It’s a funny thing. When people get too old and sick, they can tell us their wishes. My grandma, who lived a long and extraordinary life, was able to tell us at the end that she was suffering and was ready to go. But, in her amazing way, she was also able to have gratitude that her life was not one of war-torn Somalia and children starving. She knew, even in the hardest times, that there was much to be grateful for. She survived the Depression, and I think that she had a better perspective on that sort of thinking than many of us ever will.
Regardless and thankfully, as her body wasted away of cancer, her mind was as sharp as ever, and she was able to talk and think and communicate with us about things. I wish I had spent more time with her or come home more often. Always, we regret the things we *didn’t* do more than the things we did.
Yet, it is still a sin/illegal/morally reprehensible to most to think of ending a human life on purpose. And in the case of murder or suicide, that makes sense. But in a world where medical technology has advanced past the point of reason and into the jurisdiction of miracle, our human egos sometimes don’t know when to quit. Out of grief and fear and selfishness of wanting to have someone near.
I’m not denouncing the medical community; my father wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for a kidney transplant the first day of 1985. But, I think we sometimes forget that we were meant to die; we are headed there since birth. We, in the words of Pierre de Teilhard Chardin, are “…not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Our souls are wonderful and magnificent, and weren’t meant to stay here forever.
Conversely, we are given the power to end the lives of our animal companions. Even when people do it horrendously, recklessly, foolishly, brutishly, they are very often given a punishment much smaller than the act deserves. I truly believe if you are able to abuse an animal, something has gone fundamentally wrong with your psyche, and we, as a society, should be very worried about your autonomy to act and make decisions on your own.
But, in the case of a companion, a pet, we are given the ability to send them off — but they can’t formally speak the words to tell us if they are ready or in pain or doing just fine, thank you very much. I fret over this a bit, because my 18+ year old cat, Flan, has me at a loss. I just don’t know how she really feels.
I take her to the vet and they tell me her heart is wonderful and that she’s doing great for a cat her age. But she’s taken to waking me up in the morning a few hours earlier than I’d like to be, with insistent pawing and a mournful cry. She has food, water, litter, etc. I don’t know what she wants. Maybe she just wants me to get up and join her in the day. But it can feel very exhausting and frustrating if you want/need sleep badly.
I was prompted to sit and write this, because I see the changes in her and don’t know what they mean. Tonight, I came home and she must have been on her way somewhere — litter box, perhaps. Normally, she is sitting on the couch and gets up to greet me, meowing. But, I saw her walking cautiously to the back of the apartment and I thought, “I don’t want to scare her.” But, she didn’t hear me. I rattled my keys a little — it seemed to register, but not enough to turn her around. I closed the door — still, nothing. Finally, the song playing from my iPhone caught her attention, and she turned around to notice me at last.
That’s not Flannie. That’s not how she acts. Is she getting deaf? Is she getting senile? I don’t know. But I do know that I am left puzzled and guessing. My real grandma was able to tell us where she was as she headed toward another realm. I am just trying to do the best by my Flan, and I wish it wasn’t so hard. The sadness is the same, watching an entity you love slip away, but the difference is I couldn’t have done anything for my grandma even if she had wanted us to, and I could do something for Flan and I don’t know if she wants me to.