One beautiful autumn day, with the golden sun shining through red leaves that waved their way across the sky, I found my husband dead. He was sitting in his favorite recliner: his skin was cold and pale. He passed with such peacefulness, that when death came to take him away, he didn’t have time to uncross his legs.
I won’t go into the tumultuous nature of our relationship, the anger, the bitterness, the resentment. These things were present on both sides during our life together. These are the things I remember because when his life passed, I spent much of my time holding onto the heavy weight of my own regret. What if I could have one more conversation with him? What if I didn’t argue with him the night before? What if we had allowed ourselves the ability to start again, each in our own way in our own lives? I nearly drove myself crazy with the “what ifs.”
For a long time after he died, I felt like I was standing in a shallow pit with the cool ground under my heels inviting me to sit down, to lie down, to sleep. I stayed there in bewilderment as if I had been coerced into that emptiness but I had entered voluntarily. And I knew there was a chance I’d never leave it.
“Stay here,” the darkness beckoned. “It’s safe here.” But I didn’t want to believe the gentle prod of those words.
I tried digging my way out only to discover I was making my prison deeper and deeper until finally, the thin rays of the sun could no longer reach me and I was afraid I would forget the loving embrace of its warmth.
I could have stayed there in that familiar shade. It takes courage to climb out of self-imposed confinement. Many of us, so, so many of us would rather stay imprisoned than travel to the foreign shores of freedom. But everywhere I went, that dark chasm followed me and I didn’t know what to do.
“Sit in silence.” A voice said to me. It was a quiet voice. Quieter than the bitterness of my thoughts and I almost didn’t hear it. And it only spoke once.
I didn’t listen at first. How could I be forgiven for all I had done? But one difficult day, with my soul still sitting in that dark pit, I decided to follow that advice.
“Sit in silence.”
I drove to a park near my house and found a place to sit in my car with the window cracked so I could smell the fresh air.
“Sit in silence.”
I crossed my hands over my heart and breathed. I had never meditated before and I didn’t really know how so I just sat in stillness like the voice said and closed my eyes. Every time a thought came into my head, I imagined a great hand brushing that thought away. I brushed many thoughts away until my mind was as clear and still as a mountain lake and I felt a little better.
And then I went home.
I did this every day for a number of months until I found myself pulling back the claws that held onto my husband’s ghost. I meditated in a place where I could watch the small birds line up on a branch and fluff out their feathers during a snowstorm. I meditated as the rains fell and the geese came back from southern shores. I meditated as the ducklings waddled behind their mother and the squirrels stole sunflower seeds from the bird feeder, filling their cheeks. I meditated without knowing if I was doing it correctly. But I kept going because, during my meditation I found peace from my self-condemnation.
I found my way out of that pit with silence, allowing the emotion to course its way through me, weeping into the quiet corners of my mind until it became a trickle because the only way to get to the other side of an emotion is through it. And through it, I was finally able to leave my husband in that shallow grave so I could escape my prison.
Once I stepped out of the darkness, I stepped out as a different person than I was when I stepped in. Once I shed the shame that kept me from facing the glow of the sky, I saw that the sun was the same, the clouds were the same, the earth was the same, but I was different; I had awakened.
One day, at that same park with the same birds and squirrels, I sat in my car and closed my eyes. I asked my husband to give me a sign that he was near, that he was happy, that he’d forgiven me. I sat in my truck with the window cracked about an inch. I sat there with the palms of my hands facing up and quieted my mind. I heard birds singing and the wind in the trees. Children were playing at a nearby playground.
Something landed in my upturned palm. I jumped a little when I felt it. I thought a large insect had made its way into the car and landed on my hand. But when I looked, it was a seed pod.
Since there were no trees near the vehicle, it took me some time to see where it came from. It had blown from a tree that was across the street and down the road. And somehow, the wind had taken one small pod and flown it directly into my hand. I held it up and saw the tiniest, paper-thin capsule. At the center was a darkened area, just the size of a raindrop holding all the information it needed to make an entire tree.
There in my hand, I held infinity, the limitless energy that never stops in its quest to live another day.
“Sit in silence.”
Three small words that saved my life. I still have that seedpod because it reminds me that there’s always hope for tomorrow and that there’s always forgiveness.
I found my husband’s body on September 3rd, 2016. He was 47 years old when he died. And like anyone who has lost someone, I’ll never forget the particular circumstances surrounding the death.
There’s no nice way of saying it, but he was living in our basement so he didn’t have to be around me. Life was difficult it for me during those last years and I know I was hard to live with. He was unemployed, his memory was going, and he withdrew because he knew how rapidly I could turn from smiling to screaming.
A variety of things killed him. He was on a lot of medication, many of which I would find not taken at the end of the day. “I’m pretty sure I took them.” He’d say. But I knew how many pills he had and how many were taken and the math never added up. Other things contributed as well. His parents had both died. I crumpled him. I broke him. We shouldn’t have been together but he couldn’t take care of himself. We shouldn’t have been together but he had no where else to go. We shouldn’t have been together but I couldn’t send him away when I remembered the way he smiled at me. And I could never live with myself if he died alone.
I was walking down the stairs to the basement that last morning and I knew something was wrong. The theme song to the TV show Vikings was playing on a short loop as if it were left on the menu. And he wouldn’t have left it that way. So I knew before I opened the door that he was gone.
And then I opened it.
His pale feet stuck out from his recliner chair, the one he slept in. His head was cocked to the side, his eyes were open, and his skin was cold. I touched his wrist knowing that I wouldn’t find a pulse. Walking from one end of the room to the other, I wrung my hands and cried out loud. “Oh Dennis. Oh Dennis.” Over and over.
Even though I didn’t have the best relationship with my mother over the years, she was the first person I called, crying uncontrollably, hardly able to get the words out. She told me to call the police and wait. She told me the name of a funeral home to call the next day. She told me it would be OK.
I called work and told them I had found my husband dead and couldn’t come in for my scheduled shift. I still remember the poor girl who took that call. I tried to tell them the name of the nurse who often replaces me but I couldn’t, for some reason, remember her name even though we’d worked together for about 10 years.
After I called the police, I had to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I had to tell my youngest son who was playing video games innocently in his room, that his father had died.
We went down the stairs together. I was crying and he wasn’t. I ran my fingers through my husband’s hair which used to be so thick and curly. Lately, he had developed a love of yogurt and there it was, sitting on his lap, the last thing he ever ate. And I know his death was painless and quick because he was still sitting in his chair the way he always sat with his ankles crossed over each other. Death had crept over him so swiftly and silently that he didn’t have time to uncross his ankles.
My brother and sister who had considered him part of the family for 23 years, came to sit with me until the body was taken away. The police car and the ambulance sat out front of the house. The doors of the neighbors kept opening and closing. After the coroner told us the tests they wanted to run on his body, they took him away from me.
I called my son in Toronto and knew he’d have to bear the sorrow alone. Without any of the family to hold his hand or rub his back or hand him a tissue.
And for the next two days I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I had the strange sensation of being small and transparent, like I was a wraith. Like I didn’t exist.
Dennis’s brother wanted a Catholic funeral which was laughable because Dennis never went to church during our marriage. I knew he wouldn’t care for a religious service. But I couldn’t imagine what type of funeral to have. Whenever I thought of funerals I pictured the church, the mourners in black, women with veils, people weeping.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t throw your Dad one more birthday party.” I told my youngest son.
“Why can’t we?” He said.
And we looked at one another and smiled. Because we could throw him a party. We could throw him one last birthday celebration. And that’s what we did.
So I sent out invitations for Dennis’s last birthday party, to be held on the day that would have been his 48th birthday. A birthday party with a rock and roll theme. His funeral would be fun and why not? We served pizza, soda, and a guitar shaped cake. The invitations were backstage passes. We made bowls out of records to hold the snacks. We asked everyone to come in their favorite rock and roll t shirt. And we made a slide show consisting of photos of his life with rock music playing in the background.
And I had to say the eulogy. I had never said one before. I’d never done any public speaking before. I wrote it and scribbled it out and wrote it again and erased and wrote in the margins. I had to have it perfect because I did really love him. Even if our love had taken a back seat to our bickering and our differences, I did love him. And I wanted people to know at the very last, the things I remembered about him throughout our marriage. The reasons I had to stay with him and the reasons I had to leave. I was so nervous about speaking. I read the eulogy out at work to the nurses. They listened and dabbed at their eyes with tissues so I knew it was right.
On the day that was his last birthday, I stood up under the strobe lights and disco balls. And I spoke out loud, looking at the crowd fearlessly because even if I failed him in life, I wasn’t going to fail him in death.
These are the words I spoke.
“I’d like to thank everyone for coming to Dennis’s 48th birthday. Dennis, as I’m sure you all know was born on December 3rd, 1969, the youngest of four children. He moved to Athabasca from Southern California when his father, Archie retired.
That’s the part of Dennis’s history that you know. But I’m going to share with you some things that you don’t know. In March of this year, Dennis had his first heart attack. I think he knew he didn’t have much time left because he started talking about making a will and funeral arrangements. Specifically, he said he didn’t want anyone to mourn his passing but to celebrate his life. I think he wanted a party. And anyone who knew Dennis knows that he would have chosen laughter over tears any day. So thank you all for coming together to celebrate this wonderful man we all knew.
Dennis was a man who knew how to live. He loved good food, good music, travel. I never saw a man more comfortable walking into a room full of strangers and almost immediately finding a best friend. He loved concerts, especially the small venues he could wander around with a beer in his hand. If any of you ever went with him, you would have seen him walk a few steps this way and then stop. Walk a few steps that way and then stop again. He did this over and over until he found the auditory sweet spot, the place where the music was the most beautiful. Because for Dennis, it was all about the music.
When I met Dennis, he was living in an apartment on Bellamy Hill with his childhood friend, Roger. It was the stereotypical bachelor’s apartment. They had every sauce imaginable in the fridge but no actual food. They had five pizza cutters but no cutlery. They had milk crates to sit on but no chairs. And of course, the bubble gum machine full of condoms.
Dennis and I met in July of 1993 and in August of 1993 we were married after an engagement of twenty four hours on Salt Spring Island. This led to the ongoing joke in our marriage “I don’t usually go this far on a first date.” We didn’t have much time to plan the wedding of course and when it came time to pick the music, we had one CD, U2-The Joshua Tree. I realized as I was saying my vows, that the music playing in the background was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
We never wore wedding rings. With an engagement of twenty four hours, we didn’t have much time to shop for rings, so we picked them up at a second hand store for a very low price and before our first anniversary, they both broke. And we just never replaced them.
People get married for all kinds of reasons. I asked Dennis once why he married me and he said “You’re the only girl I ever knew who could sing all the words to “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” Because for Dennis, it was all about the music.
The first 8 months of our marriage, Dennis and I were separated because I was in my last year of art school in Vancouver. I spent a lot of time at the library and one day I picked up a random book of poetry and opened it to a random page and found one of the loveliest poems I’ve ever read. I sent a copy of it to Dennis and he loved it as well. He decided it was our poem. It’s called “At a Window,” by Carl Sandburg.
This is that poem:
Give me hunger
Oh you Gods that sit and give the world its orders
Give me hunger, pain and want
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame
Give me you shabbiest, weariest hunger
But leave me a little love
A voice to speak to me in the day end
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset
One little, wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow
Let me go to the window
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love
Years later, after visiting North Carolina, we inadvertently discovered Carl Sandburg’s historic home which was a nice connection.
Dennis always remembered our anniversary and I didn’t. Even the first anniversary, he called me from work apologizing because he had forgotten to say Happy Anniversary. I was a little confused, not knowing what anniversary he was talking about and, after he hung up, I realized he was talking about the anniversary of our wedding. We went into an insurance company a few years later and the agent asked us when our anniversary was. He was shocked when I couldn’t remember but Dennis could. He told us he always asks that question because he likes to watch the guy catch hell from his wife because he can’t remember. For the first time in his 17 year career, the woman couldn’t remember a wedding anniversary but the man could.
Over the years I’ve narrowed the date down to somewhere near the end of August but I still don’t remember the exact date. In August of this year, only a few days before he died, he called me at work again to wish me a happy anniversary because, once again, I had forgotten.
One thing that you might not know about Dennis is that he was an amateur midwife. Our second son Theo was born in our home with no midwife to attend the birth. And, though I like to take credit for the actual delivery, Dennis was my attendant. As soon as Theo was born, he cut the cord, and he and little Archie took the baby and climbed into the tub to wash him off. And so ended his career as a midwife.
We drove to Alberta a few times while we lived in the South. On one such trip, we stopped over in Wisconsin just in time for the Alien festival. Dennis asked a local woman what people do at an alien festival and she said “Oh, mostly drink.” And Dennis probably would have attended except there was no good music there. We continued on to Alberta the next day, a drive which took us 17 hours. And Dennis wanted to listen to Phish the entire way. I don’t think any jury would have convicted me of the murder I wanted to commit at the end of that trip. Dennis was as happy as a clam because for him, it was all about the music, but not so much for me.
This past summer, I spent some time cleaning out the boxes Dennis brought from Grampa Archie’s house. I had been meaning for some time to buy a new coffee maker but it kept slipping my mind. One day, I found a box from Grandpa Archie’s house that had a brand new, still packaged, never used coffee maker. I brought it to Dennis and demanded to know why he didn’t tell me it was there. Seeing my annoyance, he smiled and said “But Dale, I put the song Fat Bottomed Girls on your Christmas album.” And when this lighthearted joke at my expense didn’t work, he back peddled. “Um, um, um,” he said. “Um-Happy Anniversary.” And I had to admit defeat at this point because I couldn’t remember when our anniversary was.
I’m 46 years old now. And for half my life, I was married to Dennis. But how long is that really? How do we measure time? Do we measure it in days? If so, I was married to Dennis for 23 years and 57 days with 5.75 days added for leap years. I calculated I knew him for 8466 days. And that doesn’t sound like much, especially when you consider we spend 8 hours out of every day asleep.
But I think we measure our time differently. I think we measure it in moments. In those 8466 paltry days, Dennis and I lived in two countries, we lived on both sides of the continent of North America, we had two beautiful boys, we broke up, we got back together, we shared anger, compassion, joy. We lived as fully as we knew how, for every moment. So I asked myself if 8466 days is enough to make a life with someone and the answer is, of course, yes. It’s enough to learn the sometimes difficult lesson of choosing laughter over tears.
All the events in our life together can be traced backwards like a trail of stones. The bigger ones, the birth of a child, marriage, graduation, the death of a loved one, all cast shadows on the others. But the smaller ones are no less significant. Doing a crossword together, sipping a cup of coffee next to one another. Simple moments we all share with those we love.
Although we knew Dennis was a man who knew how to live, what none of us knew, is that Dennis was also a man who knew how to die. He died quickly, quietly, peacefully in his home, on his comfy easy chair, watching a movie, with a snack in his hand. Dennis died the way we all should die.
On September third of this year, Dennis had a date with eternity. He was called to attend a concert that will be held until the end of time. A concert where he will always have the best seat in the house, directly in the auditory sweet spot where the music is most beautiful.
As most people do after losing someone, I found myself in shock. As if, without my consent, I was tossed into a shallow pit. And I had to decide if I should stay in the safety of the shadows or ascend into the sun. If I were to stay, the fear was, I would have a shovel thrown down for me to dig my way out. And I’d try. I’d try only to discover I was making my prison deeper and deeper until the thin rays of the sun could no longer reach me. I would forget the loving embrace of its warmth and grow pale, like a ghost, spending the rest of my days concealed in stillness, neither hot nor cold, neither dark nor light, only silence, billowy and soft cradling my body, engulfing me in tranquility. It doesn’t help to sit at the bottom of a pit hiding from the sun. It doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t alter the course of a life, but I did it all the same, hoping to stay the hand that moves the world along.
I clung for many days to the last remaining link to my marriage before life turned me in a different direction. The tenuous silver thread binding my body to his like a kite, tethering me to his ground.
I can make the choice to stay at the bottom of the pit without protest, to feel miserable every day, to spend the rest of my life under the blanket of joyless existence. It would be a dismal choice, dismal but easier than ascending.
Or I could rise.
But how can anyone continue from a depth of such emptiness. I realized that I can ascend because life is made of moments.
My last memory of Dennis was the morning of his death. A simple moment. A hug. A very nice hug. He kissed me and he told me he loved me. And later that day I found his breathless body.
Maybe everyone has a moment when they realize that we’re only in this life for a brief time before we blink into the next. I had my moment when I found him and under my fingers, his skin was cold, his face was blank, there was no sunshine in the hazel of his eyes. It was little consolation when I discovered that I no longer had to carry the onus of his pain and he no longer had to carry the onus of mine.
Imagine life at the bottom of that pit, when even in absolute darkness there is solace. But if someone brings a light, a small light, an affectionate light and then they leave. The darkness after they’re gone is an ocean of desolation. Dennis was my temporary light and his absence left me in despair. I didn’t know when I met him about the dry wilderness I would have to wander once he disappeared over the horizon.
I always thought the end of a life would arrive like a door slammed shut, the abrupt closing of one story before the opening of another. At once there would be life and then, in a sound as short as a clap, there would be nothing. But, though a heart may stop beating, it takes years for people to let go of the dead. Nothing ends in haste but we sigh out of this world in the longest of exhales. Once our bodies have gone over the edge, the people left behind cling to the cliffside looking for the fallen and forgetting, perhaps for years, that the living have to eat.
For as long as there have been people there have been debates over the concept of life after death. But these thoughts don’t interest me. Forget the great scales of right and wrong, of good and evil, of heaven or hell, forget it all, I only know that I want him back and I can’t have him. But the worst events in our lives, the ones that cause us the most pain can never be extinguished, they must be endured.
What could I have said to Dennis to put an end to my fury of sorrow? This affliction that harnesses me to the past? What words could I have uttered that would give me the freedom to move on without this great weight? Remembering that I’m the one who has to wake up every day, wearing my sadness, and wandering the world alone.
I would say three things to him:
took pleasure in the sound of your voice and the smell of your skin.
lived every day hoping you would smile my way.
My greatest regret in my marriage is that we clung to our bitterness when we could have severed the noose. I didn’t approach him in life so he could understand the soothing balm of my forgiveness or so I could understand his.
I’m so very happy that my last moment with him was not filled with bitterness or anger. It could just as easily have been an argument over whose turn it was to clean the kitty litter. For the record, it was his turn. But my last memory of him was sweet. And in clinging to the sweetness of that last moment, I was able to climb out of the pit.
Dennis died the way we all should die when we embark on our own final journey, the last adventure we will ever attend, our own date with eternity, when the troubles of living overcome the troubles of dying and we welcome the cold fingers of eternal sleep. But today we can ask ourselves some questions. Not about death but about life. Have we enjoyed good food, good music, travel? Have we chosen laughter over tears? I say with full confidence that Dennis would have wanted that for all of us.”
Those were the last words I spoke for my husband save these. Good bye my love. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the wife you needed.
My earliest memory is of my father. But I’m not sure the event is genuine or if it was manufactured in the lonely mind of a girl who wishes she could remember him.
The memory is both simple and complex. I remember being a fat baby and sitting on the floor of our subsidized home in Dickensfield. The close quartered row housing with the thin walls. The home of our poverty, the home of our grief, of loss, of loneliness, the home in which we became wards of the state, dependent on hand outs, sitting at the bottom, filtered to the lowest level, waiting for life to begin or end. This is a simple beginning but it becomes more complex when I realize that it might not have occurred that way. I don’t doubt that it happened but I recognize now that I wasn’t a baby in that house. I was three years old when we lived there. So maybe the memory I have is manufactured from the limited knowledge of my own life and the desire to have a memory of him. The thought of not having that memory is akin to being a bad daughter.
I am sitting on the floor of this home and I look up to see a person walk to the door. This person has no face. He is standing with his back to the sun, a sun that shines so brightly that it washes out all his features and blurs his outline. This, I’m sure, is an erasure of time but not of intention. I’ve lived this moment over so many times that the reliving has knocked off the edges of all the images and deleted essential elements. Because how would I know it was my father standing there unless I recognized his face at one time, even if I don’t see it now?
I have the distinct feeling of joy as I look up and see that it’s him. I reach my arms up. He opens the screen door and embraces me. And that’s my only recollection of him. That one small moment when I felt perfectly safe and wanted to be no where else. Part of me says this didn’t happen because he was never at that house. My mother left him and took us to our new life in Edmonton, leaving him alone in Whitehorse. And we never saw him again. And he never walked through the door of that house. Another part of me says that the details are unimportant, that I filled them in with things that I knew. Like taking a piece of a puzzle and putting it in the earliest house of my memory where it almost fits but not quite. I need to believe in its truth because, other than half a dozen photos, I have nothing left of him, only my reflection in the mirror, the olive skin on my face and the shape of my eyebrows.
I don’t even remember being told that he died. I just remember always knowing. One time, my older brother asked my mother “Dad’s dead right?” and my mother answers yes. “He was hit by a car right?” and she nods. “Didn’t he see the car coming?” and she says “I guess not.” I perked up when I heard this confirmation of something we already knew. We just accepted it as part of our lives. She must have told us what happened but this piece of the puzzle has been lost to time.
Funny, he died two weeks before my little sister was born and I remember that event. I remember being brought to our Godparents house because Mum was having the baby. My creepy Godfather always called me his girlfriend when I was only three years old. I squirmed to get away from him while he held me firmly on his lap and everyone seemed to think it was a great joke that I was his prisoner. But I don’t remember my father dying even though I remember all of this.
As an adult I think how difficult it must have been for my mother, who just lost her husband, to explain death to us, even if her marriage was colored with discord and I feel certain it was. How hard it must have been to speak to her fatherless children who had to learn of death in the most unerring way possible.
Years later, I contacted my father’s brother, my Uncle David, and I learned the truth. He told me how sad my father been, how lost he’d been without us, how much he wanted us back, all the things I wanted to be true. And they were true. He confirmed the suicide I had suspected. In Prince George, there was an old highway where people used to go to kill themselves. The road came around a sharp bend and pointed downhill. So on a dark night, a tired driver might hit a person who threw themselves in front of the vehicle. And if the vehicle were large enough, the human remains would not be salvageable. There were many deaths along this stretch of road. It was called “Suicide Corner.” And that’s where he went when he was too sad to deal with losing us, when he knew he didn’t want to live without us. Was it a truck? A car? A semi? I would have chosen a semi. Did he live long enough to regret his decision or was he killed instantly? I want to know the answers to these questions even if it gives me pain. Because there is also pain in not knowing.
My mother might know the answers to some of these questions but I can’t bring myself to torture a 77 year old woman with that recall. And I have come to understand that there are more questions than answers in this life. What I need to do, is take this memory and bed it down, and cover it over with soil so I can make room for some new experiences that don’t include the sad end of his life. It’s become too convenient to hide behind it, blindly clinging to the darkness of his image. I need to do what he could not do. I need to find the courage to stop living in the shadows and put my face in the sun.
“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Leonardo da Vinci
OK, so I didn’t really die in this field. I took the title from an old X-Files episode where Mulder meets a woman he knew in a former life. She remembers how he died and where and it’s a pretty good episode. It’s also a fascinating subject matter. Like most people, I find myself wondering what happens beyond this life. Reincarnation is a little like being immortal, to become someone else and become someone else over and over until the end of time. To be united once again to our senses. To make love again, to breath air, to feel water running over skin, hear whispered moans, see colors. To live again this painful, joyful, journey of physical existence. Maybe we all have this choice after death. It’s an interesting thought.
So I didn’t die in this field but I had planned on killing myself there. At first, the place I died didn’t seem important, just somewhere my boys wouldn’t find my body. Initially, this field was convenient. Later, I found that it became a friend, a warm companion who would embrace me for one last time on earth. I grew fond of this field with its barn and outbuildings all leaning crookedly against one another, the plowed field, the clouds sitting low in the sky. I came to love this field but, as I say, I didn’t die there.
In my 35th year, I entered the dark shadow of my soul, taking on the failings of others as a cloak that blocked out the sun. Asking myself why I wasn’t enough. Asking why he strayed, why he left, why he came back and finding no answers. I looked up at the world from the bottom of a deep pit, my hands reaching towards the light. I wanted someone’s strong arms to lift me out. But no one came.
I heard of people who attempted suicide but didn’t quite make it. The woman who jumped off a bridge and woke up in ICU with a tube down her throat, ribs wired together, fractures to her face, arms, legs, back. She never walked again. There was also a man who overdosed on medication. He passed out, vomited, and was rescued only to discover he had destroyed his liver and needed a transplant. So I knew if I attempted suicide, I didn’t want to come back. It had to be absolute. There was no plan B.
But as it happens, I didn’t need to depart this world. I found my way out of the pit on my own. I don’t remember specifically what changed my mind, what turn of events made me look in a different direction. But I found after time that happiness occupied more moments than misery. I’d like to say that some specific incident occurred so I could offer help to other people in the same position. But I have no wisdom to convey. I only remember feeling better after a while and thinking how lucky I was to have this life, as flawed and glorious as it can be. I remember sitting near that field and being grateful that I didn’t take my last breath there. I looked to it as a gravestone, marking the time when I could have let my sadness destroy me but I didn’t.
And one of the things that helped feed me during the dark days of my soul was my art. I saw things when I drew them that I didn’t see otherwise. Drawing them helped me see. And in that seeing, I found a fundamental truth of our existence. We are all one. We are all the same. We all suffer the same emotions. And it’s in our shared emotions that we belong to one another. I could see the sadness of other people and I realized I was not the only one who had such thoughts. I was not the only one who was stuck, backed into a corner, attacking anyone who came near like a kicked dog. I found, by looking at others, that we are more similar than different and it’s in our similarities that we can find peace.
“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Immanuel Kant
This lovely ginger cat is called George. My son picked him out of a litter after his first cat died. I was a little worried how the dogs would react to such a tiny kitten. I was worried that we’d lose him in our huge house. It turns out I didn’t need to be worried about any of it. The dogs immediately ran over to him and licked him all over. Our female dog followed him everywhere. We always knew where the kitty was because she followed him. If she was looking under the sofa, we knew George was under the sofa. If she went downstairs slowly, then George was going down the stairs slowly. We’ve had him for 6 years and he’s the only cat who allows the dogs near him. He’s fat and happy and we adore him.
This cat is called Bridget. We got her and her brother after my youngest son broke his leg and was stuck on the sofa. My sister and I saw a sign posted at the 7-11 that there were free kitties to give away. So we called and went out to see them. The mother of the kitties was taken in by two kind men who had seen her thrown from a car. They rescued her and took her to the vet who had to amputate her tail because it was badly broken. They think she was thrown away because she was pregnant. She had three of the cutest little babies I’ve ever seen. We took two of them home. She is the only survivor. Her older brother, Dragon, had to be put down because of kidney problems. He’s buried in a grave at my Mum’s house. But Bridget’s still running around. My son’s friends call her Kinja because they say she’s a kitty-ninja. She can jump from the ground to the top of our 7 foot entertainment stand. Our other kitties watched her with jealousy so much that we had to build a ladder for them to climb up so they could enjoy it too.
This is Cleopatra but we call her Cleo. We got her to be company for our older dog who destroyed the house every time we left. He was lonely and she was good company for him. They were close friends for 8 years until he had to be put down only last year. Now she follows us around, lost. We try to take her places in the car but she still gets so excited. She won’t sit still. You’d think an arthritic 10 year old labrador retriever would sit down as much as possible but she’s still as energetic as when we got her years ago, small enough to fit in a handbag.
This is Stripe. This was his last photo. We got him in Portland, Oregon. My older son picked him out of the litter and he’s our longest lived pet of 16 years. We got two kitties when we got him but the other one, a white one, called Yeti, ran away. He came back only one time and we were so excited to see him but in the morning he was gone. We never saw him again. Stripe came to Alberta with us so he’s an international traveler. He was an indoor/outdoor cat for a long time but when he started to get cataracts a couple of years ago, we kept him inside. He became a permanent fixture on my bed which has a heated blanket I turned on to keep him warm. We knew he didn’t have much time left when he started losing weight. And he would meow loudly as if he were lost. I think he was getting Alzheimer’s and just didn’t know where he was. And on the last day, my older son and I both knew he didn’t have much time left. He couldn’t walk anymore. We took him to the emergency vet to be put down. My brother came to my rescue so I could hold him. I didn’t want his last trip to be in an animal carrier. We took him and told him what a good cat he was and let him go. We’ll take him to my Mum’s house to put him in the ground with Dragon.
Animals break our hearts. They creep in through the hard exteriors that grow around us. They love us no matter what we do. I shut Stripe in a closet once and he was there for 3 days. I was thinking he ran away but my younger son heard him meowing at night and let him out of the closet I had shut him in. And he still loved me. They love us even when we don’t deserve to be loved. They love us even when we don’t want to be loved. And we keep looking for that acceptance that we rarely get from humans. We look for love. We put ourselves in a position to be hurt and we get hurt. And still we look for that connection. Just like when we look for love in humans. Only animals are better than humans. And when we take them for their last journey, we can’t explain what we’re doing. They don’t understand what’s going on. We can’t say good bye in words they will understand. And we see in them our own humanity, our own end, our own final journey. Will we see them again? Is there a life beyond this one? These animals of ours will know the answers to these questions before we do. We love them even though we’ll never be good enough to deserve their love. We love them and that’s enough.