I went to a funeral Monday. It was the first funeral I have ever been to for someone who committed suicide and for someone of age to be my son. I hope it is the last such funeral I ever have to attend. With the recent exception of a beloved cousin and contemporary, all of my dead have exited this life in an orderly manner, having given notice in the form of terminal illness and/or old age. It begins to terrify me that I haven’t lost anyone closer or more out of turn – with every day the odds increase that my luck will run out.
But this is not my main thought. The thing that struck me most during the service was the compassion of the pastor’s sermon and the sympathy for the suffering of the deceased that seemed to prevail among the mourners. The religious tradition I grew up in was not forgiving of suicide. Today, the Church takes a far more nuanced look at the roots of suicidal intent, to a degree that similar sentiments could easily have been spoken at a Catholic funeral. What struck me is the difficulty of striking a balance between recognizing and attempting to ease another human being’s psychic pain on one hand and appearing to accept impaired life function or suicide as natural potential consequences of that pain on the other. Maybe I wouldn’t fixate on this on this balance if I felt that life was its own best argument against suicide? I wonder.
The cat died a couple of days ago. She had pretty much stopped eating as we went into the preceding weekend and no longer wanted to be petted. We would find her just sitting in front of her litter box or in front of her water bowl as if she just couldn’t remember why she had been headed toward them or just didn’t have enough energy to go any further. I asked the vet (Dr. Cohen at Alexandria Animal Hospital on Duke Street) to euthanize her Tuesday morning. She died peacefully while I stroked her head.
Dino Spouse and Mouse have mostly stopped tearing up at the thought of the cat. Mostly. They took it the hardest. Me, I’m still sort of peevish and efficient, which is apparently how I grieve as an adult.
Podrostok loved the cat. He was sad. TeenBot, who is allergic to all animals and plants, claimed that he was not. Neither of them seemed too upset on the day of. But they both had the sulks yesterday, and last night they busted out into full-on fisticuffs over pretty much nothing. The final casualties (between their fight and related rage attacks on inanimate objects) were two sections of drywall, one vanity mirror, two pairs of glasses, one set of sliced-up knuckles, and Mommy’s lumbar spine (after bodily separating the bull elephants from each other twice and threatening to summon the police before I finally managed to get them into separate rooms). Dino Spouse got home about 20 minutes afterward, as Mouse and I were cleaning up blood splatter while TeenBot dressed his wounds and Podrostok hid in his room. It was truly a crappy night for everyone.
I really hope they learn other ways of coping with grief before they reach adulthood. They will certainly learn a lot about drywall repair and handling broken glass, at this rate.
(Poor Mouse. Between being scared out of her 11 year-old mind by her brothers’ performance last night and then reading the latest Time article about rape on college campuses, she’s had way more consciousness-raising about violence than she can stand.
(Maybe I should have refrained from laying on the “attacks on inanimate objects will escalate into physical violence against people, do not tolerate this behavior if you’re in a relationship” speech to my girl as we were sweeping up glass off the floor. After all, the boys’ wrath was directed at each other, and she wasn’t even in the same part of the house as they were while they were fighting. But it seemed like a teachable moment.)
Our house cat appears to be nearing death. She’s 20 years old. The vet says it’s congestive heart failure. She has been responding to the medication they sent home with us last week, but that’s only to the extent that she actually digests it.* The long-term prognosis is not particularly long-term. According to the Internet, she’s roughly 97 years old in terms of a human lifespan. Average survival time after diagnosis of congestive heart failure in cats is allegedly 180 days or so, but that figure includes diagnoses in cats of all ages.
I haven’t had any direct experience of death when it comes to people I’m close to. I’ve lost older relatives who seemed to have lived lengthy and complete lives (the definition of “older” being relative to my own age, of course – 62 seemed like 92 to me when I was 18, while now 70 seems like just barely a full life span). My reaction to their deaths was muted, which is a delicate way of saying that I did not grieve. Indeed, my predominating reaction to the first deaths I remember was irritation at others for being so emotional about the whole thing. This was in my teens (14-18). I am still not sure whether to attribute that to my self-diagnosed Asperger’s or chalk it up to the other possibility, equally likely, that I am a (now better-socialized) sociopath.
It’s different now. I’m still matter-of-fact and low-affect about death, but now I get sad about it and/or sentimental about the deceased. This is either a sign that I have matured or evidence that I have gotten better at feigning normal emotions. In either event, I know enough now to dread the loss of loved ones, ptu ptu ptu. I even occasionally remember that “matter-of-fact” and “low-affect” don’t necessarily scan well to people in the throes of grief. I strive to keep this in mind now as I model grief to my spawn and, in particular, as I confer with Dino Spouse about end-of-cat-life decisions. It will come as no surprise to the paleontologists among you that Dino Spouse and I have diametrically opposing approaches to grief.
*Dosing cats with pills is a skill I learned from my ex-husband and his parents, who bred Himalayans for sale and show. Maybe it’s easier to make cats with messed-up airways actually swallow the pills. Our cat is not one of them. She can hold those things in her mouth for way longer than I would have thought possible, then she spits them out after we stop looking. She will eat pills in her wet food, but only when she feels like eating at all. I am adjusting my technique accordingly.