An end brings a reminder to live fully and well…

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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.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Very well stated Joanna. I felt your words as I read them. I have seen death many, many times, both with family and friends and with almost every one of our 4 legged family members. It is sad but it is also a wonder to see them relax and let go of this life and gently slide into the next one leaving all the pain and bad things in their lives behind them. We are left behind to continue on as best we know how and as best we can. We learn that we do need to live what life we have left to the fullest and get past our own pain and still be there to reach out and help others, be it human or animal. That is what makes us a good person and helps us to cope with our everyday situations! Knowing we just might have made a difference in someone or something elses life is a great healer.Give the boys a hug for me and I send you a huge hug and much love enveloped inside that hug!

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    1. Joanna L. says:

      Thank you Sheila. I’ve “seen” death too…so many times. But never witnessed it like this. It was quite the humbling experience. And like I wrote, I am so thankful for it. Although I was not all doing all that well earlier in the evening, not knowing what to expect and so scared of facing this alone. But then there are friends…dear friends like you who are always there, offering love and support. It makes all the difference.

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  2. No matter what we do in life, no matter how we go about doing it, at the end of our life we won’t be reprimanded for it; we won’t be praised for it. It simply will be what is done. No matter whether our choices were right or wrong, this should not matter. We should live life to it’s fullest. We shouldn’t do what we don’t want to do, what we aren’t comfortable with, or what others try to pressure us into. We should do what we want, what we are comfortable with, and what we feel benefits us and our loved ones the most. We should stand up and fight for what we believe in. We should not cheat ourselves from what we want. We still have time. We have time to make right what was wronged, we have time to explore new areas of our lives, and we have time to show those we love how much we truly love them. Unfortunately, we don’t have the power to make others do what we want. After all, they should do all these things for themselves. But, at the end of the day, we should treat those we love with the upmost respect because when that time does come, they are the one’s we will want to be by our side to comfort us, to hold us, to ensure our safe and peaceful passing.

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  3. Joanna L. says:

    That’s right Kristy…live from the heart, live simply, live well. All I keep thinking is how a life is so small…so brief. It only means something if we create the meaning…and it can mean a lot, or very little; it can be this great story that touches many lives, or it can be just two words…beginning…end. And unlike any other experience, facing the finality of death is quite the awakening with the question: Are you living fully…are your writing the story you want and choose?

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    1. This is exactly why I have made the choices I have…to write the story I want and choose, not the story someone else has in mind for me. I have to say that in the beginning it was extremely difficult…destructive in a sense because of the choices I had to make in order to make my story the one I wanted. After getting through the beginning of all of that I now realize it really was for the best. My story is now being written by ME, how I want, when I want, where I want. Because of this I can truly say that I am making myself happy because of it.

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      1. Joanna L. says:

        I know how difficult it is. But those hard choices are unfortunately necessary. You live with your heart and give everything you have to make sure those around you have the best, are loved and supported. And you, like everyone else, deserves the same…along with respect, support and a genuine, loving investment in your wellbeing. As you know, I believe connection and sharing are the most important things in life. But sometimes we’re the only ones who can stand up for ourselves and take care of ourselves, at least for a while. For me it’s not a matter of proving self-sufficiency or doing things in a way that suits only me, so that I don’t have to deal with any inconvenience or discomfort. Rather, it’s very much about self-respect, setting boundaries and having the courage to set some standards when it comes to sharing a life.

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  4. dh says:

    Beautiful tribute to a beautiful cat. I will always remember Clarky as the mischievous kitten at the inn by the lake. It was great to have had the chance to see him again last summer when we were visiting amreeka. Reading your post reminds me of Atticus and the sadness that I felt when he died. xoxo wa meow

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