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dying is a wild night
Kali emerged from under the bed panting and dragging her back legs. My heart sank into an aching heaviness as it silently screamed. We scooped her up and wrapped her in a towel like a purrito and carried her to the arm chair in the lounge. We put on David Teie’s Music for Cats and sat on the floor at the foot of the chair, waiting.
We waited for death to come and claim his prize. He would take his time pouring into her through a sacred and dark osmosis over the course of a night which stood still. The passage of time feels violent, watching someone you love hover in that twilight between life and death. I thought about that night 6 months before, when death performed another all night slow motion dance for us, while we watched our Ginger cat die. I imagined him sitting at the other side of the rainbow bridge, waiting to escort his mate home.
I thought about how death has taught me patience. I thought about the many nights as a hospital nurse I greeted death and about how we are never really done greeting death. I thought about how opposites define each other. Death defines life. Night defines day. Winter defines summer. Cold defines hot. I thought about how I have never felt ready for the inevitability of death even when I knew of its nearness. My heart cannot compute the death of one it loves in advance any more than I can divide a number by zero.
The last time I saw my dad the possibility that he would die and I would never see him again haunted me like a giant black maw in the ground that I could step into if I were careless. I told myself I would see him again so I could keep breathing through the rising river of grief. I did not see him again. Death spent several days moving into dad’s body and the waiting felt like a very long birth. Thirty seconds before dad died Ginger climbed onto my chest and sat there like a loaf. I like to imagine that a cat could splint my broken heart.
What if death and birth are two sides of a metaphysical coin? How can we compute absence? What is absence? Absence has always felt like a pain stabbing my brain then radiating throughout my being. Contemplating absence in anticipation has always felt like plunging off a cliff, falling backwards.
And so this time I decided I would try something different. I stepped away from the precipice, I looked away from the abyss and into my suffering. Mawlana Rumi wrote that our wounds are doorways to ourselves. I took a deep breath and I walked into that wound. A magical thing happened that didn’t feel magical. Mercy happened.
As the night drew itself, we moved into the bedroom. I placed my princess, still wrapped like a purrito, on her favourite pillow and loosely swaddled her in a soft blanket. I set my pillow in front of her and pressed my forehead gently into hers--head bops were her way of showing affection. If I were going to lose Kali then I wanted to make every last second count of the journey we had remaining. I wanted her to leave me knowing and feeling my immense love for her.
“I want you to know I am so grateful for you. I love you so much and they tell me I rescued you, however the truth is that you rescued me. Kali, I want to thank you for loving me and being my best friend.”
I stroked her soft long tortoiseshell fur, once lustrous and now dull. I never wanted to forget the feeling of my fingers raking through her fur. I studied every spot, every curve, every detail about her, every morsel of her presence did I try to absorb into me. As if to emblazon the blueprint of her existence onto my mind. As if that would keep her alive inside me. I held a vigil. I stayed awake. I watched her eyes grow cloudy and ulcerated. In those moments when I watched her breathe, I felt the spectres of all those whose chests I had watched rise and fall in the last hours of their lives.
I wondered if death comes to greet in the form of an orchestral movement, a wave of light trapped in a membrane of sacred darkness. I wondered where do the dead go when they die? Energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. I thought of Neo in The Matrix and of how his death from the matrix meant his strange dystopian birth into reality and I wondered if dying souls traverse a similar path when they die.
I sat with my Kali girl all night, alone, while my husband slept beside us in the bed. We sat in a veiled and sacred silence as we waited for death to complete its Sema. I shook and sobbed as I wrapped her one last time and gently placed her in the cat carrier with Robert's help in the morning. I stayed home while he walked to the vet a block away and witnessed her final journey by himself. Bismillah.