It’s Sunday, and here in Asheville it’s clear and cool, just gorgeous. The nights and mornings are chilly, but the days are breezy and perfect, neither too hot nor too cold.
It occurs to me that there really are days that are good days to die. We all must. Why not on a perfect spring day?
I always hoped that Baggie would expire quietly in the sunshine, and I find that am strangely happy that she may die in just that way. Well, not even strangely happy. Happy in a rich and strange way. She is still hanging on, weaker every day but seemingly not in pain. Discomfort, yes; pain, so far, no. She is aware and can walk a little, and eats a tiny bit of food each day and even drinks a little water on top of the saline injections she gets twice a day.
In the daytime I keep her staked out in the yard in the shade. She spends the day napping on a towel in the grass, in dappled shade, the sounds of the world all around her.
I marvel now at my other cats, none of whom are older than five years. They seem like tiny miracles of youth and health. So plump, so bright-eyed, such silky fur! Their coats, warm from the sun, gleam at the tips like glass. They smell sweet, like earth and spice. They run so fast! Their bodies are full of strong muscle, thick on their springy legs. They are like life-bombs, always going off.
As I drove to the store yesterday, I saw a man I see sometimes out in his yard. He was new to my eyes that day because of what is going on with Baggie. He’s a very old man, very frail and on oxygen with tubes in his nose, and he sometimes sits in his yard in his wheelchair on perfect days like these. He always seemed sad to me, a lonesome specter of death, an almost jarring presence clouding an otherwise perfect day.
What a foolish thing to think.
Now I wonder if someone who loves him doesn’t roll him out there to let him drink in the sun as we humans love to do. I am sure it cheers him. And why was he a specter of decline? He too has had a long life, and maybe even a good one. Why is he not a symbol of long life, of gentle and peaceful decline? Why is death so jarring in this culture, so inappropriate in almost any context?
We hide it away. We keep its process and its presence hidden so we are all certain to never have befriended it when it comes into our lives, and we can have a good freak-out and be utterly and totally unprepared.
I watched a friend in her 70s die of brain cancer. At the time of her dying I was renting a small basement apartment in her home, and was very close to her and her family. She died over the course of a few months, and I was there for much of it. And as corny and strange as it is to say, it is a privilege to attend a death. It’s a powerful and important experience, and it has moments of real beauty and power that are wholesome and wisdom-granting for people to be part of. (Death is not unwholesome. Why is birth wholesome and death somehow not? The processes are inseparable, joined together by life itself.) As my friend declined, her boyfriend looked out for her in the gentlest and most loving way. One night he offered to cut up her steak for her. It was one of the most beautiful moments of human interaction I had ever seen. My friend declining and dying, unable to work a steak knife; her friend catching all her slack, unafraid, unsentimental. There was nothing in his mind but love and help for his dying friend. It hit me like a bomb-blast of wisdom.
We all have to die. Are you like me, that when you think to yourself about “when I die” there is a part of you that almost starts to say “if” rather than when? I fear death less and less as I grow older, but I still can’t properly envision my own death and do not seem to be entirely convinced it is really going to occur.
But between my month-long mystery illness — one so debilitating that I am almost useless except to blog or do a few hours of light work before collapsing on the sofa — and Baggie’s swift decline, I feel I am moving closer to an understanding of death and decline. (I’ve noticed that it’s been on the minds of two friends, too; one is losing her mother an another just lost her mother-in-law. Death is everywhere.)
And as that old man showed me, life is everywhere, too. I find that one of my biggest takeaways from my illness and Baggie’s dying is to just live, already. I feel differently about my health now, learning from Baggie that keeping up the body really does stave off decline, and that at some point, decline ushers you right out the door. Why do some of us pay so little attention to our physical selves?
It’s a beautiful world and I want to stick around in it a long while.
Yesterday I saw the first bluebird of the year. I thought they’d gone from the neighborhood, but I saw them twice yesterday and I think that my neighbor actually has them nesting in her bluebird box.
I spent the day in the garden yesterday, putting in the plants I bought weeks ago but have been too sick and weak to put in. The garden is springing back from the frost. The air is warm. The wind blows and makes the leaves make their sweet rustle.
Some days are good days to die. Some days are good days to live.
They are the same days.