I choose to love again. Because how could I not?
Today’s slogan is, “Nothing is what we thought”. I love this quote by Pema Chodron because it has so many different meanings. First, it can mean that things are not the way we thought they were, that our perception of things is wrong. Second, it can mean that we are thinking nothing, that our mind is empty. And third, it can mean that our thoughts are nothing, that they are insubstantial and fleeting.
When this quote comes up in her book, it is the first meaning that she is referring to, and it is that meaning that I want to ponder in this post. A few months ago, I was feeling awfully smug about my ability to handle whatever life could throw at me. I felt that I was comfortable with the way grief affects me and I had a set idea of the losses that I expected to occur in the next couple years. Kosette, our 17-year-old cat with kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure, would die within the next year or two. Then, five or so years later, our 12-year-old cat Min would die. That was how it was supposed to be. But life makes a mockery of our expectations, and nothing is as I thought.
When we came home after being away for Christmas, Min had stopped eating. Over the next two weeks, we took her to the vet many times, searching for the cause of her anorexia, expecting it would be something fixable. It wasn’t. It was intestinal lymphoma, meaning that even if she were force-fed, the food had nowhere to go. She stopped purring, was barely drinking, stopped urinating and defecating, and spent a lot of time each day hiding.
On January 13, my husband and I made the decision to put Min to sleep. There was nothing else we could do to end her suffering. There were things we could do to prolong her life, but nothing we could do to actually make her better.
It was a shock. And I learned that grief is not predictable, that life is not predictable. Life doesn’t care about your expectations. All you can do—all I can do—is love as much as you can, because, as cliché as this is, you just never know. And so I start 2014 not feeling smug at all, but feeling vulnerable. And raw. And uncertain.
Because nothing is what we thought, and that’s just the way things are.
We Quakers talk a lot about “finding our center”, “centering down”, etc. Ask a dozen Quakers what we mean by the term “center”, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers, though many of the answers would likely mention God, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, “that of God”…
But when I talk about the “center”, I’m talking about a real place. A place I go to at least twice a week and more if I can manage it. A place where I find joy, and love, and peace. A place where I know I’m needed and know without a doubt that this is where I’m called to be.
And that “center” isn’t my Quaker Meeting or my meditation group. That “center” is an adoption center at a local no-kill and cage-free feline (and canine) rescue called Chesapeake Cats and Dogs. I began volunteering at CCAD 4 years ago. My role was to help socialize the cats, and it’s a role I take seriously. If a cat is shy or skittish, I try to work with the cat, to help the cat understand that people aren’t a threat and that human affection is a good thing. But I also try to make sure that I find the time every time I’m there to pet every cat that needs it most.
And here comes the first challenge: in an adoption center that at times has housed over 60 cats at one time, how do I prioritize? How do I make sure that when I’m petting one cat, I’m not distracted by the dozens of other cats I want to find time for?
In short, how do I truly be present with each cat?
It’s just mindfulness meditation, in a different form. When I’m petting one cat, I’m just petting that one cat. I’m aware of the subtle body movements that indicate if I need to change my petting technique. I’m aware of the cat’s condition: has he or she lost weight? does he or she have any fleas or ticks? is he or she congested? What does the cat’s purr sound like? Are they any behavior changes, for better or worse, that I can notice? Are there other cats approaching that may make this cat feel defensive? And the only way I can answer these questions is by being with the cat, in the moment. And when I fail to stay in the moment, the cat always notices and reminds me to return to it.
There are always cats I don’t get to. When I leave, I make a mental note to make those cats a priority my next visit.
But there are also always cats I particularly look forward to. In a real way, some of these cats have become friends to me. Figuro, Snicker, Ethel, and Emily are the cats I’m most attached to. All of them have been at the center for more than a year; all of them except Ethel have been at the center for as long as I’ve been volunteering there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I absolutely adore and love these cats.
Which brings me to the next challenge: how do I love and adore these cats without holding back any affection, but also without becoming attached? After all, I can’t adopt them all.
When I first began volunteering at the center, I would cry whenever a cat I’d grown to love would get adopted. It’s hard developing a relationship with an animal and then having to say goodbye, knowing that I would likely never see the cat again. I knew that this was our goal, that we wanted the cats to be adopted and never returned to the center, but it struck me as a loss each time. I asked the office manager, Debbie, how she dealt with this, knowing that she loves those cats even more than I do. She said something like, “It gets easier with time. There are some you’ll always miss and the goodbyes are always hard, but it gets easier.”
And it has. Slowly I’ve become able to feel joy when a cat is adopted instead of sorrow. Slowly I’ve learned how to love without attachment, but without holding back either. It’s not about me and what I’d like. It’s about what’s best for the cat.
And this brings me to the third challenge: how to cope with the death of a cat or kitten.
This doesn’t happen often (and certainly not for lack of care or veterinary treatment), but it does happen. It’s par for the course for any rescue, whether the rescue is a no-kill or not. Some cats and kittens we try to rescue will have health problems. And some of those health problems won’t be curable or even treatable. And sometimes, a kitten just wastes away and no one knows why.
There is no answer to this challenge. Only the opportunity to practice and to remember that nothing is solid and every one dies. All I can do is be sure that when I’m with each cat or kitten, I’m giving them my all: all my love, all my attention. Because there’s no guarantee with any of them that they’ll be there the next time I come in. Maybe they’ll be adopted before then, or maybe I’ve already noticed that this cat or kitten is going downhill and may no longer be alive when I next come in.
The answer to this challenge is in the answers to the other two. All I can do is all that I can do. There is nothing else.
My center may not be overtly religious or spiritual, but it’s a good teacher. When I forget to be mindful or become too attached or my ego starts parading about how important it is, these cats bring me back to center. They remind me of what’s important and what isn’t. They show me what real love looks like. They fill me with joy, happiness, love, and sometimes sorrow, despair, and sadness.
But through it all, I always return to my center. Because it’s where I’m meant to be.
Today’s slogan is:
For one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.
I’m having trouble with this one today. It’s funny… a few months ago, I read a Buddhist book called “No Death, No Fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh. While reading the book, I was feeling kind of smug, the way I sometimes do when I’m reading spiritual books and think “I got this. I’ve accomplished this; I understand it; let’s move on.” (Yeah, I may appear modest, but in my mind? No, I am IT. I am AWESOME. I GOT THIS.) I felt that I really understood already how I view death and that I’d become comfortable with it and accepted it as just a necessary part of life.
Of course, at the time, it had been a while since I’d been faced with death and lost a loved one. (I think you can see where this post is heading…)
Earlier this week, I found out some bad news about a being I care very deeply for, a young being, too young. She’s possibly dying, but no one really knows for sure because there’s no definitive test for the thing she’s suspected of having.
That smugness is laughable now. I’ve been crying. I’ve been sad. I’ve been angry. I’ve felt this whole thing is completely unfair. I’ve felt powerless. I’ve felt despair.
I am trying to see the beauty: that I got the chance to know her, that she is still living.
But comfortable and accepting of her death (which, after all, would have been coming at some point…)? No, I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable at all with this.
I want to be able to end this post with some sort of meaning, but I think that’s at the heart of this discomfort and pain: that perhaps there is no meaning at all to be found in what’s happening. Perhaps it just IS.
All I can do is be there for her now, for as long as I can.
And I can try to remember this horrible feeling of despair, of powerlessness, when I start feeling smug the next time, especially when I start giving in to my ego and believing that I am somehow better than those OTHER people who get upset when someone they love is dying.
Because life, after all, is rooted in impermanence. And there are no guarantees, despite the term “life expectancy”.