“Death is the price we pay for life, and for all life.” — Ursula Le Guin
It is so. All that lives must die. Whether it’s by accident, disease, violence, or simply old age, all that lives must die. Realists know it. We know it couldn’t be any other way.
That doesn’t make it any easier to cope with the loss of a loved one.
Way back in the dim, dark ages of 2005, I adopted a kitten. It wasn’t something I’d set out to do. I’d simply shown up at my preferred pet-supplies store when there was a woman there with a kitten in her arms that she hoped to adopt out. The little guy was about six weeks old, jet black, and had the most brilliant blue eyes I’d ever seen on a feline. I took him home then and there. I named him Uriel.
Uriel grew swiftly. He proved to be a big boy at full growth. But his size didn’t prevent him from being a cuddlebug. From earliest kittenhood to full maturity, a human lap – usually mine – was his favorite thing in all the world.
He had a typical Fortress of Crankitude life. That is: he was loved and pampered by all the residents of this dump, and he returned love for love. He made friends with all the ambulatory creatures here, regardless of size or species. I don’t recall any of our other pets ever having a conflict with him, and we’ve always had a lot of them.
The years pass too easily. We forget too easily, too.
Early this morning Uriel’s life ended. He was worn out. He’d lost most of his weight and coat, and had caught an infection of some kind as well. From all indications, he simply surrendered to what had become inevitable. When I arose I found him lifeless, arranged for his cremation, and…well, that’s all there is to say about that.
Except that it isn’t.
We humans are blessed – or cursed – with too much awareness, too much comprehension, and too great an ability to love. Over the course of a typical life we love others of our kind, but also members of other species: dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, ferrets, three-toed sloths, what have you. I’ve loved pets of every kind. I once had a Norwegian white lab rat that my wife saved from a pointless death because “they didn’t need him.” I loved him too.
You can’t love without the possibility of loss. What makes it a possibility rather than a certainty is only this: you might die first. They they’ll mourn you, to whatever extent they’re capable.
From the moment you first choose to love – and it is a choice, always – you open the door to loss. If your loves include creatures of less lifespan than is given to Man, you’re likely to face loss several times on that account alone. It’s part of the bargain.
But love enlarges you. By loving, even in loving an animal, you grow to be more than you were. Love is never wasted. Neither is the grief you feel over loss.
That last bit is the part that’s hardest to accept, and to remember.
Uriel had a good life. We made sure of that. But no power can defeat death. Not permanently, anyway. Uriel had used up his allotted span.
I was taught long ago that animals’ souls die with their bodies. I’d rather not believe it. I know quite a lot of other Catholics who don’t. But I won’t know the facts of the matter on this side of the veil of time. I suppose I’ll just have to wait a while longer…not too much longer, matters being as they are.