On aging: Loss

“I’m feeling guilty,” Love-One commiserated. “Maybe we should have helped her die.”

“But she still has quality of life,” I replied. “Look. She’s still joining us on the couch.  She still comes to join me while I sew. She’s spending her last hours where she loved to hang out.”

Misha passed away in May.  Sasha joined her this week.  My mind’s eye still catches her out of the corner of my eye.  My mind’s ear still hears her mew as she delivers her nightly “gift” to us. 

The veternarian said it was probably Feline Aids.  Sasha and Misha, litter-mates, could have had it since birth.  They were rescue kittens, barely a pound each, when we got them.  Sasha had a crook tail; broken, maybe by a door slamming.  

The veterinarian assured me Feline Aids is not transmissible to humans.  I knew that.

Several years ago, I volunteered at Children’s Place, a home for Aids-affected children. Most were babies. That was before we had successful treatments for Aids.  Because we knew we would lose many of our children, we all went through grief counseling.  

I remember the counselor telling us that each time we lose someone, we re-process all our other losses, way back to when we lost our first childhood pet.  That seemed a little over-the-top to me.  Pets are nothing like people.  I never called my pets my babies.  I don’t want to be called a pet’s grandma.  I love them , yes. As pets.

Still, I am, indeed, going down that path of re-living other losses.  Did I try to be a loving caretaker like the hospice nurses I met along other end-of-life journeys?  Yes, I did. 

In his final days, Dad moved with the sun; finding a warm place to rest his weary body. Misha sought the warm places in our house. I settled Misha into her favorite spot: the “forest,” a sunny room with all our houseplants. I visited her there.

In her final day’s Loved-One’s Mom wanted nothing more than to be with her children and she didn’t want us to worry or fuss. Sasha wanted nothing more than to be with us. She stealthily made her way to my side when I thought she was resting quietly.

Loved-One told me that Sasha’s wasting reminded him of his sister’s final fight against cancer. She was so very tiny. And yet, so upbeat and cheerful.  It was almost as if she was letting us know it was all right.

Maybe it seems frivolous to compare pets who’ve been with us for almost fourteen years, to people we’ve known all our lives.  Yet, I’m reminded that one of the keys to longevity is the ability to weather losses.  Or, as Loved-One pragmatically pointed out, “If you live a long time, you’re going to learn to deal with loss because there’s going to be a lot of it.”

The best we can do is to support those leaving us the best way we know how.  Offer comfort; look for clues for what they need; be there when they need us most; and love them to the end.