This year began with death. On January 8, 2019 I witnessed my “baby” sister take her last breath after two years of battling ALS.
In April it was my 99-year old grandmother. Yes, my mother lost her daughter and her mother within four months of each other. This felt particularly cruel. They were my losses too, of course, but at the time I found myself more focused on what my mother was losing. Perhaps it was my way of keeping my own pain at a manageable distance.
My own child had died nine years earlier, so I had an inkling of what my mother was going through, although let me be very clear: No Two Losses Are The Same! They are each as unique as the individual relationships themselves. Just because I’d lost a child, didn’t mean I knew what my mother was going through. Like I said: just an inkling.
My heart ached not only for my own losses of sister and grandmother, and the reminders of what it was to lose my child, but it pained me to witness my 82-year old mother’s suffering through these very personal losses, when she had already endured so much as my sister’s primary caregiver during a terminal illness, and my mother’s own health challenge with breast cancer in the middle of all of that.
Sometimes all we can do is witness, to be a supportive and loving presence. It may not seem like much, but it’s actually quite a lot.
In May, one of my deceased sister’s dogs, Chiqui, who was now under my mother’s care, had to be euthanized. Chiqui was 18 years old. She and my grandmother both lived long lives. But you know what? This was not a comfort. Not at all. Because the bottom line was: we wished they could still be with us.
In July, a dear friend had to put her dog down. Lily’s health took a precipitous dive after two small, mysterious seizures. She began to walk in circles, to stumble, to effort tremendously just to stand, to fall to one side as she peed, to have difficulty swallowing, and finally to throwing up everything.
The seizures were looked into, medication prescribed, blood drawn, urine collected, X-rays taken. Finally, an MRI revealed widespread encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It explained all of Lily’s symptoms, but did not explain the cause or provide any cures. The symptoms were only going to get worse.
We sat in tears with Lily as the vet administered an anti-anxiety medication which slowed Lily’s breathing to a normal rate. The second injection stopped Lily’s heart. It seemed a peaceful way to go. I remember thinking, “Like this. This is how I want to go when my time comes.”
I keep saying goodbye. I’ve stepped into a predictable life-stage of goodbyes. There are likely many more to come. It’s one of the side-effects of living into my “senior” years. Saying goodbye is something I never wanted to get good at. But as I’ve said before, death (and grief) are part of the contract we sign up for when we live and love.
Goodbye 2019. May 2020 be kinder. To all of us.