Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Definition of Death

Today was not a good day. The main reason for this is that my beautiful, cherished kitty cat of 19 years, "Bogie,"died last night. My mother called me this morning to give me the sad news. She was crying, and described to me that she found her curled up on a towel in her bedroom as she got out of the shower. She was still and peaceful, and she just knew. She picked up her lifeless body and put her on the bed and sat with her in silence for a while before bringing her up to break the news to my father. My heart is aching, yet I am so glad that she went in peace, in her sleep, in my parents' home, because we were considering having her put down and it was such a gut wrenching decision to make. She was sick. She was old. She was ready to go. And now she is at peace with my other cat, Lily, who was hit by a car last year. So although I am heartbroken because this was my very first kitty, and I loved her so very much, I am also relieved that she can finally rest in peace.

The hard part about all this is sharing this experience with the kids. My stepson, the 8-year-old, is a seasoned veteran, having gone through this last year with our other cat and a few years ago with his mother's dog. He was sad when I told him. He cried a little bit, but in his wise way said that he was glad that she had a long, happy life and that she was happy in kitty heaven. His understanding of the world sometimes transcends what I would ever expect of an 8-year-old boy and I wonder how he could possibly wrap his little head around death. But he can. He does it with grace and intelligence, and most importantly, compassion. This is the little boy who can't sit still to eat dinner or do a piece of homework, bounces off the walls on a daily basis and has difficulty completing the daily activities of living. Yet, when faced with something as profound and abstract as death, he just gets it. And he steps up to the plate to be supportive for those around him and says all the right things. I am reeling from his maturity and the love he has in his heart.

My daughter, on the other hand, is only 2 years old and I believed had no idea what it meant to die. I couldn't imagine that she could possibly grasp that the cat that she so adored would not be there anymore, even though she had just stroked her lovingly the day before. I told her that Bogie had died and that she would going away. She looked at me and said. "Goodbye Bogie?" I said "Yes, honey. Bogie is going bye-bye's." She looked at me with her eyes shining, so old for a baby and said "OK, bye bye Bogie." I figured she had no idea what this actually meant, and we proceeded to travel to my mother's house so we could see her one last time before she was buried in the backyard next to my other cat.

When we got there, my mother had Bogie wrapped up in a towel in a basket in the livingroom. This may sound funny to you, but if you are a pet owner, you may understand. My mother just couldn't bring herself to put her in a plastic bag, or even to put her away where she couldn't be seen. It was as if she was holding a little wake for her and we all had our chance to pay our last respects. I was relieved to see that she looked very peaceful, just as if she were just resting her eyes, catching some much needed sleep. My 8-year-old was so appropriate and talked to her, telling her how we would miss her and that she was a great cat--"the only one that let him pet her all time," and that he loved her. I wasn't surprised. I expected nothing less of him. But I wasn't sure how my daughter would react. Needless to say, I was surprised.

She walked up to the basket and saw the cat's fluffy head peeking out. "Oh Bogie," she said. She looked closely, and touched the tips of her ears. "Night nights Bogie." She pet her head and pulled the towel up over her head. "Sleep tight," she said as she tucked in the towel. "Sleep tight."

As you can imagine, my mother I were awash in tears and sniffles at this point, because really, it seemed as if my daughter understood what was unfolding. It was amazing. It was touching. It was therapeutic. But most of all, it was dumbfounding. How could a 2-year-old, virtually a baby, possibly understand the concept of death? But then it occurred to me that maybe it wasn't so much understanding the "definition," so to speak, of death, but that she could feel the spiritual departing of her soul. We are all connected, all cells and energy that affect each and every one of us alike. So if one of us leaves, wouldn't it make sense that we should feel that lack of energy? It is not intellectual, so it doesn't matter the age. We all share energy, young and old alike.

I am not really sure why my daughter acted so appropriately, right down to the fact that I handed her a flower outside at the cat's grave and she was the first one to place it on the mound of dirt. I have no idea how she would know that you put flowers on a grave. Maybe it is television. Maybe it is intuition. Or perhaps maybe it is a spiritual connection that we will never fully understand. All I know is that today my daughter made me look at her in a whole new way. She was this little person, dealing with death, understanding things that should just go right over her head. And I wondered how else she was going to surprise me. I am bracing myself. Because I think that she has a lot more up her sleeve. I have always believed, since she was born, that she was special. I think I have my proof.