Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Imminent Death

I wasn’t sure what to call this article. That sounded so urgent, but it’s what I want to talk about. I want to talk about those times in your life when death knocks. When you know to expect it… soon, and you have a little push time until it arrives. Where “soon” is the closest you can get to any certainty.
I’m packing for an annual retreat in the mountains, away from technology, away from traffic, and away from my senile, dying 20 year-old cat. It’s not that a vet has told us she’s dying. She’s 20 years old. That’s like, 96 in human years. She’s looking tired and worn. She sleeps twenty hours a day and walks stiffly through the house. We don’t know when, but we know it’s coming, likely sooner, rather than later.
I have a ritual now, before I leave overnight to go anywhere. I snuggle my cat, now affectionately called Grams, in a blanket and I cradle her in my lap. I listen to the familiar heavy-motor purr, the only thing that hasn’t faded. From just one touch of my finger she could run for hours, without breaking. I often woke in the night, distressed that something was different- only to discover that my kitty sound-machine had finally stopped purring.
And in my ritual, I listen to her purr. I tell her how much I love her. I tell her how lucky we were that she picked us in that winter storm in Fredonia. I tell her how happy she has made us. I listen as her purr turns to chirp as she headbutts my elbow crook. I listen to her chirp turn to chirrup turn to coo as she goes limp with bliss in my lap.
I use the special singsong voice she loves most. And then I sing to her, “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac. My cat trills a special note she only uses when I sing. And I sit with my beloved friend, who has been in my life for seventeen years. The things she has seen no one else knows. The ways we have changed, only she has witnessed.
I know this. I hold her. I feel sorrow for what is coming. And I feed that sorrow my love. In that last moment, whether I am with her or whether I am away on retreat somewhere, I know I will not have regret, because I told her how I felt and I showed her what she meant. She will know how much I loved her, she will feel how grateful I was for her, and she will remember the vibrations of my chest on her muscles as I sang sweet words to her:
“For you, there will be no crying.
For you, the sun will be shining.
And I feel that when I’m with you, it’s all right.
I know it’s all right…”

I could talk about my uncle, the first of my father’s siblings to be gravely ill. I could talk about his fight that he’s winning and losing. I could say that I am afraid I won’t see him again, and I know that’s why we had the conversation we had at Christmas. Because he might not see me again, and he didn’t want to leave things unsaid.
In that moment, it broke my heart. I wanted to push him away. I didn’t want him to say the words because to me words are magic. But this is my work. This is what I do. So I stood and I listened, overwhelmed with gratitude to be witness to his life, to stories he’d never told anyone else. To be gifted a shared intimacy that will last longer than this flesh.
I would talk about it more but I am sensitive to those loved ones who may not want to hear the words, he is dying. He is, right now. But he could get better. But right now, he’s not. But I get it. Words are magic. To act as if he is dying, to acknowledge it so that loved ones can prepare for its arrival, is as if to invite it in sooner. As if you are lighting a beacon. As if saying you acknowledge you will die, sooner than later, is the same thing as saying “I’m ready.”
But what walled city saw the fleet of ships arriving with weapons drawn and said, “I’m ready to fall?”

Are we ever ready? I snuggle my cat close to me. I tell her it’s all right. It’s all right if she hangs out with her moments of dementia for more years. It’s all right if I wake up tomorrow and she’s gone. It’s all right if she passes while we’re away. As long as she knows we love her and what an important part of our family she is, will always be.
I think of my uncle, the funny one, and I feel bad saying he’s sick. As if somehow I am unweaving any healing work he is undergoing to get better. I pray to my Grandpa Mark and Grandma Ruth and ask them to watch over my uncle every morning, to give him as much life as he has in him. I ask them to watch over their other children as they deal with their varying levels of grief over the idea that, eventually, one of them will be the first to die.
I pray to my cats that have crossed over, Luna and Bella, and ask them to watch over Zami, and to welcome her across when she is ready to take that journey.

May we live each day with our eyes open.
May we know the light and the darkness,
and may we fear neither.
May we learn to feed the shadow with light.
May we know joy and sadness.
May we feed our sorrow with love.
May we live without regret.
May those we love know our hearts.
May our last moments be good moments.

May our last words be words of love.

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