The Upside of Death | HumorOutcasts

The Upside of Death

March 31, 2016
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The dilemma I’ve struggled with for about nine months–which I guess is the normal gestation period for brilliance–is how to poke fun at the fact that you’ve just had to say goodbye to three old, cherished animals you’ve spent a good 15 years with.

In fact I’ve struggled so long with this problem that I haven’t really written a humorous word since my big boy yellow lab passed away from some frightening neurological disorder that I don’t really want to remember the name of. Of course thru the hospice stages of my three pets, I tried to make them comfortable and “happy” as best I could. I made sure they ate enough, cleaned their incontinent little beds, flushed away their poop, and kept a sharp eye on new and emerging symptoms and problems. I will say I wasn’t alone in this; I had the help of a compassionate holistic/western medicine vet and my husband. But the burden seemed strongly placed on my skinny shoulders. Sometimes it was exhausting physically; sometimes it was exhausting mentally And sometimes I wished it was just plain over
That’s when I knew conflict and dual feelings really cannot take separate paths. I knew my pets were lingering, deteriorating; I didn’t think they were in pain, but I knew they weren’t happy. And neither was I. But none of us had the courage? chutzpah? pragmatic wish to take away those bright eyes and soft smiles sooner than later. So we fed and cleaned them and waited until they told us when the time was near.

I’ve meant this essay if not to be uproariously funny but as a reflection on how everything has an upside. Now that my geriatric patients are gone, the upside has revealed itself. I have more time to concentrate on the younger generation of pets. And I don’t have to wonder if my hospice patients will still be breathing in the morning. That was stressful, as anyone with sickness knows. I’m more relaxed now even though I grieve. I’m even floating the idea of getting another cat. So there’s an upside to everything in life. For every negative there’s a positive, a yin and yang.

But unfortunately I have to grapple with the guilt of the upside. It’s like survivor guilt, I think. I say to myself that it’s not my time yet, so why feel guilty that I’m here and they’re not. But you know how that goes. If you’re a pet owner, you always can think of one more kiss you should have given, one more pat you should placed on a furry head, or one more morsel of steak or ice cream you could have shared with your beloved fur babies.

Well, I’m smiling and crying at the same time as I write this, so that’s progress I guess–the upside and the downside are trying to meld. I have memories— of nurturing my babies to the end, of trying to be as kind as possible, trying not to resent the fear and panic that kept crawling up and down my spine. As the time goes, I know these memories will fade–and I have mixed feelings about that too, another upside and downside colliding in mental space– and I hope that what remains is that upside of the whole experience. I lost three pets–two older dogs and one beautiful older cat in nine months, and I feel blessed for having had the experience to say hello and then, in what felt like a few days in the calendar of pet owners, say goodbye. I love you Norton,Owl, and Oliver, and the upside is that I could care so much for creatures that did nothing but bark and meow for the sweet recognition due them: Yes, you were important to our family–maybe to what make us human–

A very holy cat.  Notice the lopsided halo.

A very holy cat. Notice the lopsided halo.

and I’ll never forget you.

Janice Arenofsky

I write humor, but also serious essays, features and profiles, usually for national venues. I'm a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I live in Arizona, where it's hot, hot, hot (but very dry of course), and I have eight dogs and a cat. Oh yes, a husband, too.

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6 Responses to The Upside of Death

  1. April 1, 2016 at 5:54 am

    Every pet owner has gone through this, sooner or later … it’s the ones who don’t feel anything who have something wrong with them.

  2. March 31, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks again. Appreciate how much it stirred up old sad happy feelings. It helped me too but I still have a long way to go before I can bear to look at their old collars and feel a sense of peace. I am stuck right now in sadness and it’s a sinkhole I can’t climb out of. Eventually time will heal but the scar will always be there

    • Kathy Minicozzi
      April 1, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      I have a shoebox in one of my closets that contains old leashes and collars and other mementos of my beautiful little furry babies. I don’t look at the contents, but it’s comforting to know that they are there.

  3. March 31, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Janice,
    First I was reminded of our great Yellow Lab, Troon who died many years ago at the age of 16. One never forgets that journey. But as I read further, I was really taken into my caregiving for my human loved ones. It’s no different…the work, the guilt, the understanding of how you had a blessing both in their love for you and your ability to return the favor…thanks, it was beautiful!

  4. Kathy Minicozzi
    March 31, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    This is a wonderfully moving piece. I have lost four of my furry babies: two dogs and two cats. One little terrier dog passed away at home. The other three had to be euthanized by the vet. It never gets easier to lose a pet, because they are loved ones, just like any member of the family. The real upside, though, is that we shared our lives together while they were still on earth, and love like that can never be measured; it is too precious.

    By the way, my kitty Harmony is happy that you used her picture. It isn’t the best one ever taken of her, but it does have something of a spiritual look about it.

    • March 31, 2016 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks Kathy, As a pet owner, you know only too well the pain we all go through when losing our best friends. Harmony is a pretty little girl; she reminds me of my Owl, who used to find a warm window to look out and poke at any drapes or blinds that were obscuring her vision.

      Thank you for your warm understanding, especially the part that it never gets easier. I was naïve enough once to think it would. I was wrong.

      Janice



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