Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Death and How to Deal with Guilt

I don't know why it takes dying to realize how precious life is.  It seems that only when the reality looms in front of me is it when I remember how much and why I love someone or some body.  No, I don't' mean somebody, I mean some body...a cat, a dog, a rat, a creature.
I have a little experience with the death of people and creatures in my life.
An ex-boyfriend of two months, who dumped me and subsequently rescued me two hundred miles away from an abusive situation, and who committed suicide a few months later for thinking he killed someone when he in fact, wounded them. 
I still remember the day the cops came to my house to tell me my sister had called.  She told me and I sobbed and sobbed. It was surreal.  I kept floating in and out of reality.  I was 19.  He was and will never be older than 21 . I  At the viewing, someone told me to touch his hand and I did.  It was like touching a mannequins, hard. 
Chris' personality was magnetic.  From the moment he walked into a room, people immediately liked him and were drawn to him. He was unorthodox and fun, so everything he did was new to me.  But see, this is what death does. It forces down the dulling monotonous drone of every day life down to the bottom of priorities and buoys a surge of memories and emotions to the forefront, not all of which are necessarily true.  I don't remember having any guilt with Chris.  I saw one sawed off shotgun, but I wasn't the girl who stole the guns from her father's house and gave them to Joe and Chris,; I wasn't with them when they were joyriding and shooting signs and things.  I was not there when someone accidentally shot that guy in the butt and I wasn't there when Chris left the party, sat under the tree and blew the back of his head off, thank God!
But that doesn't mean I didn't have any of the guilt feelings.  I was young, I probably thought I could have done something to stop or change what happened.  It is only age, a spiritual program, experiences friends and second-hand therapy that provides the ability for an honest assessment of any role I may have played.
And, there was Amy...another enigmatic personality, tortured by brilliance and demons of guilt.  I thought she was going to blow up my brain trying to explain quantum physics to me.  Sometimes I think she committed suicide just to find someone on her level to talk to. 
Amy called me to tell me goodbye on the morning she killed herself and for the last 6 years, I have been tormented by the idea that if I hadn't turned off my phone, if I had followed my gut and went to the apartment instead of sending the police. If I had not been so judgemental...then maybe...
But I wasn't and still am not equipped to fight her demons.  Yes, maybe, but why not maybe not?

Then there was Ginny.  It's funny how much big the personalities of these people  I used some trivial excuse to cut ties with her because I didn't want to take her calls or help her anymore.  She died before I could apologize for my pettiness. 
Now, the creatures -13 years ago, a woman named Liz walked into a room full a people saying that she found a kitten on 5th Avenue in St. Petersburg, but she couldn't keep him at her apartment.  I am such a sucker and fall in love with kittens and puppies instantly.  I already had two cats and didn't want another one, but couldn't stand the thought of this beautiful creature not finding a home and took him in. 
Rather than let this turn into a rambling memory lane, and to stop me from going into another sobbing fit, I'll just say Carmichael has been with me through six boyfriends and just as many moves. Carmichael always looked at me like he was in love with me, laying on my chest, trying to touch my face with his paws, using his claws when he didn't get my attention.
When the dogs moved in, I had no time energy for the cats and the cats who loved me so much, got pushed to the side.  Later the dogs started terrorizing them to the point that they didn't feel safe to come in.  So when they tried to tell me about it, or get some love from me, I was short tempered and impatient. 
I lost my job, Carmichael got sick and I decided that if he died, he died, so I let him get sicker and sicker.  Yes.  It's horrible.  Yes, I am horrible.
If anything happened to the dogs, I went to the vet immediately, but with Carmichael, I let him go, pretending it might go away because I told myself I just couldn't afford any more animal care, but then I saw him dying. Literally, before my eyes, fading away, body and all. Finally, I couldn't stand what I was doing and took him to the vet, but it is too late. Tomorrow morning, if he lived through the night, we are going to put my Carmichael boy down. 
People will tell you that you couldn't have done anything that it was "meant to be that way,"; or a number of other platitudes that you may or may not believe, as your mind or your emotions, whichever rules, would have it. Sometimes it's true, but I, personally, get tired of people saying "insert cliche here" to make me, or rather themselves, feel better.  I cringe at empty condolences. I would prefer to hear someone tell me how they got through something than to hear, 'This too shall pass," from someone who floats obliviously on a pink cloud. 
The vet tech, Brooks, explained that his condition and kidneys would have continued to degenerate anyway and that it was "a crapshoot."  The office manager where I work said her family had the very same set of circumstances occur with the same results. 
People say, well he won't be suffering, which is not an empty consolation. It is absolutely true. 
But I cannot claim that my hands are clean with Carmichael.  His death is on them. I could have stopped and reversed the process had I dealt with his illness upon my observation of it's occurrence.  Had it been one of the dogs, I would have. I thought about all the money i spent on getting my nails done or buying extra things that I didn't need when I could have been taking care of my responsibilities.  This applies to much more than Carmichael or any other creature. 
Perhaps one could think I am being too dramatic about a cat or pet.  When I told my dad about Carmichael being at the vet's office on IVs, he responded, "What a tragedy," and then laughed, because he does not view animals in the same light as evolving world. Evolving for me too.  When I was 15 or 16, I told my best friend, Marcy, to throw a cat we had that had been hit by a car into the gutter when she asked me what to do with it.  I am grateful I have evolved into having feelings.

So, on these pages, I've unloaded some of my experiences with death and the guilt, real or imagined, associated with them.
I heard a woman, let's call her Iris, tell her story this weekend, who, driving drunk, killed a man and served 12 years in prison.  It takes incredible courage to get up in front of  a room full of people and tell that story without dramatizing it or being self pitying and at some points (prior to the vehicular homicide) with humor.  I was crying by the time she finished.  I had no idea what I was coming home to face.
What I learned from Iris and after some contemplation about my dying cat, is guilt, real or imagined can be either productive or debilitating.  You can choose. Yes, you can.  I've been grieving for three days now, knowing that Carmichael is dying and that cannot be reversed.  But I've made a promise to myself, to him, to Amy, to Ginny, to sacrifice my comfort and time to make amends,

One of my friends best friends just died. Another close friend's brother just died. I am going to see how I can be helpful, and should anyone else lose a dear creature friend, I am going to be there for them.

It's the only way

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