Witnessing

Life leaves those
you love at
its own pace, in
its own way:

the brief violence
of injury, the
cataclysmic failure
of brain or heart.

Both to be preferred,
you think now, to

the implacable tick
of illness, rogue cells
propagating, occupying
a vanishing vitality.

After a time, you wish
to find him dead,
gone in his sleep

before he becomes
too much
not himself.

You come to envy
the brief violence,
the cataclysmic failure,

anything but the
attenuating sickness,
the inexorable insult
to his faultless form,

which compels your
ragged attention — the
hollowing flanks,Ā  the
uncertain gait —

the ruthless implications
of the failing body you
admired so

in the fullness of
its grace, its beauty.
How warm and welcome
his weight in your lap,

your grateful hand
plying his soft fur;
the resonant rumble.

You would take his
place now to spare him
the difficult disappearing

but also to end this
bleak, brutal witnessing,
the perpetual calculus

of what goodness
remains and what
is fled,

your bleary eyes
straining
and straining
to perceive the

moment of mercy,
for him;
for you.

 

 

 

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19 comments

  1. This brought tears to my eyes. I have never read anything that even comes close to what you express so beautifully with your words. It brought back so many memories for me of my past furry family members. I wouldn’t trade my whole time with them for anything. I am the richer for it. I thouight of Amber, my last kitty. I remember her always sauntering over to me every single time I meditated. She loved to curl up on my cushion with me, purring away. Like you, I found it so hard to watch her slowly deteriorate towards the end of her precious life, knowing that all that I could do was love her with my whole heart and be there for her no matter what. After she passed I found it very hard to meditate without her right there anymore. I know that she lived a good life for seventeen years sharing her little self with me and my husband, and us sharing ourselves with her. May you rest in peace little one. Your exquisite writing reminded me that all of us, not just me, who share our lives with these beautiful creatures, go through this eventually. You and your little one are in my heart and prayers.

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    1. Thanks so much for your appreciation, and for your thoughts and prayers. My big panther man Spot has been gone more than 3 months now, and his sister and I miss him every day. The keen edge of loss dulls in time, but the particular space a loved one filled is never again occupied in the same way.

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  2. Cate, your poem reflects the varied human emotions associated with aging pets. I’m not sure the pets anguish over decline the way we humans do – their instincts are more one day at a time. I’ve had the full range of cat losses from totally unexpected death to drawn out waning to nothingness. There is no easy out for the human left helpless. Your poem is soothing for me as I’m going through this with our Labrador (nearing 13 of expected 14 year lifespan) – surgery this week will tell us if the lump is going to cut her short by a year. Meanwhile, our 17-yr-old calico cat has rebounded in the past year. Treat yourself and Spot to lots of lap time in the meantime, Cate.

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    1. Oh, Jazz: I’m so glad you took some comfort in this poem, as your good old dog winds down. Wishing you both the best. I think you’re absolutely right that animals are equanimous about death, lacking our troublesome frontal cortex. They have their experience, moment to moment, until the moments end. That’s their living and their dying. Meanwhile, we humans are fretting and grieving and strategizing and objecting and wearing ourselves out. It’s complicated for us, isn’t it? I will certainly take your advice about lap time with Spot, who has had a good day. Thanks, sweet reader and fellow animal appreciator!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This brought tears, I have been there, I am missing so many; and I’m so sorry, I send hugs and purrs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Leah. I suspect this is a little too relatable to many, many people. But, as always, it is good to feel not alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This made me cry, Cate. We’ve been there too many times, and yet we just adopted another, so full of life I call her Zippy. She is the great annoyance to Pepper, our old grinch who looks so like the one on your lap, not too far from his own end. They become part of us, so deep in our souls. Peace.

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    1. Thank you, Russ. You’re a gentle man with a brave heart. They do become part of us, and as much as I dread this part of the journey, their presence brings so much joy and richness and love to our lives. While I’m sure Spot’s sister Puff will object, I suspect I’ll be considering my own Zippy in due time, as one cat seems hardly enough. šŸ™‚ Very happy for your new addition. She landed in great laps!

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      1. Thanks, Cate. To be fair, her name is Savannah. I just call her Zippy, or Squirrel butt, or Stinky, or Girl Cakes, or… , depending on the mood. šŸ™‚ Your next one will also be a very lucky kitty.

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        1. Thanks, Russ! Maybe I’ll foster a litter this spring to see just how opposed Puff is. Perhaps she’ll deign to have a young buddy I’ll then adopt myself. šŸ™‚

          Oh, I like all your names for Savannah. We people should do that with each other — different names for each of our moods.

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  5. I’ve been through this brutality with my fur babies, too, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. By the same token, I wouldn’t give up the magic of those animals’ quirky, perfect love in my life in order to have avoided the anguish to come. It’s a package deal with no easy way out. Thank you for this poignant witnessing. I hope that your gesture of helping others know they aren’t alone, helps you feel a little less unmoored in this exquisite moment. šŸ™šŸ’–

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    1. Thanks so much for your astute understanding of this poem, Stephanie. What you say is exactly what I hope — that in helping me feel less unmoored, it might also help others who have been there (or are there, now) feel less alone. And, yes: This experience is part of the package, an understood aspect of the promise we make when we welcome these beautiful creatures into our lives. Like you, I would not give up the rest to avoid this. Again, thanks for your sensitivity.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. slukwago · · Reply

    Beautiful, soulful, heartfelt, Rafiki. I sit with you during this time. Words only as necessary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, old friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Much love to you, sis. Great to see him in the zoom call.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sarah. Maybe he was representing Sugar. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing this.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You are welcome šŸ¤—

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