February 12, 2008

Death & Dying

“What do I want to write about?” I think to myself. Add a long mental “Hmmmm…” This is a tuffy today. Not because I’m stuck, or because I have writers’ block, or a blank mind, but because I have a strong feeling I know what I need to write about yet fear to approach it. I know the topic, but don’t have any real kind of insight to offer. I fear I won’t be able to do it justice. So instead my mind wanders off on this funny little artificial high.

“How does water work?” I wonder. “How do you take one oxygen molecule and two hydrogen molecules, both gasses (at air temperature) which require massive cooling or compression to form into a liquid, bump them together, and suddenly we’ve got a hot shower or a bowl of soup? Why are the properties of water, the temperatures at which it changes from a gas to a liquid to a solid, so disparate from the properties of its component atoms?”

I’m not actually that amused. I know I’m not as happy as I’m trying to be. I am covering up an underlying sadness which I’m having a hard time explaining to myself. Not that it really needs explanation, but that never did stop me from trying. It’s not just the sadness though, it is this odd little sense of joy or awe that goes with it. I am standing on the edge watching star beginning and star ending, beautiful and sorrowful simultaneously. I am confronting death.

Another person in my life is coming to an end. She may have already ended, though she has not yet died. My Grandmother Elaine is eighty-six years old. My parents and I travelled to see her this weekend. My aunt and uncle who live in the same small town warned us we would be shocked, but when we visited she was worse than even they expected. We stayed only a short time. She did not realize we were there. I might have liked to stay longer, perhaps read to her, but Mom and I followed my Dad’s lead when he said it was time to go. I can image it was hard for him to see his mother like this.

It was hard for me later, listening to him and his brother rehash every moment of the last year or so. She was probably feeling badly long before she let on, they though. If only they had moved her to assisted living sooner, when she was well enough to still get about. She might have learned to like it. She might not have given up, for they are sure that she has and it has led to this. If only she had gone to this specialist sooner, been diagnosed sooner. If…

As if…somehow she would not die. As if it would not have been difficult. But what bothers me more than anything is the idea that her death is this dark, evil, terrible thing. Maybe I would feel differently if I was speaking of my own mother. I’ve wondered about that a lot, even tried to imagine it, as morbid as that is.

Death used to be the most frightening thing I could imagine, especially after I left the church. Death was just the end, a big dark scary hole. That might very well still be the case. As much as I talk about reincarnation, I can’t say I have absolute belief. Despite my lingering doubts, the idea that death is in fact the end of it, I find that doesn’t necessarily scare me.

In a funny way, that makes this even cooler. (I would use the word miraculous, but that has connotations which I would prefer to avoid.) I was home last night and my cat was sitting on my lap. She is very warm and soft. Well, except for those sharp pointy things still attached to her paws. But she might as well be that microwave heating pad I use on my neck. Except when I reach out and lay my hand on her, and she squawks and glares at me. I have no idea what makes her able to do that any more than my heating pad, but so far it’s never squawked at me. Yet in a few years, she’ll die too.

That’s the tiny joy behind the sadness; it’s the idea that I don’t know how any of it works, and I don’t have to.


greenfrog said...

Does the cat have Buddha nature? Does the heating pad?

Monica said...

I have no doubt at all that cats are just boddhisattvas in disguise. The heating pad is more dubious.

greenfrog said...