By Janice Price
There is nothing like the prospect of death to help you put things into perspective. Suddenly, vacuuming is not all that important. Spending time with the dying is.
In this instance, I am referring to Jenny, my feline companion of seventeen years. We have survived great patches of summers without air conditioning and winters without heat, bad health and poverty. When I moved across country several years ago, Jenny and another feline companion, Grayce, rode in the truck cab with me. Two years ago we grieved for the loss of Grayce.
Jenny has always given unconditional love, even when I was short-tempered and impossible to love, and I have always admired her feisty and independent spirit. She has put up a valiant fight, but eventually death catches up to all of us, animal or human.
Despite the heat and humidity, she wants to be held. With her head on my shoulder, she sleeps deeply, while I watch the barely perceptible rise and fall of her breathing.
For the last four nights I have tried to sleep on the floor. No amount of padding can make the floor comfortable or easy to rise from. But it’s important to me for her to know I’m nearby, where I can offer her sips of water and change her wet bedding.
I have had a lot of quiet time in the past few days. Of course, my mind dwells on our days of fun and laughter. She has given me lots of reasons to laugh. Since she went blind two years ago, she has needed extra care, but continued to be as independent as possible. More than once she has come close to death and rallied, but this time is different. There is a time to be born and a time to die. My heart is heavy and I’ve already shed many tears.
But my mind doesn’t just dwell on Jenny. So many things flood my mind.
I have no children, but each time I hold a sick or dying pet, I think of the unbearable pain of any parent who holds a dying baby or young child — even an adult child — for the last time. I can’t imagine such suffering.
I think of Mother, who never had the opportunity to hug her son one last time before he went into the hospital for the final time. Nor, for health reasons, was she able to attend his funeral.
I remember last year when I scooped up her old dog, Shorty, saying, “We’ll be back in an hour,” thinking he would get a shave and a rabies shot. Instead, I returned with his body. She didn’t get to say good-bye.
A couple of months ago, her other old dog, Benji, died at her feet. She sat alone with his body all through the long night. When it was apparent his time was fast approaching, every time I was there, I intended to pick him up and put him in her lap, so she could hold Benji one last time. Intentions are worthless, if not acted upon.
I think of my friend, Jay, in Ohio who flew home from Hawaii after burying her mother, only to find her husband had died in their bed during the night.
Of my friend, Carol, who endured the funerals of two sons who each committed suicide.
Of my friend, Pat, who has such a heart for helping others, and whose husband has been a quadriplegic for forty years. An accident changed whatever plans the young couple had for their life together. I’m sure they both grieved for the lifestyle that was lost, but they picked up and carried on together.
Of my friends Mark and Janet, who struggled for many years through Mark’s severe asthma problems. Then, when his health and their financial picture brightened, Janet was diagnosed with cancer. I picture him hugging her during her illness, wondering each time if that would be the last time he would get to hold her.
Of my friends Pat and David. Theirs is a similar type of situation. After years of his health trials, she suddenly became the priority after a diagnosis of leukemia. How often did he wonder if she would be there with him the next day or the next week?
And, of course, I think of Jesus and his agonizing death on the cross. Even though God had not the slightest doubt Jesus would be resurrected, I can not help but think there was joy in heaven when Jesus was reunited with his Father, and if ever there was a time for a Spiritual hug, this would be it – at least in my mind.
God can use any situation to teach us. As I sat here the other day feeling alone, with no local friend to call, I began to realize that after years of misunderstandings, Mother has become my best friend in the area.
When Grayce died unexpectedly. I worried about Mother living alone, and tried to find a way to move both households into one house large enough to accommodate her wheelchair and my “office” —not to mention our pets .— but was frustrated at every turn. Perhaps it was not time. Maybe neither of us was ready for such a move.
If it is not too late, perhaps the time has finally come for the merging of two households. Our circumstances are such that only God can open a door and provide means, opportunity and the strength I would need to pack up and move two households. But just as Jenny has needed me more the past two years, and especially the last few days, Mother needs more attention and help than I can give her hauling things back and forth between two houses. I want to be there for her as much as possible, just as I have been here for Jenny.
God has taught me so much through the life of all my pets over the years. Jenny has lived with me the longest and she is taking a little piece of my heart with her, just as each of the others have when their time came, but she is leaving an even bigger deposit of loving memories.
Letting others know you care for them and making amends should always be high on a list of priorities but they usually get relegated to the “when I get the nerve to say that” list or brushed off with, “He (or she) knows I care. I don’t have to say it.” Yes, actually we do need to say it, as well as to show it. I’m not very good at either, but I have to learn. Tomorrow, or even today, might be too late.
Yesterday, when I began writing this, Jenny’s heart was still beating. This morning her body, once so active and full of energy, grew still and stiff. I buried her beside her old friend, Grayce.
As I walked the dogs this morning, all I could think about was to pray, God, please make me into the kind of loving person you want me to be – and my pets think I already am.
© 2005 Janice Price