I don’t have sophisticated tastes.  I eat like a child. I would never say that I even like most vegetables and I have to work to eat them. I have learned to ask for wine that is “fruity” but really, I mean “sweet.” I am the same way about stories, particularly TV shows and movies, probably because those are the stories I turn to for relief and escape. When an important character dies I sometimes feel betrayed, as though the rules of storytelling forbid it.  Like somebody put carrots in my trick-or-treat bag. An ending that isn’t happy – particularly death – feels wrong.

I am so brainwashed.  I have seen probably hundreds of thousands of stories, movies, TV shows, books, plays.  Each has an ending, and most of them have taught me all the wrong things about death. There are so many formulaic stories that the life events they portray have become like points in a game. Someone dies, you lose. Someone gets married, you win. If at the end of the story the characters you have come to (maybe) love are alive and happy, then that feels right.  We walk away from that story with those people frozen in time, forever.  If I think of all the fictional characters I have encountered in my 47 years, most of them are still alive, like the last chord of a piece of music echoing on forever. I have come to believe that real people should be that way too.

Despite what I know, what life tries to tell me, I am wired by all these stories to believe that all of this or that should go on forever, and then when death happens, it’s wrong. I have noticed my own deep immaturity in this area even as I’ve gotten older. I have not been helped by the lack of hard knocks in the death department. I haven’t had to face it very much. And so I fear death. I fear mine, and I fear losing those I love so much that it will probably be easier (in some ways) when it does come, because of the dread and horror I have attached to death. Sometimes I envy people in less “developed” cultures, or people from earlier centuries. Death was inescapable, and they saw it and smelled it and cleaned it up and went on. They probably did not have the selfish entitlement I feel to big fat slices of forever and happily ever after.

It’s not just death, it’s endings. Why does a group of friends, or a great team, or a love relationship have to change? Why can’t we be in that relational sweet spot forever? Duh. Do I really want to live in some kind of freeze frame where nothing changes and no one grows? Am I still such a baby that I don’t know how to take the bitter with the sweet? Apparently so. And when the ending, or the fading away, or the change, comes, I am so busy coveting my lost endlessness that I forget what it was about.  I forget that it was always the moment, the day, that mattered. It’s not like I’m going to wait until the end of my life to flip through the photo album and THEN get the big payoff, while the credits roll.  That was it.  It’s gone.

It’s 9:38, and at 11 we will be at the vet, holding our sweet kitty as she gets the shot that will end her life. She is 17 years old, and sick, and we’re doing this before she gets sicker, and all the agonizing about the whether and the when are done. But I’m struck by some of my fear and horror, again. I know that life doesn’t last forever, and I’m sort of getting it as I take in her aging and her discomfort. But still it feels wrong.  I have agonized about all the times I wasn’t a good enough “mom” to her.  The way we didn’t love her the same way after the baby came.  The times she wanted to be petted and I shoved her away.

This is typical, I guess. Wishing for more of what we didn’t appreciate. Missing her in advance. But for me, it was also something like, maybe if I’d been a better person to her things would… be different.  Really? Am I thinking that I could have earned a longer life for her? That I somehow “lose” because my cat has gotten old and sick, and because I deserve that? And that is a part of it, for me. In the sugary stories, the “better” people often end up with the better result. The stronger ones are able to exert some kind of control and things get fixed that aren’t the slightest bit fixable in real life.

Another sad part is thinking I should have cuddled her more when I had the chance, as if I could have saved it up somehow, and opened a can of it on some future day when I felt around at the foot of the bed and realized she wasn’t there. That’s not real either. The truth is she will be gone soon, very soon. And all of the perfect behavior and cuddling in the world would not have prevented this day from coming, and I think it would not prevent me from hurting either. I guess I just like to think that I could have done something.  Otherwise the idea that loss hits me like a freight train and will, every time, no matter what I do – that’s too scary.

Once in a while I can stop, and breathe, and think of her life as something that will not just end today; it will be complete. I will have given her the best possible life, within the range of my limitedness; I will have loved her so much, and I will have given her the best possible death. Even though I am stupid about death, I am pretty sure that there is beauty in a good one, even though we can only guess about what a “good” death might be, from our position as the spectator.

Only when her life is over will I truly understand all that was right, and good, about it.  Not forever, not free of pain, not perfectly sweet. Just: right.

Advertisements