April 12, 2004

About nothing

This is not really about anything. It is, I suppose, could be called, a story about nothing, or not a story at all. Because we don't know about death. Only that it is happens, is inevitable.

I was driving into Halifax one day, when the sun was warm and the traffic was thick, and I suddenly thought about how much my daughter would miss me when I die, how painful it will be for her, and tears spilled down my cheeks. And when I think about Katie, or Sebastian or Miranda, my three dogs, I cry because I miss them. And sometimes I want my mother, I want to tell her that I am okay, she need not worry. But I am alone and my daughter will be alone without her mother some day. Not too soon. Time is to prepare. Clean the closets and sort through things that I do not want to leave behind. The teenage journals, diaries, petty thoughts, jealousies, spiteful games.

Spring breeds thoughts of death. New growth coming out of a cold, hard ground is only a reminder of how short the growing season is. Bittersweet. Seeing flowers that had been dormant all winter bursting with beauty, and newly planted vegetables popping out of the ground, brings tears, knowing it will be over so soon. Then that feeling leaves and joy follows like summer. Inevitably the leaves drop from the trees like postcards from summer. It will be winter again soon. Death is life and life is precious. Time is because death is near.

It is a death. Of was. Of is. Of boundaries. Of unknowns. Of a moment. Of course.

I have been close to death a few times. My own only once. When my truck overturned on the highway after being hit by a couple of teenagers trying to make a U-turn. Time did, as they say, feel like an eternity as we swerved and rolled over. And all I could think to say to my son was “they hit us, didn’t they.” And I was thinking that this is a terrible way for him to witness his mother’s death. Afterwards I couldn’t go to sleep in the hospital until I could figure out why I was still alive. (I had put roll-bars on the side to act as running-boards for a friend who has MS.) And I wished that I had told my son how much I loved him.

I learned about death taking care of some friends, all younger than myself, who died of cancer and also my step-mother, who , like many older people, died soon after they lose their spouse, in this case, my father. I learned to stay out of their way, to anticipate their needs, to allow them the dignity of dying without my needs and sorrows.

My three dogs’ deaths were very hard. The first, Miranda, was nine and a half. She died shortly after I moved to Nova Scotia from New York City. I would love seeing her tail wagging in the woods as she found her first pleasures of country living. But she lived here only three months. I felt grief, but also guilt, that I had not been good enough to her, that she could have had a better life if I had only known. That she would die.

So then I quickly got Katie, a frisky puppy until the day she died, at sixteen and a half. In fact, her energy and independence were so intense that I got her a friend, Sebastian, when she was one year old. Katie never forgave me for what she saw as displacing her in my affections, but she loved him as much as I did. But then he died at age three of cancer of the nasal passage. Katie grieved loudly, going into the woods and howling at night. He had died at home and she smelled the death. To me the smell was like roses, sweet and peaceful. For six months before he died, I grieved. When he did die, it was a relief. Katie and I went for long walks together after that, getting to know each other again.

Katie died three years ago and I still miss her. But I don’t think I can go through another doggie death. And this is the first time in over forty years I haven’t had anyone to take care of and it feels good. A new lesson.

When my mother died, I felt grief, but also relief. But not the same as when Sebastian died. We had not had an easy time with each other. But now, I would be so grateful for even an hour with her, not even to talk, just to be with her, let her know that everything is okay.

I spend most of my spare time writing poems to and about my mother. Love poems, I could say, considering that we never expressed our feelings. For ten years after she died, I had intense, burning dreams about my mother. That she was still alive, in a wheelchair, or crippled in some way, and I would say, in my own pain, why doesn’t she die. When she did finally die for me, I missed her and longed for just one more time to be together.

Once we had a couple of goldfish. They died slowly. We watched as their bodies tired and slowly arched and then ceased. Inside the glass jar, death was not frightening, but still sad.

There is an expression, “To die for.” That something is so good, you would be willing to die for it. Another expression, that you are dying of a broken heart, or dying for love. And I have seen that happen. When a love affair goes wrong, and the heart breaks and lets in disease that kills. I had two girlfriends I heard say many times “I am dying of a broken heart” just two years before they did die, but of cancer eating away their unfulfilled loves. Watch what you say. Life is precious. Death comes without warning. Life is precious.

Posted by leya at April 12, 2004 08:59 AM