Thursday, July 15, 2010

Memento Mori

Mortality has been on my mind a lot lately.

Not just because of Gertie. This has been going on for awhile now.

Maybe it's a function of middle age, when our bodies start letting us down in various ways (sometimes literally) -- I mean, when my doctor looked me in the eye and told me that she needed to lower my blood pressure because "I don't want you to die of a stroke," that got my attention. As did Fellow Traveler's recent confirmation that the ongoing, intense pain in her jaw that radiates into her ear and down her neck and often keeps her up at night is the result of rheumatoid arthritis eating away all the cartilage between the bone; that this problem isn't fixable by a bite guard; that there may be some serious surgery in her future.

And I'm sure part of it is also due to the sheer number of people we know, face to face and on the Internet, who are fighting life-threatening illnesses. One of FT's high school friends, whom we saw at her recent reunion, had a stroke about a week ago. Right now we personally know a half-dozen people diagnosed with particularly scary cancers, who are undergoing chemo and radiation.

And then there's random, accidental death, like Gertie's. It could have been any of us, in one of our vehicles, making the wrong decision at any second.

Cheery thoughts, I know. But it's been an uncheery day, mostly dark and rainy, and I spent most of it on the sofa, staring out the window.

I'd like to say that I have full confidence in Dame Julian's assertion that, in the end, "All will be well and all manner of thing will be well." But when death ceases to become an abstraction and feels more like a target on my own back and that of my loved's hard to hang on to a sense that there is any meaning or purpose or redemptive outcome in it. And, I'm sorry to say, the skeptical, deconstructionist Zeitgeist of the last two centuries has so eviscerated the Christian message of resurrection that it's ceased to become believeable for many people -- because there's little sincerity in its proclamation; more of what my pastor calls "anxiety management"; a comforting fairy story, a little nursery tune to whistle in the darkness of the vicissitudes of life.

And let's not even talk about the loss of an animal companion. Outside the circle of people who love and have been loved by animal companions, it's not taken seriously -- not by the Church, not by health professionals, not by employers, not even by family and friends who don't understand. I know a patronizing pat on the head when I feel it.

Fellow Traveler and I have, since Gertie's death, received many personal and heartfelt condolences by individuals. But as far as any practical help from "faith stuff" -- got nothin'.  And as far as thoughts of what lies beyond our own mortality -- I don't hear a lot of there there in the Church these days. Not only don't we have the courage of our convictions these days, we don't even seem to have convictions, no matter how many times we recite the Creed or celebrate what we call "the foretaste of the feast to come."

I really do not want to be this gloomy, or to depress other people. But this is what I'm feeling, straight up. Hiding it behind a wan smile and fuzzy platitudes would be lying. 


Anonymous said...

God bless you for your courage to express these thoughts. I totally agree. I too am so tired of the platitudes. You and yours are in my prayers.

zorra said...


Kathryn said...

Hard, hard, hard to handle these things.

While i don't put animals "on the same level" with people, we love our companions & when we lose them there simply is so much pain. The grief is real. Somehow i missed the post on her accident. I'm so sorry. There just aren't words to help heal this pain. I wish you had more support & understanding. I think loss of all kinds need to be recognized, including the loss of our dear friends who happen to have 4 legs.

Sending you hugs.

Trish said...

You have the right to be gloomy if that's what is authentic right now. I find it frustrating when I feel like I have to be all sunshine and flowers because it's been "x" amount of time since whomever I loved has died. But you know, Elisabeth Kubler Ross detailed her "stages" of grief, not as a tier to go up and conquer, but as steps that will be revisited again. Anyway, there's not much I can say, other than I commend you for being genuinely you, and I trust that you will continue to be so that when things are tough, your friends can "simply be" with you.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I'm sorry all these things are happening at once, but I'm glad you can express your feelings about them. I know that stuffing things doesn't help. We all feel some of those things some of the time, but they are not "additive" but rather they "compound" when they happen at once. May your yoke be made lighter by your faith.

Brenda W. said...

LC - I’m not even sure how to begin this comment, since the last thing in the world I want this comment to sound like is counsel. From day one when I discovered your blog, I could tell that you are indeed a Wise Woman - much, much wiser than me. You have the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment, which makes you a specially gifted person.

But at the same time, perhaps all of us who commented on your post sharing Gertie’s passing were remiss in not including comments that tied in the spiritualness of all life. For me, as one Christian talking to another, it is an assumed fact that Gertie is most certainly alive, whole, happy, and definitely remembering you, FT, and all you both did for her, not only on that fateful day where she died, but all the other days and years as well.

But, none of us said that, and remembering times of my own animal family members passing, you are right, not ONE person (except my husband) said this to me. And I needed to hear it, just as I need to hear such things when a human friend or family member dies.

The Bible has many references to animals in its references describing the next life. Additionally, there is no reason at all to think their lives just end at death - as part of God’s creation, they are near and dear to the Creator, just as are the human forms of life, and they live on in their next phase of life, with God, just as we will.

I had a great, great gift given to me after the death of Caz, a beagle that hubby and I rescued from an abusive neighbor some 15 years ago. Caz was difficult from the beginning - the 1 year of neglect combined with the occasional beating from his former owner certainly didn’t help, but I’m sure he was born with a "rough" personality to begin with. Think alpha dog, with a good dose of rough edges all over everything. We loved him dearly, but gosh did he try our patience sometimes (actually - most of the time!)

At the time, we had 3 dogs, and living in the mountains as we do, I would take the 3 out to some distant trailhead and just let them run. Caz, being a beagle, did what beagles always do, followed his nose and would run for hours. Eventually, he would always end up back at the car, where I, and the two other dogs would be patiently waiting for him.

But, one day he didn’t return. We stayed till very late, but no Caz. And we came back. Day. After. Day. No Caz. He had tags, but no one called. None of the animal shelters had him. And it was winter. And cold. And icy. And all sorts of terrible things went thru my mind: Did he freeze to death? Did he get caught in a trap somewhere waiting for me to come and I never did? Did he fall off an icy cliff somewhere, lying in the valley below all broken and in pain and wondering where I was (not that Caz EVER gave a thought to me except for "What can you do for me next: Food? Exercise?")

But I ached for weeks, wondering what his last days/hours were like.

Then I was sent a wondrous dream that wouldn’t make much sense to describe it here, but suffice it to say that I clearly understood this dream as a deeply needed gift and message from my God, telling me as clear as clear can be that Caz was whole, living with his and my Creator, and loving me deeply, with absolutely no thoughts of "Where were you when I was dying?" In fact, there never had been any such thoughts. He had died as he had lived - full, hard throttle all the way, and now was happy, whole, and indeed, the WHOLE perfect dog that our Lord had created initially.

(...continued on next comment ... apparently Blogger limits comments to 4096 characters!!)

Brenda W. said...

(...continued from above comment ...)

To lapse (briefly) into "church language" (hey ... I’m a Lutheran Chick too, having been born and raised Lutheran!!), creation is deeply stained and permanently affected by the effects of evil in this world. You are experiencing it a little more than one person should right now with so many loved ones dealing with cancer, death, chronic illnesses.

But as part of the beloved family of our Lord, we have the love, support, and Presence that gives us the tools and resources needed to deal with all this junk day in and day out.

And, as a Wise Woman, you know the depth of sadness you are in right now will gradually ease. But give yourself time ... it is OK to be this sad right now, it is how we humans deal with things as horrible as the loss of Gertie. Utilize the love and support that you and FT have for each other, and just give yourselves time to heal.

I look forward to posts from you as you DO gradually heal from this time. It will help all of us readers learn yet more wisdom from you!!