A Visitation [Updated]

August 14, 2009 at 2:46 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

In one of my involuntary micro-naps during sleep-deprived work (during which I can type a long one-letter string or paragraph into a footnote — I call them “sleepos” — and am in some danger of falling face first into, or drooling on, the keyboard), I saw Max, plump, shiny, groomed to youthful perfection, leap in a light arc under the dining room table and pounce on something.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Max’s earthly part was buried by friends today on their land.  You see him here with Dusky, whose body has actually been in my freezer ever since he died in March 2008.  (Notice that I handled it — or not — almost exactly the same way.  How comically consistent we are.)


This sounds grotesque and ridiculous till you get that it’s an arrested vestige of our former life (and maybe even then).  Jacques, having been a prisoner in a very cold place, and buried corpses of his friends stacked in the snow till springtime when the permafrost melted (even as I write that I know I can’t begin to imagine it), could not bear the thought of his “kittens” (as he calls them lifelong) being buried in cold ground.  He knew perfectly well that when they were dead they wouldn’t feel it, but he would.  So I had to take them down to our family’s house in Florida and bury them there, three feet deep in the sand.  Ironically, in order to preserve their bodies until I could get down there, I had to freeze them.  I guess that was okay because it was necessary and only temporary:  the end justified the means, or something.  We had many cats over the years (my first e-mail address ever was manicatz@aol.com), and I dug many deep holes and buried many cats around that house in Florida where my parents now live.  Someday a hurricane may exhume a mysterious trove of feline skeletons, scoured to a polish by Florida’s busy subterranean life.

When Dusky died, I reflexively put his body in the freezer, even though I knew that Jacques would soon mostly forget and would not be able to sustain a wish or plan about Dusky’s body.  I knew I could bury the body near here, or have it cremated, or whatever I saw fit, but I froze, unable to quite let go of my end of our bargain, even though the other end was slack and it was no longer practical for me to do things the old way even in J’s honor.  This paralysis was probably a typical expression of ambiguous loss.

So today I asked our friends to bury the two cats together, and explained that we weren’t going to be there because I didn’t want to break the news to J that Dusky had spent a year and a half in the freezer, even though his comprehension would probably have been slow and incomplete and his upset fleeting.

They looked like yang and yin.  They looked way too touchable and vulnerable until our friends threw flowers on them.


The family in happier times

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Thoughts on Euthanasia — In a Cat.

August 14, 2009 at 2:15 am (By Amba) (, , , )

(an essay in thirteen tweets — first to last for easy reading)

  1. Thoughts on euthanasia–in a cat: more I think abt, more I don’t like this “sedate first” protocol. It’s not for the animal, it’s CYA 4 vet.
  2. Vet is worried abt havg trouble shaving/finding a vein on a sick, dehydrated animal, causing the animal & thus the owner visible distress.
  3. Understandable, but a lack of skill & confidence. I’ve seen good vets w/good touch simply inject euthanasia solution. Instantaneous painless
  4. Sedation shot defeats its own purpose: 1) it’s ketamine or another “dissociative” maybe plus valium. We don’t kno what animal experiences.
  5. Vet sd to me “he won’t experience anything.” oh yeah? then why some vets trip on ketamine?? cd be MORE scary exp., but OK ’cause paralyzed!
  6. In other words, if the owner can’t SEE the distress it doesn’t exist. Bullshit! 2) Sed.shot hurts like hell! Has “salts” in it that sting.
  7. Max’d been calm; at “sedative” shot he growled, tried to bite. Giving fluids under skin w/needle never hurt like that-kinda defeats purpose!
  8. Bottom line: really skilled & confident vet wd just DO it & animal wd respond to some vets’ trust-inspiring touch & phlebotomist-like skill.
  9. I’ve seen it! I had vet friends that good. One is dead & one is semiretired in SC They’d even shoot euthanasia sol. directly into heart-best
  10. I did that once myself, on a cat so emaciated I could feel her heart between her ribs & couldn’t miss.
  11. Discussion w/young vet: “We gotta go through it all the way to the end. They don’t.” We can understand & maybe must learn, right up to death
  12. Animals often die with a beautiful stoicism & appearance of understanding. But I’ve seen 2 struggle to run away as if death were a predator.
  13. Death just seems wrong. Very puzzling: how can something that always wins be wrong?? Are we wrong?

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My Mom Writes a Book Review

May 17, 2009 at 3:36 am (By Amba) (, , , , , )

My mother has always been a good writer, but now she’s at the top of her powers.  She’s 85.  So I guess there’s hope for the rest of us.

It took me all these years since this book was published (2005) to get up the courage to read it. It is pretty remarkable. For those acquainted with grief–and who isn’t?–there is insight to be gained as you recognize the overwheming humanity of loss and the bewildered responses of the newly bereaved. We do negelct the mourning and grieving that has always been part of existence. Whether this book compensates for that or not, I can’t say.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” In The Year of Magical Thinking, her account of a life upended by her husband John’s sudden death, Joan Didion chronicles the craziness, the jumble of events, emotions, memories she endures as she tries to make sense and order out of his death and her life. But what sets this book apart is Didion’s meticulous documenting of her mind’s twists and turns, her application of magical thinking to escape the inexorable rules of time and place and create a different ending for what has already happened. But all the king’s horses can’t repeal the law of the Democratic Republic of Death and alter an outcome. It is her straightforward narration, in all its dignity, complexity, and pathos that makes this such a riveting story. Not a “comfort book” in the conventional sense, it is a saga for explorers into the human heart and spirit, the Marco Polos, the Walter Raleighs, the Shackletons who enter unknown territory.

Maybe part of why I wanted first to make myself read that book and then to write something about it is that being old gives one a changing persepctive on death, maybe even on the act–or art–of dying, the part of the phenomenon of life that we don’t deal with very well. If being alive is a fulcrum, then life is one arm, death the other. I envision a seesaw. The death end is shrouded in fog and fear. Why?

~ Jean S. Gottlieb


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