Saturday, May 26, 2007

I see dead people no where

There was a gray and white cat lying partly on the sidewalk and partly on the grass on the way to the puppies house yesterday morning. As I walked closer I thought, "Please don't be dead! Please don't be dead! Please get up and move!"

But it's upper paw was stuck in rigor, lifted in the air. It's pink mouth was crawling with black specks. I looked away.

I just ran into Shira and Jay in the Garden. Shira told me about her day in orthopaedic surgery, how she is strangely comfortable talking very bluntly about death and dying.

It occurred to me I have not seen much death in my life. Aunty Mercy in her coffin, looking like someone else, with her nostrils flared and her eyes shut. My nieces had felt guilty because they wanted her to die--they were young and her Alzheimer's ruined life was sucking away their mothers' attention from their own growing pains. Fifteen to twenty years my junior, they did not get to know Aunty Mercy the way I did. She never knit sweaters for them the way she did for me. She taught me to make rotis and lemon meringue pie and took me to Saturday School at her Seventh Day Adventist Church. I told them she didn't die because they wished it--that she died because it was time for her to die and that her suffering was over because she died.

It occurs now to me that the medical students have all seen life and death in ways I never had. Justin has spent days working in labor and delivery, in the newborn clinic, in medicine. He has informed families that their loved ones are dead or dying.

I buried my dead hamster in junior high.

I was with Max, our Australian Shepherd, when his vet of 14 or so years injected him to sleep peacefully...

I wonder where I'll be when Toni dies. If Justin and I will be there, or if it will happen while we work in San Diego. I've never seen a person die. I don't even like to see people being really old and ill in nursing homes--those people who wheeled themselves around the SNF with drool and food on their sleeves, their thick glasses sliding off their noses, that smell of bleach and aged bodies pooling.

Justin thinks maybe we should have a wake. Toni might have wanted that--a celebration of her life at whatever used to be her favorite bar (knowing Justin and his friends and their parents, I'm sure she had one) before she chose places where she could wheel up to the table and still be able to hear. Before her drinks were always poured in short glasses so she could hold them without spilling, almost. We could tell stories of "remember when" and they'd be the good stories. We could drink whatever she used to drink and what we want to drink and maybe eat or barbecue or something.


It doesn't seem like the kind of thing we can just let happen one day and not mark with some sort of significance--if she doesn't want a funeral in the traditional (or my Christian) sense of the word, shouldn't there be something?

Maybe this is part of what the hospice people help us figure out. I'm sure a lot of Americans die this way these days--without a church family like Justin and I have. Without the people who prayed and spoke at Aunty Mercy's funeral and arranged the casserole laden reception in the church hall.

A wake seems more her style, anyway.


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