Monday, August 30, 2010

Of Light and Dark

In a few weeks I will be having my 60th birthday. It's very easy to joke about someone else's 60th, but somehow when it's your own it's different. At age 60 you've already been getting AARP materials for 10 years. The fact is inescapable that you're getting old. Unless you turn out to be a miracle of a human specimen and live to be 120+ years old, there is less life before you than there is behind you. When you take stock of yourself, you realize that you can't put things off any longer if you really want to achieve them. It's time to crank it up and get it done if you haven't managed to do it already.

What it is is a not so subtle reminder of one's mortality. Now you're a senior citizen, even if the Social Security and Medicare don't kick in for a few years yet. Even if you can't afford to retire for a few years yet. In society's eyes you're old. In your insurance company's eyes you're becoming a liability. In your employer's eyes you're becoming one of those big salaries to be urged out as soon as possible. In your wife's eyes, you're one step closer to biting the big one and leaving her all alone to try and make ends meet and suffer through the rest of her days alone. Ask Babs sometime about her fantasy regarding after my death. It involves being dirt poor, living in a ratty little apartment, and having a skinny German shepherd for company.

As if this state of mind weren't bad enough, one of my cats is on his last legs and we're going to have to "put him to sleep," to euthanize him. Who knew you could get so attached to a 15 year old mass of fur? Talk about your reminders of mortality. His kidneys are failing. We've spent the last few months giving him Lactated Ringers solution subcutaneously and trying desperately to get him to eat something, anything. Mostly he likes to drink water and lactose free milk. Now he's beyond skinny and somewhere in the realm of gaunt. He's gotten weaker and walks very slowly, with the gait of the old and fragile. For the last couple of days he's pretty much holed up in the guest bedroom and on the rug in the guest bathroom.

I made the call today. I called the veterinarian's office and told them the story and requested an appointment to euthanize him. I got choked up and had a hard time speaking with the clerk in the vet's office. I feel complicit in bringing about the death of a friend, albeit a very sick old friend. How do you say good-bye to a friend when you asked the vet to put the needle in and give him the sleep from which he will never wake.

Then that brings me back around to my own mortality. How will I feel when I too walk the walk of the old and fragile. If it is hard to face the death of an old friend, of a close relative, how then does one face one's own demise? How hard will it be to go to sleep at night, knowing that any one of those nights could be the sleep from which you will never wake? How do you say good-bye to those with whom you shared a lifetime? Talk about being choked up.

It is times like these when I remember Dylan Thomas and his urging to "not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." As humans we have that option. As cats and dogs, our old friends of the feline and canine variety do not. They generally just give up and let you know it's time. They seem to know that at some point it is all futile. The cycle must be completed. The old must make way for the new.

There are those, perhaps wiser than I, who would advocate a similar resignation for human deaths. They are, however, people with religion. Whether one believes in heaven and hell, in reincarnation, or in becoming one with Mother Earth, it gives one a reason to not dread the end. How I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, logic and a lifetime based on reason tell me otherwise. When the darkness comes, it comes. There is no relief. There is only wishful thinking, in that respect. One must make one's own peace with death, or one can fight it tooth and nail until it finally is able to overtake you.

There are people with painful, terminal diseases who welcome the coming of the darkness, the release from the pain and misery. There are those who live very long productive lives who make peace with their end, having squeezed every ounce of living out of their lives and are ready to go. We can only hope that we are not reduced to the former. We can only hope that we are fortunate enough to qualify for the latter. In the meantime I am still in full-blown "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" mode, and I plan on squeezing a lot more life out of my remaining years. I'll miss my cat greatly, though. Sammy, we salute the short little fuzzy life that was yours.


  1. I understand your belief about life after death and God. For me, the certainty of life after death is peace. My life has been lived out of a love for my fellow man, wanting to do good for others and show love that I believe that Christ showed for me. Not out of fear. AND, by some chance if I am wrong, I have lost nothing. HUGS

    Melissa (your niece)