You know it’s coming, you’ve been expecting it. Still, once you realize how close it is, you want to stop it. And then you realize of course that you cannot stop it. Nothing can.
Suddenly, everything starts to expand all around you. Suddenly, you are so small, smaller than you’ve ever been until this moment.
Suddenly, you start thinking about your own life: all the things you didn’t do, or let go of for reasons you can’t remember. Suddenly, every fiber of your being is overcome by humility and gratitude: YOU still have time.
And so you make a promise to not waste one more second, one more a day; to do more, not less; to make things right even if you don’t quite know how; to allow faith and courage; to love without measure; to re-awaken and embrace all those beautiful dreams you still carry in your pocket.
Yes, you still have time.
And you know this now, more clearly than ever, because right before you, life suddenly became real and is showing you that it has an end.
This is not a sad story. Yes, a life was lost. But it was a good life, and it ended gently.
Tonight it was the life of Clarky the cat, rescued as a kitten 18 years ago, who lived that good life, and who passed away this morning.
I’ve been with him since earlier in the evening when he suddenly lay down on his side and stopped getting up. Although I’ve held many beloved animals just before they were put to sleep, I’ve never actually witnessed a death. And so I didn’t know what to expect. Alone, I sat by his side for most of 7 or so hours…petting him, talking to him, making sure he was warm. Praying.
He breathed softly, then deeper again, and once in a while he sighed. At one point, fearing discomfort, I leaned close to his chest only to realize he was purring as I petted him. Dear god, I said out loud, this cat is dying and he purrs for me!
He never closed his eyes. Even now, they’re still open. I didn’t turn away, and even though I don’t know if his tired, timid gaze showed sadness or simply weakness, it felt somehow right that we should look at each other…that he should see me.
Right before he passed away, I sat on the bed and watched him, planning to lie down for a bit and rest. Then he lifted his head a bit, and he meowed…three times, pausing in between.
I knew then the end was really close. I didn’t touch him because I was afraid. But all he did was simply stretched his legs a few times, as cats do when they’re sleepy and getting comfortable.
And then, gently, he settled into stillness.
I didn’t feel him go…I just saw it.
So yes, today, for the first time in my life I saw death…and I can tell you it is a settling into stillness. If you had asked me earlier if I could handle witnessing a death at 4 am, after a difficult day, and on my own, I would have told you no. But you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
As I sat close once more, crying and petting him gently, I was surprised at the focus of my sadness. I was not thinking about the fact that we all should die one day…rather, that so many of us, or perhaps all of us at times, hide from life by skimming the surface…or else sinking. It’s as if we’re trying to cheat our challenges and fears and discomfort.
But what and who are we cheating? I thought of those videos again…there’s no numbing the difficult feelings without numbing the wonderful ones as well. And there’s no bypassing the difficult things related to living with authenticity without losing the wonderful things too.
We should never forget that we are here to be real, to touch, connect, love, witness, and share. And do so fully, wholeheartedly. Because one day it does all end, and there’s nobody sitting there with a measuring stick or a checklist to give us a trophy or reprimand.
Only we know what value we created…only the soul knows.
As I am writing this, the sun did rise, spreading a light, golden glow over the trees in the yard. Of course there is much sadness…and as cranky, spoiled, territorial and impossible as Clarky was, he will be missed.
But in the end, I must admit, there’s nothing tragic about death…not when a life was lived fully and well.
And I must also admit that I am grateful for the privilege of being here with this cat, this member of our family, in his last hours. I needed to witness the settling into stillness, and be reminded in the most direct way there is, that it is not death we should fear…but an empty, unlived life.