No More Pets

Today my heart hurts and I have found myself incapable of humor.

Yes, the mouse died, but why does it hurt this much?  It was just a mouse.  We rarely even held her because she always peed on us and it was stinky and we’d have to change our clothes.

Sarah Jane has been slowly declining, and today she took a swift turn for the worst.  I called the vet and made an appointment to have her put to sleep.  I couldn’t stand watching her misery for another day without doing something about it.  By this afternoon, her legs weren’t responding, and she kept trying to move, but couldn’t.  About an hour before the appointment, I could tell that it was time.

I picked her up and held her tiny little mouse self in my hand and she peed on me.  And then she went into convulsions and died.  It looked very painful.  Before all the convulsing started, I’d called to Boy10 to come say goodbye to her, and he called to Boy7.  I wish he hadn’t.  Boy7 had specifically said he didn’t want to go to the vet to see her die, and just as Boy7 arrived, the convulsing started.  It was terribly disturbing to watch.  Boy7 was very upset.  Frankly, so was I.

I don’t believe the weight of sadness that I’m feeling is from the one mouse.  I believe it’s the cumulative effect of watching 8 pets die in agony.  Why can’t they go gentle into that good night?  Why do they always have to go into diabetic shock, or have kidney failure, or heart attacks?  Their bodies get wasted, their fur gets thin and dirty, they spasm and they die with no dignity.

I loved each and every one of them, and watched each and every one of them die in misery.

I used to love having pets.  I grew up in a house with eight indoor cats and three hyper dogs and two cannibalistic gerbils and I loved them all.  And I loved being a person who loved pets.  It was a large part of my identity.

And now…no more pets.  I will not go through this a ninth time.

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Picture of the day.  The boys wanted a picture to remember Sarah Jane by.

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My Seat Buddy

My church sends out an email whenever someone in the church dies.  I don’t usually read them, because I never know the person who has died.  But the other day I randomly opened one of the sympathy emails and read, “We are sad to announce…blah blah…Al Croft.”

Nope.  Don’t know him.

Then on Saturday I was at a church dinner.  The pastor stood up to say a few words at the dinner and spoke of Al Croft.  Apparently Al was a gentle man, who always had a kind word for everyone, salt of the earth, and we will miss him.  Al died last Thursday afternoon, while his daughter held his hand.

And this morning, at church, they announced to everyone that Al Croft had died.

And it wasn’t until halfway through the pastor’s sermon, that I suddenly thought…wait.  Al Croft?  I wonder if that’s my Al?

I’ll explain.

Every other Sunday I teach the preschoolers during the 8:00 morning service, while my family attends the service.  Then, they all go home and I stay behind to attend the 10:30 service by myself.

It’s a little odd to go to church alone when you have family that goes to church.  Families usually sit together, and it feels strange to send them off home, and then find a place to sit alone.  When I sit with my family, they like to sit on the side, 7 or 8 rows back.  I don’t like sitting there.

The one nice thing about going alone, is that I can choose where I want to sit.  My maiden name was Benson, so I’m used to sitting in the front row.  Schools assign seating based on your name, and Bensons are always at the front.  One teacher shook things up by seating us opposite from the usual, and I sat in the back for 6th grade science class.

I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class, other than the fact that when you sit in the back row, you get distracted a lot, and don’t learn a whole lot in class.

So, when I’m at church alone, I get to choose where I sit, and I choose to sit up front, where I can learn.  I sit in the second row, in the second seat, next to a man named Al.

The first time I sat in the second row, I sat on the very edge, so that I could lean my arm on the arm rest.  A man arrived at church and looked a little confused and then sat next to me, further in.  I realized from his reaction that I was probably sitting in the seat he normally used.  So I said, “Looks like I took your seat, didn’t I?” and I got up to switch and he gave me a grateful smile.  He likes the arm rest, too.

And every other week after that, for the past 4 years, I’ve sat on the second row, the second seat in.  Eventually, I learned that the man I was sitting next to is named Al.

Al’s in his mid 60’s, slender and not very tall.  Grey hair, lined face.  Very friendly and sweet: nice, nice man.  He is almost always in his seat before I am, and always makes a point of standing up and giving me a hug when I arrive.  “Good morning, Jackie!”  “Good morning, Al!”

Usually the service is lightly serious, but a few times a service, the pastor will say something humorous, and whenever that happens, Al gives a great big chuckle and turns to look at me while he laughs.  I like that.  Al makes a point of catching my eye, just so that we can enjoy our laugh together.

Sometimes, the pastor says, “Take the hand of someone next to you while we pray,” and Al and I hold hands.  Not always my favorite thing, because my arm ends up contorting in a funny way, and I want to let go of the person’s hand and wiggle my arm around, but I can’t, and then I end up completely not praying and thinking about my contorted arm instead.  But, I hold Al’s hand when asked.

Last time I was at the 10:30 service, Al’s family came to church.  I’ve never met them before.  They all sat in the 3rd row, where there was more room for them to spread out.

I thought how happy Al must be to have his family at church with him.  He certainly looked happy to have them there.  I saw that Al had a bandage on his nose.  I asked, “What happened?” and there was a flicker of “I don’t want to talk about it” in his eyes and then he grinned and said, “Oh, I fell down a couple of times.  Or…she did it!” and he pointed to his wife and they both laughed.

That made me remember a couple of months ago when the pastor talked with Al after the service and they both looked very serious.  I sort of wondered if something was wrong with Al.  And now that he was falling, I wondered again if something was wrong with Al.

But he obviously didn’t want to talk about it, and I was going to respect that.  After all, we’re just seat buddies, right?  I mean, I don’t even know his last name, even though we’ve sat next to each other and laughed with each other and held hands for the past 4 years.  So, I wasn’t going to pry.

I laughed at Al’s joke and he introduced me to his family, and they were very friendly and we all smiled a lot at each other and shook hands.  During the service, I heard them laughing together when something funny was said.

And that’s my Al.

So, it was with a bit of dread that I asked someone after church today, “Who, exactly, is Al Croft?”

“He was the man who always sat in the second row on the end.”

. . .

“Oh.  I see.  Thank you.  I sit next to him every other week, you know.”

I’m the sort of person who doesn’t always take things in right away, so after receiving the news, I went about my day.

But as the day has progressed, I’ve been feeling heavier and heavier hearted, thinking about Al.  Even though I didn’t know him well, it’s still sad when someone that you shared a seat with, and laughter with, and held hands with, and who was obviously a sweet and cheerful person is gone.  Sixty-four years old. No one should be allowed to die before 92, at the earliest.

I realized that there would be no room in my writing tonight for anything other than Al, so I went back to the church and took a picture of his seat.

I’m not looking forward to next Sunday.  Where will I sit?  On the end, in Al’s seat?  Or next to Al’s seat? Won’t it be strange to sit there alone?  I hope we aren’t asked to hold hands with the person next to us.

And who will catch my eye so they can laugh with me?

Obituary 

Ewoks are Dumb, Jimmy is Tall, and These Go To 11

Took Boy6 to see Star Wars, Episode I on the big screen. We went to the same theater that I saw it in back in ’99, even though it’s now an hour’s drive from me. I drove that far so that I could see it with Michele, one of the people that I saw it with originally.

This time around I took a little nap through most of the movie. The theater was dark and warm and I was tired. Michele napped, too.

But the first time around (May 19, 1999–yes, I have the date memorized, what’s it to you??) Michele and I took the day off work to see the very first showing on opening day. We went with Jimmy, Michele’s cousin. That was the first day I met Jimmy. I hoped he was a true Star Wars fan, because I was unapologetically letting my inner Star Wars Geek out for the day.

Michele picked me up and when we got to Jimmy’s house he was by the door, waiting for us. We’d barely pulled up, when his screen door went flying open and Jimmy, all 6’15, 300 pounds of him, came bounding down the front steps, spry as a gazelle.

Michele popped in the Star Wars music cd and we were off. When we got to the theater (2 hours early, so we could get good seats) there was a line already forming. Just to be sure it was the right line, I asked the people there, “This is the line for Episode I, right?” They lifted their Darth Vader masks, rolled their eyes at me and said, “Duh!”

Then, the movie. The music! The paragraphs floating through space! Dreadful Jar Jar Binks! (Worse than the Ewoks! How is that even possible?!) That Darth Maul fight scene! (One of my favorite scenes of all time.) We were in the theater with all the other true Star Wars fans, so there was lots of cheering.

And when it was done, we headed right to JC Penney’s for our Star Wars t-shirts. Jimmy’s was too small and mine was too big, but we bought them anyway. (I was barely over 100 pounds back then. No, it wasn’t good. I looked sickly all the time.) And then to Pizzeria Uno for lunch where we told the waiter, in caps lock, “WE JUST SAW EPISODE I AND THE FIGHT SCENE WAS AMAZING!” He didn’t seem as impressed as we’d hoped. He smiled and nodded and slowly backed away from the table. Honest–he did.

We made a pact to watch Episode I every May 19th together. We managed to keep the pact for only one year.

After that, I started getting to know Jimmy better.

My group of friends started a Movie Day. There were about 8 of us and we’d each bring a movie and watch them back to back from 8 in the morning until midnight. (Cactus Willie’s for dinner.) One time Jimmy brought Spinal Tap. He said, “This is a little movie none of you have probably ever seen.” We rolled our eyes at him and proceeded to quote the entire thing line by line. (“These go to 11.”) Never seen Spinal Tap. Puh-lease.*

We’d all go to music concerts together. (I would wear my earplugs. I don’t like noise.) A few of the concerts had 70-80,000 people there. If we got separated, no problem. We’d tell Jimmy, “Stay in one spot. We’ll find you.” And we always did! The mantra was, “If you get lost, meet at Jimmy.” He was so tall you could spot in him a crowd of 80,000, no problem.

And when the crowd surfers would come overhead, I’d be sure to stand by Jimmy because he would catch the crowd surfer well above my head and toss them forward. (I only got kicked in the head once. Jimmy got kicked in the head a lot. Thanks for taking those kicks for me, Jimmy!)

Jimmy introduced me to The Sims, my all-time favorite computer game. It was mesmerizing to watch this big man buying flowered couches for his little Sims, making sure they read their cook books (so they wouldn’t burn down their kitchens), and turning on their little radios for them (because it made them happy.)

We spent a number of New Year’s Eves at Jimmy’s house. His entire family would come, bringing their friends, and we’d eat heaping platters of shrimp and play charades, which to my surprise, I found that I love. Love charades!!

Soon, I started spending every other Saturday at Jimmy’s for a mini movie day. Jimmy, Joe, Vince and I (not Minestrone Soup Vince) would head to the video store and rent one or two movies to watch on Jimmy’s big screen tv. They had a voting block so we watched a lot of guy movies, like Fight Club. Subs for lunch.

One day, Michele called me to say that her garage door fell on Joe’s Jeep.

(Keep the names straight: I saw Star Wars with Michele, and watched movies at Jimmy’s house with Joe. Michele and Joe were married.)

Michele is 5 feet tall and Joe’s not much taller. Michele asked, “Uh, can you drive Jimmy to my house? We need someone tall who can get this door off the jeep.” (Jimmy couldn’t drive. Vision problems.)

I had a Geo Metro at the time. (Purple). He could barely fit in the Geo. He had to sit with his shoulders hunched over and his knees up under his chin. But, as usual, he was good natured about it. We drove to Michele’s house, Jimmy lifted the door, Joe drove the Jeep out of the garage, and I took Jimmy back home, squashed in the car.

I remember at the time being so appreciative of Jimmy’s friendship. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone that was just so stinkin’ easy to get along with. He was good natured, easy going, funny and smart. (A Mensa member.) I enjoyed every minute I got to spend with him. Every minute. I used to think how lucky I was that I got to be friends with such a great person.

Jimmy died 5 years ago from a sudden heart attack. Joe was visiting him that day and held him in his arms as he died.

So…today I took Boy6 to see Star Wars, Episode I on the big screen. We went with Michele, one of the people that I saw it with originally back in 1999. But just Michele.

I missed you today, Jimmy.

Boy6 and Me, in 3D glasses. Tripod, 2 second timer.

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1st RULE: You do not talk about FIGHT CLUB.

2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.

3rd RULE: If someone says “stop” or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.

4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.

5th RULE: One fight at a time.

6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.

7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.

8th RULE: If this is your first night at FIGHT CLUB, you HAVE to fight.
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* I can’t recommend Spinal Tap to my friends. Language and all, you know. Yeah, it’s funny, but it comes by its R rating honestly.

Saying Good-Bye to Pets

This is the pet store.  We got some medicine from there today because the mice are sick.

They were sick a few months ago, but they got better with the medicine.  But about 2 weeks ago, they got sick again.  The pet store had a different medicine, and it didn’t help.  Now that they have the original medicine available, I’m hoping this cures them.

I’m a bit nervous about how sick they are.  I have had five pet cats and I’ve had to take all five of them to the vet to have them put to sleep.

For Catherine, there was an unfortunate miscommunication.  I intended on holding her while she died.  The vet didn’t understand.  He said he would take her back and get her ready, and did I want to hold her afterwards?  I said yes, meaning that after she was injected, I would hold her until she was dead.  I sat in the waiting room and heard Catherine give an angry yowl.  A bright-eyed, chatty woman was sitting there too, and piped up, “So, what’s your pet here for?”  Honestly, I didn’t want to crush the poor woman, but as soon as I answered, “To die,” I burst into noisy, blubbery, shoulder shaking tears.  That poor woman.  She must have felt like such a heel.

When I went back into the room and my sweet Catherine was already dead, all I could think about was her yowling as the poisons were injected into her and the fact that she was alone, wondering why I’d left her with the vet who was killing her.

I held her little body and it seemed to weigh more than normal.  Usually when I held her, she would press her little body against me and put her fuzzy arms around my neck.  But this time, she just dangled there.  Dead weight.  I felt so hollow.  It took months before I could walk into the apartment without bracing myself.  It was empty without her.

For the other four cats, I made sure to hold them as they died.  It is heart-wrenching and painful, but the pain of knowing Catherine’s last few minutes were alone and terrifying was worse.

They fight against the injections.  They are scared and don’t want to be at the vet.  You hold them and tell them it will be all right, but it won’t.  Because you know they have every reason to be scared.  This time, they really will die.  I couldn’t let them face that alone.

The moment of Peter’s death, his body gave a shudder, and he was gone.

Sophie and Clara got more and more still and I wasn’t sure of the exact moment when they were gone.

Richard went into a diabetic coma and never fully came out.  I found him at the bottom of the basement steps, lying on his side. I thought he was already dead, but when I said his name, he rolled his eyes at me.  It was all he could move on his own.  I don’t know how many hours he had been lying there, unable to move.  I carried him to the vet.  I didn’t know whether or not he was in pain.  His poor body was so far gone they wouldn’t have been able to fix him.  Instead of letting him linger any longer, unable to move, I let them end his life.

I can’t imagine holding a person while they die.  I’ve learned enough by now to know that there are some things that you think you can imagine, but when it actually happens, you realize the experience is unimaginable until you’ve lived it.  This is one of those things.  I know that I truly can’t imagine holding a person while they die.

All this to say; I hope the medicine works.  I wish I’d never gotten these mice.  Not because I don’t love them, but because I do.  Even though these are mice that we’ve only had a year and a half, and not the cats who I loved and cared for for 14 years, I still love them.   When we got them I fooled myself into believing that the mice would die peacefully in their sleep from old age and wouldn’t get sick.

Not everyone who reads this will understand.  I have a number of friends who never understood my love for my cats.  They certainly don’t understand my love for the mice.  They’re just mice after all.

They might not understand me, but I don’t understand them.  No, I don’t love the cats more than the people in my life, and I don’t love the mice as much as I loved the cats, but it’s still love.  And it still hurts to see the mice hunched over and having trouble breathing and knowing they’re in pain and that they could die.

It’s certainly not as all-encompassing as loving or  losing a human, and I would never even suggest that it is, but does every bit of love have to be ocean-deep in order to be called love?   And does every bit of sadness have to be soul-wrenching in order to be called sadness?