Last week my 13-year-old cat, Angel, was diagnosed with cancer. Her veterinarian/acupuncturist told me the tumors had spread, there was nothing that could be done, and that I had the option of euthanizing her that day. I said no: Angel didn’t seem to be in any pain, she was still running around the yard, leaping onto high window sills and purring. What Angel isn’t doing is eating much. She is getting noticeably weaker.
After receiving this news, my mind raced ahead to practical matters: is there a spot in the yard where I might bury her? Would it be easier to cremate? Yes, but what if she dies at an inconvenient time, like a weekend. In this valley heat I’ll need to put her body in the fridge till Monday, and she’s a big-boned cat, probably part Maine Coon. Will she fit?
Some of you may be thinking, It’s a cat; get over it. And if you’re thinking this, I hope you don’t have any pets of your own. But that’s another subject. One reason I’m writing this is because it is easier to write about these thoughts when they’re about a pet. So many of my friends are caring for (or have just finished caring for) elderly parents and/or spouses. It’s hard to talk about. But I can say these things because my cat won’t read this. She won’t feel bad if I’m sad because she’s sick. I don’t have to put on a brave face for her the way I did for my Mom.
I find there’s a part of me that wants this time of waiting and watching to be over with. And yet of course I’m dreading it too. I don’t want my cat to die. But when she’s gone, I can get back to normal. Normal. I realized recently that I seem to be living under a fallacy that life has a default setting of “normal.” After the funeral or the surgery or allergy season or “when the kids get over these darn colds,” then things will be back to normal and we can get stuff done. We’ll be happy.
We do this with happy events too: after the wedding, after the baby’s born, when we get back from vacation, then things will be back to normal.
I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs with my dear soul sisters in the Sacred Conversations group at Sister Margie Will’s Franciscan Living Center in midtown Sacramento. Rohr says we “idolize normalcy.” Imagine that! He cautions against this, saying, “Instead, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place there. We have to move out of ‘business as usual’ and remain on the ‘threshold’ (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between. . . . Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because we are out of the way. In sacred space the old world is able to fall apart, and the new world is able to be revealed.”
So here I am in liminal space with my cat. When I look at her I feel sad, but I feel grateful she is still here right now. And when I remember, I say a prayer for all care givers who are sad and angry and impatient to return to “normal” and feeling guilty as hell about it. It’s not easy, but it’s a good place to be.
Post script—please don’t send me advice about pet burial, cremation, or cold storage. I’ll figure it out when the time comes. This can’t be fixed. Just say a prayer for all care givers and all those who are grieving. Thank you.