Spirit. Life. Attachment. Impermanence. It is one thing to read about these concepts and another to experience a life situation that demands that I apply a new perspective on life. On Friday, September 12, 2008 I experienced firsthand and for the first time the so-called “death” of a loved one. It was a gift I am most grateful for.
I am speaking here of a cat named Tom, who spent the past seventeen-and-a-half years by my side. An awesome cat with just the right amount of arrogance. Over the past few years he had developed hyperthyroidism and his kidneys started to weaken – an irreversible, terminal condition according to the vet. I wanted to prove her wrong and set about to give Tom the best chance of recovery I could.
Monday (t-minus 4 days): Alas, even with a better diet, supplements, and lots of love, the notion of ‘impermanence’ began to flood into my brain. My attempts to postpone the inevitable were no longer working. Tom stopped eating and began to sleep in far-off spots in the apartment, doing what he could do to follow his natural instincts when an animal approaches death.
Tuesday (t-minus 3 days): Life kept me busy and I had little time to contemplate what was happening. I was powerless to stop what was happening and that wasn’t something I wanted to dwell on.
Wednesday (t-minus 2 days): After Tom had not eaten for two days, I started to accept that our life situations would soon change; my heart began to open to the experience. I felt no desire to try to stop a situation that was asking me to let it be. His body was giving the signals it had served its purpose. Looking into Tom’s eyes and sensing his energy, I felt sure he was asking to move on.
Only Tom knows what exactly Tom was going through, but from his regular meowing at the bath tub, I began to associate it with pain and a desperate desire to let go of his body. His kidneys had failed and toxins were building in his system. Having not eaten and already being so thin from his hyperthyroid condition, I found myself having to dig deep to stay calm and present while seeing him in this state. His hind legs had begun to fail and he would stumble around and stare at the water bowl and bathtub in a plea to satiate an insatiable thirst.
Wednesday night came and I went to bed, knowing that what Tom was going through was his journey. It was no benefit to him for me to feel sorry for him. Still, as I heard his regular heart-turning meowing throughout the night, it was tough. To contemplate life after Tom, or to think about “the good old days”, brought tears to my eyes.
Thursday (t-minus 1 day): After a night of Tom’s frequent requests for release, I made an a.m. call to the mobile vet unit. At home and in familiar surroundings was how I wanted it to be for me and him. I asked them to come later that day, but Friday, 9:30am was the time they had available.
Part of me was grateful to have another day to say my goodbyes, but it would mean another day of needing the great spiritual and life teachings I had followed for the past few years. Being present, accepting and not resisting, offering compassion but not pity, contemplating that Tom was not the body a part of me believed him to be – these were among the pillars of my strength that would carry me beyond valley of the shadow of death.
Friday morning 9:30am (t-minus 0): By this time Tom’s physical decent was challenging my ability to stay sane. His back legs were spaghetti, his meowing was almost constant and he didn’t even bother trying to drink anymore – he had lost faith that anything of this world was his salvation.
Not a moment too soon, the vet and his assistant arrived at my door. It was surreal. In my fantasies the day before I had imagined breaking down, but instead I was calm. I escorted them to Tom, who was peacefully laying by the bathroom door awaiting what was coming. He had surrendered and so had I. I watched as the vet injected first a mild painkiller, and then a needle filled with an overdose of anesthetic. The motion of Tom’s ribcage ceased. The vet checked his heart, and confirmed that it was finished.
But he did not die…
Post-mortem, I looked into the eyes of the body I had thought of as “Tom”. Tom was not there. What I saw instead was a biological machine that had ceased functioning. I felt little sadness and if fact relief that Tom’s life force/essence/soul/spirit had left the trap of a body which now sits in my freezer and awaits composting.
I am grateful for Tom entering my life. But it was a love for the experience of Tom that I had, and not a love of his body. To feel him purr when I pet him; to hear him meow when I came home. That was Tom. Everything that matters about our relationship is within me – I cannot mourn for his death because he was not his body and so he did not die.
There is a part of me that wants Tom back. To hold on to a fantasy. It’s not easy to let go. But the nature of our physical universe is one of change and impermanence. The nature of spirit is one of permanence. I am moving on. And Tom has not died.