Friday, July 10, 2009

Abstract Horror becomes Actual

I've had a ridiculously easy, tragedy-free life, all things considered. Believe it or not, I have made it to thirty without having to really deal with death at all. My paternal grandparents were dead before I was born. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was just a bit too young for it to have the full effect -- I was old enough to know what death meant, but not old enough that I can now recall much about how it felt... I remember a few snapshots, particularly my mother coming in the door having return from the hospital and croaking out, "She died," and that as soon as she said it I felt my ears burning.. but very little else is concrete. And my maternal grandfather faded so slowly, the grief of his actual death was mild.

I've had a handful of acquaintances who I later found out had died, but nobody I knew really at the time of their death. The exception is Mariah's aunt Vicki, who died last year of terminal cancer... but the first time I met her was the day she was diagnosed, so in a way I was prepared for her death from the start.

So I guess that's why I'm being such a big baby about Stash dying. She's just a cat, sure, but it is the first time I have had to fully deal with the unexpected death of someone/something I loved.

There is also another component, though, that makes this difficult, and that is what I referred to in the title to this post. I am someone who prides myself on "knowing a little bit about a whole lot of stuff." Heh, I guess that's why I was big into working on Wikipedia for a while... and I still just randomly surf around, absorbing a breadth of information.

Moreover, I have a few morbid fascinations with things like air disasters, engineering disasters in general, the mechanisms of disease, etc. To generalize, it's an interest in science-meets-death I guess. I don't know exactly why... maybe I'll explore that in another post.

In any case, the point I am making is that I have all this abstract knowledge of horror, but no concrete knowledge of horror, having had as I mentioned previously a remarkably tragedy-free life so far.

Holding Stash as she died... feeling for the first time what it felt like to hold a warm and still barely living body that nonetheless was like dead weight, like a warm furry sack of organs more than a being... experiencing directly for the first time the slowed pulse rate and cold body temperature of a mammal in shock... seeing her lose control of her bowels and of her swallow reflex, shitting and drooling, suddenly focusing my abstract knowledge of the indignities of death into something real and concrete...

Well, it was just a cat, but I feel as though every terrible thing that I understood in the abstract is now firmly in the realm of the possible. No, strike that, I think even before I was able to perceive the terrible as a possibility, but now, irrationally, all the abstract horror seems not just possible but inevitable -- which, in a sense, it surely is.

To put this another way... what is so jolting about the suddenness of Stash's death is not that it seemed surreal. On the contrary, it felt at the time to be almost hyper-real. It was life in high-def. It was everything you knew was there all along, but now you could actually see it.

I think I am quickly coming to terms with the particular emotions of the loss of Stash. But even as the pain of losing a pet fades, I'm experiencing a profound lack of hope for the future. In any given proposition, the worst possible outcome now seems all too real, almost likely.

I'm sure I'll get over that soon too, but right now it's a little fucked up.


  1. And in a few years, you'll read a post somewhere that brings it all right back to you - the lump in the throat, the pang of grief. (Even though you'll think of her more often than that, it won't always hurt so much.)

    Here's to absent friends.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss!

    We had to euthanize one of our kitties Thursday--the cancer was so advanced that he couldn't keep anything down and weighed almost nothing.

    He was just a month shy of his 17th birthday, but even that was too short a time to be in our lives.

    When a member--a *close* member--of a family dies, it is natural to be broken up about it. I'd question the sanity--and frankly, humanity--of someone who wasn't.

  3. Thanks entropy and BuD. I feel a little melodramatic being so upset about a pet, so it helps to hear from other people that it's okay to feel this way. :)

    BuD, I'm really sorry to hear about that. A friend of mine IRL and occasional commenter on this blog lost one of his cats a few months ago under similar circumstances, although his cat was a lot younger. But it was the same kind of thing, they knew she had cancer, and eventually she was just too sick to go on anymore.

    I don't know which is harder. In my case, I had absolutely no time to prepare myself, and very little time to say goodbye. On the other hand, the decision to put her down was a relatively easy one, as far as it goes: Her temperature was dropping, her pulse was getting weaker, and basically the only way she would have lasted the night would be to put her on the equivalent of kitty life support. As painful as it was, I didn't have to worry about whether I was making the right decision, I didn't have to wonder if she could just wait it out a little longer or if that would be making her needlessly suffer. The answer was pretty clear for me.

  4. I don't think it is melodramatic at all.

    I knew my cat was going to die, as she was basically making sure she did. But she was nineteen, even though she didn't look it at all, right up to the end. She'd had diabetes for a few years, but I'm not sure what finally did her in aside from her own will to leave. She died in my arms, and didn't even have anything to let loose when she lost control of her body. Just a final growl.

    It still hurts, four years on, when I think of that moment. But the rest is good memories.

    It's OK, man.

  5. due to a bad habit of taking home the wounded and unwanted (we named the dog who'd been dragged under the car that hit her "Roadkill"...), i've had to deal with this more times than i want to remember, and it always sucks. as i see it, each one we lose lays on us the obligation to go adopt another one of the millions needing homes. good for you, good for them, Stash would approve. peace.

  6. Heh, indeed... I suppose there is a very small silver lining to Stash's untimely death, and it is: Prior to this, my wife (a dog person by far) was saying that maybe Stash and Dalwhinnie should be our last cats, and we wouldn't get any more after they passed away. If they had died of old age, she might have gotten her way... but with Stash dying so suddenly, she's a lot more accepting that I want to get another cat.

    (soon... not yet... :/ )