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Knowing Mortality

by on March 5, 2019

Knowing Mortality

by Marco M. Pardi

We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be

That no life lives forever

That dead men rise up never

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.”

Algernon C. Swinburne,

Garden of Proserpine” 1866

All comments welcome and will receive a reply.

When I was a child my grandmother had a large parrot who lived in a cage in her suite. I do not recall his name as we did not have him long. He had learned to somehow fling his copious excrement with disturbing accuracy. Nonetheless, I did learn that some parrots lived to ninety years and beyond. So that set me to wondering. My grandmother seemed to have been born old. Each morning as she awoke I suspected she had turned back her odometer during the night. So, who was going to outlive who? My grandmother lived to 94. I don’t know about the parrot.

In the years since I have had many more non-human companions than human ones. And right now my dog – a rescue of unknown provenance – is probably approaching thirteen. His hearing has diminished – or maybe he’s “heard it all already”. He ascends the stairs by “bunny hop” instead of the streak he once was. And he sometimes sleeps close to noon.

When he’s sleeping, late in the morning or in the evening, I often observe his chest. You know, to see if he’s breathing. And I wonder how I’ll feel if one day he’s not. So, while intellectual honesty prods me to recognize that I could die at any moment (as could any of us) the far greater likelihood is that I will one day be lifting him into my car for the trip to the veterinarian either for that last injection or for the single cremation I intend.

Speaking of who goes first, I always ensured that when I had to go on trips my companions were either boarded at a place they knew and liked or there was someone at the house who cared for them and had my authorization to obtain any veterinary care or final disposition as needed. Instructions were also firmly in place should I not return.

I have taken that last trip to the veterinarian so many times before with dogs and cats. Of course, it doesn’t work that way with horses. But you don’t want to read about what normally is done and I don’t want to write it. I will say I don’t do things normally. I pay for the use of a back-hoe to do a burial.

But why do we do it? Isn’t the avoidance of pain and sadness a lesson we learn in childhood? Are we suspending our rational minds and living in a forever world which will never change, never end? It has been said that having a pet/companion is like having an infant who never completely grows up. No matter how you feel you must still take them out for their walk. You must still feed them properly. You must take them to the vet for their shots and other preventive medicines. But you may find yourself again at the vet for illnesses. When out for a social life or simply running lots of errands you must watch the time for their walks and their meals. In having company over you must graciously but firmly establish ground rules, especially when children are involved. And, if you care enough about your companions to have them in the first place you must engage with them in enriching play and activities. Finally, you must reckon that in the growing up weeks and months there may be some damage, even destruction to shoes, furniture, etc. You will find yourself adjusting your lifestyle through a preemptive defense.

Yes, there are many Musts in having a pet/companion, and that’s where so many people draw the line. In fairness, there are valid reasons to not have one. Some people travel constantly for work, some people have severe allergies, and some simply can’t afford it. I’m pretty firm in saying one should never have just one companion. Imagine yourself as the only member of your species being kept in a home with a radically different species. The problem is immediately apparent with “pack animals” such as Huskies. They need each other as much or more than they need you.

But there is nothing like a furry paw gently pushing your book – or your cellphone, away from your face, and eyes saying, I’m here. Let’s play. In fact, there’s nothing like an insistent companion to get you out of yourself. Or out of the house. Neighbors have congratulated me on my daily walks. But I tell them, Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be doing this except that he (my companion dog) wants and needs it. I know a few of my neighbor’s names. I know the names of every other dog we meet. I wouldn’t know some of those neighbors had they not been walking their dogs.

Companions provide other benefits as well. Multiple well done studies have shown the correlation between lowered blood pressure and simply petting a dog or cat. This is no longer in dispute. And I needn’t go into the many examples of companion animals saving their humans in a wide array of emergencies.

Lately we have opted for boarding our companion rather than taking him with us on long trips. The car rides are harder on him. He stays at a kennel with lots of space and people who know and care for him. But sometimes we arrive home after the kennel is closed for the night or the week-end and the house, without him, is just not a home.

Yet, we know in the back of our minds, or the seats of our pants – wherever you do your thinking – that these days are numbered. All things being equal, the horizon is closer for our companion than it is for us. Yes, some day, we say.

I have often read, and I have heard veterinarians say, your companion will tell you when it’s time to go. That’s a nice idea to hold to, but I do have mixed feelings about it, as does anyone who has faced that choice and wondered, Is he telling me? I can think of one case in which I, to this day, feel I may have waited too long. But how can I know?

I have also read several well documented books, and interviewed well established and proven mediums, telling me companions have spirits as well as we do and they pass into the same form of existence as we do. In fact, my own experiences strongly support this. Oh yes, there are those people who sniff, That’s unscientific! My answer is simple: people who say that is unscientific immediately demonstrate they know nothing about science. Science is NOT just about cataloging everything which meets the eye. If that’s your goal, become a librarian. Science is not just about asking What Is; more important is asking What If. And the exploration of If, in this area, completely satisfies me that my companions have a spiritual existence just as I do. And no, that absolutely does not imply a God or gods or Chief Spirit. That’s a human projection, although I used to threaten a misbehaving Husky of mine that I was going to report him to the Head Husky.

For those who need references for the many hundreds of scientifically based studies in which non-human companion animals have featured, try Stanford University, University of California at Santa Barbara (they recently contacted me for support in this area) Arizona State University, Eastern Michigan University, and State University of New York.  You may also examine the Windbridge Institute and the Institute for Noetic Sciences. 

So, I do know that barring unexpected issues of my own, I will one day be making that familiar trip to the vet, or asking them to come to the house for a home ceremony and passing. I suppose I will cry my insides out. And if history is any guide I will always, always remember the good times and the bad because things don’t really get better. We just get better at handling them.

In that spirit of handling it, I will go to our community shelter and bring home another needful companion. Perhaps an older dog who no one else wants – and he knows it. I will not sit in a house without a furry companion. I will make a home again.

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15 Comments
  1. Our Shadow and your Plato are just about the same age; she will be thirteen in a few months time. We have shared our lives with her for most of those years, and have watched as she changed from an all black puppy to an old dog whose only color is on her back. She spends most of her day sleeping on my husband’s leg, and we know that leg will probably be empty in the not to distant future. Our walks have grown shorter as she does her “business”, then turns for home. Sometimes she can be coaxed into sharing George’s walk, which is only slightly longer. They are like siblings; they are jealous of the attention received by the other, but they also take care of one another. I imagine George will look for her once she is gone (hopefully not too soon) as he did the sibling pets he had in the home before ours.

    Both George and Shadow came to us upon the death of their former humans. We didn’t really want another pet, but are incredibly grateful that they rescued us. Some years before Shadow entered our life, we had to “make the drive” for a black chow we had loved for a decade. She’d gone from running away to play in the lake each time the door opened, to becoming lost in her own back yard. Along the way, she’d had two strokes (or something which mimicked them), from which she seemed to recover. In the last months, she was incontinent, leaving rivers and piles in the hours between midnight and six. To her credit, no one was likely to step where she left them. It took me a long time to know that it was best for her, and not me, to let her go. The first step was when she became almost blind (as is Shadow), but the final decision came only when the hip dysphasia set in, leaving her in pain all the time. This was two years after the first stroke. I wasn’t brave enough to take that final drive. My husband and son did that for me, and it still makes them sad to think about it.

  2. Thank you, Rose. When Shadow “goes over the Rainbow Bridge” I’m guessing George might soon follow. I’ve seen that in bonded Huskies.

    Yes, we watch these changes and we know the progression and inevitable outcome. But each time we have to wonder if we are being “told it’s time”. Unfortunately, that’s a question we can rarely answer with certainty. You hit on an important point: what is best for them versus what is best for us. Sometimes it’s hard to see the best when we have to make that decision.

  3. Dana R. Seiler permalink

    Marco, I haven’t the words to express what I’m thinking and feeling. This is a really sad post, but thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. It cheers my soul to know your home will always be open for furry souls who need us. Somehow that eases my own sadness a little.

    I try to focus on my last walk with Billie rather than on what followed. For many reasons I’m relieved we chose an in-home visit from the veterinarian.

    Give Plato a little scratch behind the ears from me. I’m glad you are together for now.

    • Thank you, Dana. I often think of Billie and of how much we shared about him. Plato says, Hi and thanks for the scratch.

  4. jkent33 permalink

    Well, sir while reading this post my eyes were forced to weep more than once. Not a sad weep but one of joy and happiness. Reading your description of Plato regarding his hearing is what we all face with aging. My own reactions to my movements have been altered greater in the last few years more than in the past. I don’t need to hear why and I don’t need advice on what to do about it. Part of my sadness comes from my furry friends when I was younger. I had lots of cats and dogs that were all strays and plenty of wild animals that decided I was a nice catch feeding them well and providing shelter. I would rather believe they knew my heart was in the right place and could be trusted. I know this because any animal I wanted to keep could be mine with little or no effort just be me and respect them. My first cat that I knew and loved bearing a soul was a large sized black cat I named Tom. Full name was Black Tom. He came to me through an exchange when my cousin visited with him in tow. My cousin spotted this giant bullfrog that followed me around all the time and asked if we could trade. Tom and I grew fond of each other spending much time out in the woods nearby my home. He was always by my side eager to share my food and loved to sleep cuddled up near me at all times. Since then all cats have been measured by Tom. A stray dog took up with me named Butch who also got along with Tom. For greater than 10 years we were together. All dogs in my future had to measure up to Butch. I often felt when one furry soul departed perhaps another was assigned to be with me or so it felt that way. I went without a pet for 20 years until Billie came along who won over my heart. So now in my new trappings, I just made changes to make it possible to get a pet or two. It will be this summer and a few have passed my eyes but until the time got closer I made to selections. I have established a profile I would like to fulfill but love has to be a part of the equation as well. It will come to fruition but like all of my goals, I keep them neatly tucked away just beyond my reach. I hope to find one that brings the pleasure that Plato has brought to you. And, I know that is true because our souls will connect and make it so!

    Thanks for great post Marco!

  5. Thank you, Jerry. Your life has been a story of power used for good. I would like to know more about the companions who befriended you, especially the wild ones. Years ago I had an unexpected event as an adult female deer came to me and licked my face almost to the bone. I’ve been called salty in the past, but I don’t think that was it.

  6. Jerry, we will be anxious to read about the furry companion(s) you bring home.

  7. Lisa permalink

    Thank you for this heartfelt and emotional post, Marco. It brought tears to my eyes. The pain of losing our Charlie hasn’t diminished much after a year. We can only live in the moment like our loyal, loving friends do. We can all be eternally grateful for the lives we get to share in. Plato is so blessed to have you. Please continue to post more animal stories.

    • Thank you, Lisa. It’s true that the bereavement continues. It doesn’t “get better”; we get better at incorporating it into our own progress and, in time we bring those lessons to another shelter dog who has no hope without us. There is someone special for you, and you will know it at the right time.

  8. From Ray:

    Marco – As always you a masterful writer – bringing us to tears with the beauty of your essay. I too have gone through the loss of pets, too often. But death, though inevitable, is a sad topic because it represents the end of life. And that means something important will be missing for those who are left behind.

    So my request is that you give us something lighter for your next blog. Make me smile as I too face the future with absolute certainty.

  9. I too love my dogs very much and they give me peace just being with me, in a way that humans can’t. My dogs are aging both now 10 years and a bit like a couple of old ladies, one with joint issues and the other a very wise old soul, I don’t like to think about that day when they won’t be here anymore- it’s too sad to contemplate, I know for sure though, like you Marco I’ll always have a furry friend by my side makes life seem a bit easier for me.

    • Thank you, Julie. I’m visualizing your doggies and wishing them well. I’ve found a good massage helps, both of you.

  10. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    This raises some questions I’ve been mulling over for some time. My father died rather suddenly about 3.5 years ago, and left behind two cats. My younger brother, who is allergic but sometimes alarmingly saint-like, took one, and I took the other. She turns 15 this year and, aside from a permanent thyroid condition, seems to be doing well. She spends much of her day asleep but enjoys the outdoors (when it isn’t snowing) and has no trouble getting around. She’s the sixth cat I’ve had in the past 42 years or so, and I’ve wondered what I will do when she passes; I’ll probably adopt another cat or two, after a hiatus during which we’ll do some traveling. But I worry, a little; we don’t have any close friends that I could count on to take care of pets in the event of my death, and my relatives are all some distance away. Still, you’re right; better to take more companions into my life and worry about future possibilities later.

  11. Mike, I think I really felt your concern. Obviously, it’s something I can relate to. I know there are organizations that are No Kill rescue groups. They come across these situations frequently and I’m sure are well equipped to step in. Perhaps you can find one or two in your area. Pet Smart or PETCO might be a place to start.

    I’m a bit surprised the two cats don’t exhibit missing each other.

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