Monday, May 04, 2009

Life, death,

I dug a grave last weekend. It was a first for me.

My old cat was exactly that- OLD. I noticed early this year his weight dropping and his hearing appeared to be diminishing. For weeks he went through a phase of either running out in front of my car as I tried to leave the garage, or failing to get up when I pulled into the drive way. His once muscular and stocky body was becoming thin and frail. I changed his diet, added olive oil to his food, and fussed over him a bit more than usual. He loved the attention, but his health did not improve in the slightest.

On Saturday he collapsed following a week of steady decline. Ignoring food and water, and then falling over while taking care of business...I knew it was time to call the vet. I'd been saying goodbye all week and part of me wonders if he hung on as long as he did because of those extra rubs behind his ears. As sick as he was he still purred when I scratched his head and would stretch out a little as I started to withdraw my hand- as if to say- "Please don't stop". When it was time to go my husband and son, with tears in their eyes, took Kramer to the vet and were with him when he passed. I stayed home, got the shovel, and began to dig a hole. I would spend his final moments preparing a place for him to rest.

I discovered as I dug his grave that grief is somewhat lessened (or the edge is taken off) by the act of physical labor. Grief, if fully given into, is much like a sponge and can absorb energy. Having a somewhat mindless physical job to do gave me a sense of purpose. I knew this would be my last task for Kramer.

I thought about men and women ages before me who dug graves to bury their spouses, or worse, their own children; but how it might have created a connection between the temporal and the eternal, between the earth which would hold a physical body, and heaven which held the soul of the deceased. I suddenly understood (though my example pales in comparison to losing a family member) what it meant to stand at a grave and look heavenward with a once living and breathing loved-one beneath my feet and my eyes/heart searching for the spirit of the person which death can not contain. It was a powerful moment for me.

As the grave deepened I marveled at the properties of soil and it's ability to absorb death, and to promote life. It gives, and it takes.

I needed help to finish the grave, and once Tim returned from the Vet's office we finished it together. We cried and we laughed as we worked. Finally it was time for me to put my dear old cat in a box and place him in the spot we had prepared for him. I gently put the box in the bottom of the grave, put 3 good sized stones on top of the box, and then filled in the hole. It was finished.

I wondered if we, as a society, miss something valuable in the process of laying a loved one to rest by turning over disposal of the body to professionals? I could have allowed the vet to take Kramer's body and burn it, but in the resolution of his passing I would have missed something profound.

He died in the presence of those who loved him, and was buried by hands who had always taken care of him. I ached because he suffered. I wept because he died. When I placed a pot a pansies on his grave site I took a deep breath and felt the purest sense of peace.

Rest well old friend~


Bardouble29 said...

Wow...I actually got tears in my eyes reading this...

It doesn't matter if we lose a loved one or a loved animal, we feel the loss wholeheartedly.

Skunkfeathers said...

Simply, *HUG*

tinkerbell the bipolar faery said...

hugs to you.

Libby said...

cora...once again, you did it!...i know you didn't do it on purpose, but i not only got tears in my eyes, but i was sobbing at the end of this! [big hugs] to you, i know you felt worse...but then, right after i started, i heared truman chewing on the rose leaves of my mother's day rose (mobile meals delivered one to every mom today...isnt that nice?) & i had to growl at him to quit!

JL4 said...

Buried my dog of 16 years this past August. It was fairly traumatizing to be honest

SJ said...

I am so sorry that he passed away. Such a touching farewell you managed to give him - and that's all that can be done isn't it.

K9 said...

i am so sorry. i understand about the physical lessing the sorrow a bit. i have had pet troubles this week as well. we lost mean dovey and trout was diagnosed with glaucoma and will eventually lose her sight. how grateful i am for the beautiful perfect photo you took of her and i will always have that.

i wish i could drive over there and stand by this little grave with you. im glad you did get to do it and yes i think we have taken all the opportunities to grieve and ritualize loss from our culture. but,,,not to worry cause big pharmas got just the thing to blotto you away from legitimate emotion. when sad feel sad! feel it!

i know you did. and i want you to know i am so with you in spirit. xo

foam said...

i understand ..

Bad Bob said...

I'm teary writing this. Kramer had a much better life than most cats, but it is still sad to see an old friend go.

It is difficult digging a grave, but does give you a chance to say a last goodbye.
I feel for you and your family.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Sad tale, nicely written.

Helene said...

I am so sorry! Very sad!

I definitely found physical exercise helped with grieving... thats why I took up running when I was dealing with my Mom. Now if I could just get back into it without the grieving, it would be really good!

Greg C said...

So sorry to read this. It has been a long time since I visited but I am glad that you are still blogging. Some years ago we had to put our horse to sleep and it was about the worst thing I ever had to do. Everyone there, men and women had tears in their eyes. The vet suggested waiting until morning to bury her but we decided to do it right then and like you said it was theraputic doing that manual labor. We burried her in the field where she lived most of her life and planted a tree by the grave just to remember her.