The time you spend waiting for someone to die is its own unique pause in the continuum of daily life. That is so even when the death in question is that of a tiny, ancient, nearly black tortoiseshell cat.
She was never the most sociable of people. Seventeen years ago, during my almost final year in grad school, I found her baby self hunkered beneath a bush in front of one of the buildings at my secondary alma mater. It took a combination of patient coaxing and outright deceit to rescue her, and her gratitude was never much evident. Half wild and eternally suspicious, she was quickly christened The Rat, for what would prove a life-long habit of being glimpsed mostly as a whippy tail retreating under a chair, or a small dark face composed primarily of beady eyes and a pointed nose staring from cover.
But in these last days of her life, she has made it clear that she does not want to die alone. Last evening, I wrapped her in a towel against an unseasonable spring chill and held her in my lap. When I went to bed, I took her with me in a shoe box, still wrapped in the towel. When she became restless, the touch of a hand would quiet her.
I had a few things planned for today, but before this serious business, everything will have to wait. Death is a large matter, even when it comes in a package that never topped over six pounds. Today is a breath space before the journey resumes. I must pause here, waiting for the completion of an event that is as much ritual as fact.
There really are no words in most of our vocabularies for everything that comes to us when that final door proposes to open, even when someone else will be going through it. In contemplating the life and death of Ms. Madeline Ratt, in trying to voice the weight of time and experience that she has embodied for me in her tiny life as it passed through mine, I’m no more up to it than anyone else.
So I will cop out in favor of thoughts already written—better words and wisdom than I can manage, and no less than she deserves.
I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals….they are so placid
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied….not one is demented with the mania of owning
Not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.
–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass, 1855.
Yes. I think that gets it.