Porthos ran off to heaven a week ago on October 10, 2019. Of all the Rottweilers we’ve rescued, Porthos was the first to succumb to the common ailment of bone cancer. Everyday, I come home from work and I miss his whine of excitement. I miss his laps around the kitchen, dining room and great room. I miss evening walks with him. I miss cuddling with him before falling to sleep. I keep telling myself he’s in a better place and that he’s no longer in pain or suffering.
September went into a tailspin about a week ago. I can’t remember the last time I actually received personal good news from family or friends. Death or dying and depression crowd around me, jostling for position and attention, blotting out my surroundings: beautiful sunrises and sunsets, crystal clear night skies bursting with twinkling stars, perfect weather any southern California native would drool over.
I woke up this morning after having tossed and turned and lost the skirmish with my sheet and pillows. Apollo couldn’t wait to jump up and greet me with a wagging tail and unconditional canine adoration. Roxy slept on, sprawled on the floor, oblivious to anything but her dreams of breakfast. I rubbed the crusty, dried sleep from my eyes, slipped on my reading glasses and woke up my Nook to see what had happened in the wider world while I pretended to sleep.
I soon read the sad, tragic news of the death of Sara Douglass (aka Sara Warneke). I discovered this astounding Aussie female fantasy writer a half dozen years ago and loved everything she wrote, especially Threshold, the first novel I found written by her. As I perused the various postings on Twitter and Facebook about her passing, I found her blog post from March 2010 she entitled “The Silence of the Dying.” I took a few minutes to read the entire post, after which I couldn’t help but shiver, especially after the seemingly prophetic nature of the most recent Doctor Who episode “Closing Time” wherein the Doctor seems to fall apart (emotionally) as he approaches the day of his death (flashback to the start of this season and the “Impossible Astronaut“). He even utters some dialog containing the words ‘silence’ and ‘dying.’
After reading Sara’s thoughts on how modern society sticks it’s head in the sand with respect to death (and the dying), I pondered my own situation. Part of my September tailspin centers on a sharp worsening in my health. Par for the medical course, I’m running the gauntlet of various tests, procedures and eventually a biopsy (scheduled for mid-October), all of which amounts to endless waiting for results and the accompanying anxiety. Just as Sara describes in her blog post, I prefer to keep silent, as I don’t want to appear ‘weak’ by complaining. Of course, at this stage of the ‘game’ I’m not in much pain or discomfort (not compared to what Sara or other cancer victims endure). And I must put up a good front for my husband, one of the chronically ill routinely maligned or ignored by modern day society. He needs me to be ‘strong’ and I will remain so as cheerfully as I can.
Normally, I look forward to the beginning of October and the advent of autumn with peace and joy in my heart. Of course, the fact that my birthday occurs the day after the first of October wouldn’t have anything to do with that would it? But this year, no birthday cake with sputtering scores of candles will great me. Instead, my husband and I will travel south, to his home town, to console and support his life-long friend and his wife in the sudden and unexpected loss of her mother, so soon after his mother’s death. Oh, and their dog died last week in the midst of all this family tragedy.
I am full of unanswered questions and troublesome, uncomfortable thoughts today, ones that I wish I had the courage to shout out on a street corner to the self-absorbed oblivious passersby. Rather than deprive a homeless person of their accustomed spot, I will jump up on my bloggity soap box instead.
From a Christian worldview, I can understand some of the silence surrounding death and dying. Jesus conquered the grave, therefore, it follows, that we can sweep this whole messy business of dying under the proverbial rug. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic). Yet, even Jesus wept (and raised Lazarus from the grave). Jesus also suffered, but not silently, and died, nearly alone, on a cross we nailed him to, at a crossroads dung heap outside Jerusalem. Two thousand years later, we’ve sanitized and compartmentalized dying, hiding it from ourselves so we can ignore the writing on our own walls.
I ask that you stop for a moment and spend time, yes, that very precious commodity you can never, ever get back, with a friend or family member who is dying. Don’t send flowers, or stuffed animals or Hallmark cards. Give them comfort. Don’t expect them to put you at ease about their situation. Embrace the truth. For you know, it’s not ‘if’ we’re going to die, it’s when. We’re all dying. And I, for one, will not go silently into the night.