The Impossibility of Saying Goodbye To The Dying (and Shrine Focus, and Soul Searching)

On Friday evening, I got home from a short road trip to New York and Liz needed to talk about Canobeans, her 20-year old cat. Canobeans had pretty much stopped eating, was getting dehydrated, and was having trouble with using the litter box. We made the decision to schedule with Lap of Love to have her euthanized because her health was accelerating downhill.

Saturday wasn't a blur for me but it still went much too quickly. The Vet from Lap of Love was scheduled for 1pm. I doted on Canobeans with nearly every free moment before 1pm taking breaks here and there. I brushed her. I talked to her. I fed her water. I told her how much we loved her and what a gift she was to us.

I didn't say goodbye. It's just too hard and too sad. I'd fall to pieces. Maybe that would have been appropriate.

What Do You Do In the Final Moments?

Rest well, Canobeans.

What the heck can you do you make final moments in life feel like they are enough? I'm not sure that it can be achieved.

In the final moments, when you are trying your best to say and show the depth of your love and loss, nearly everything you do is symbolic. Everything you do feels totally futile. Your gestures can never make up for the fact that there will never again on this earth be what we had together. It's like trying to pay a sort of life-debt that can never be repaid.

But you do it anyway. You stop assessing and stay in the moment. You laugh when you can. You remember to breathe when your body forgets to do it for you.

While Canobeans was still alive, I focused on doing things she enjoyed so that she could know that we loved her.

Now that she is gone, it helps for me to do small gestures to express my gratitude for how much richer my life was because I had this other being to care for and to enjoy.

A Shrine as A Focus

A Shrine

Liz and I setup this shrine. It started with just flowers... an impulse buy at the store. And we put them in a vase in the bedroom, where Canobeans spent the last year. I added candles, and a cat toy. Liz put her paw print mold next to everything. And then we picked some photos to print and stuck them in frames. And we arranged it all on a very small table.

We light candles when they go out. They are wonderful to look at, day or night. A small fire that requires some care to keep it burning from time to time. This is good catharsis for us. Candle light is a wonderful focus for just sitting and being. For just accepting that what is, is.

A struggle that is particular to me in grieving is that the feeling of the person/cat I just lost slips away from me. It's not that I want to hold on and never let go. But I don't want to just "get on with my life" either. I want to keep a space for pondering and remembering. This is a good time for soul-searching and thinking about life. I am not looking to rush it along.

The ritual of keeping the candles going and pausing at this little shrine helps me to remember. It gives me a bit of space in my very-busy head. I think it's because I would have to do all of this remembering in my head if we didn't have the shrine but now that we have set it up it makes it easier for us because we don't have to keep it all in our heads and hearts. We can look upon our love and loss from the outside rather than only gazing inward.

In The Aftermath, Soul Searching Questions Abound

Getting space in my head is crucial right now also because another struggle I face are the manifold questions that arise in the aftermath of putting a pet to rest. Soul-searching questions are inevitable. Try as I might to trust our decisions, I find that I revisit the questions again and again and I have to justify that what I did was the right choice. All of the reasons are there, but getting to an alignment between feeling and reason isn't something I can force. It takes time. I have to trust that too.

I find myself thinking about everything that matters just before death and the things that matter in the aftermath. All that matters is that there was love. And all love is unique and beautiful and fleeting. Sometimes love is just brushing hair or fur. Sometimes love is cleaning poop off of something that shouldn't have poop on it. For certain, love is missing something/someone you are used to interacting with daily.

I find myself pondering eternity. The great unponderable. A sensation of being human is that our existence feels continuous and eternal: All I know is that I have always been and it feels like I shall always be. It is alien to imagine that I will not exist some day. I don't believe in an afterlife but sometimes it's a "pretty little lie". Either way there is good news: Either I am wrong and will continue on, or I am right that I will no longer exist and I probably won't know it anyway.

If I'm wrong I hope I get to see Canobeans and all of my loved ones again some day.