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January 6, 2023

The Realization that Helped Me Cope with Death.

 

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On the morning of Tuesday, December 6th, 2022, I woke up to an alarming text message from my mother.

“Sarah, Alice isn’t able to hold her food down. Perhaps we should take her to the vet.”

Before I could even blink, a sliver of doom coursed through me, and my heart sank. I knew she hadn’t been eating as enthusiastically as she used to and had been sleeping more often than usual, but I certainly wasn’t expecting anything drastic to unfold a week before her next appointment.

“Okay, I’ll be there as soon as possible,” I replied. With that, I immediately left the house.

Is this the day? I wondered on my way over. Will my beloved feline companion make it out of the clinic alive?

A myriad of thoughts percolated as I struggled through a swarm of heavy traffic. By the time I’d reached my mother’s house, she had already placed Alice in her carrier. Inside of it, I heard a low and plaintive cry.

My mother looked me at with a grave expression of her face.

“She can’t walk,” she told me. “I didn’t want to frighten you too much, so I wasn’t going to tell you the whole story until you arrived here.”

Tears formed in the corners of my eyes. In that moment, I knew she was in serious condition and that this was a devastating complication of an underlying heart condition.

“Alright, let’s go,” I ushered, motioning quickly, out the door.

Once we got to the emergency room, the vet took her into a back room to examine her and gave her a bunch of painkillers. Twenty or so minutes later, she returned to speak with us.

“It appears as though Alice has what we call a saddle thrombus, also known in medical terminology as as feline aortic thromboembolism. Basically, in cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, blood clots form in the left atrium, break off from a larger clot, and then travel down the aorta. Eventually, it lodges at the saddle, cutting off any blood circulation to the legs, which is why they feel so cold. Now, she also cannot walk”.

At this point, I visibly began to cry.

“I see. So, what is the prognosis? Is there anything we can do about this?” I asked.

The vet paused for a few seconds, and with a sad expression, she sighed.

“Honestly, in cases such as this one, I would generally recommend euthanasia.”

I nearly collapsed.

Euthanasia. A controversial concept in some contexts and a word that absolutely no pet parent on the face of this earth wants to hear in a veterinarian’s office. And, yet, despite my natural human instincts that so naturally inspire me to want to fight for her life, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt, that Alice was in too much pain, and that for the past couple of months or so, was only loosely hanging on. Furthermore, I knew that, regardless of any love for me, my family, and her home, the life force wanted out of the physical body.

This time, something inside me was imploring me to surrender to this expression, to let go, as I had already shed enough tears watching her form deteriorate, slowly but surely, weeks and weeks prior.

With some reluctance, and a heavy heart, I agreed to have her euthanized.

“Okay,” whispered the vet, with genuine sympathy in her eyes. “I am so, so sorry, you guys. There really isn’t much we can do for her at this point. Any attempt would more than likely prove to be futile in the end.”

Several minutes later, and following the injection of a slew of painkillers, the veterinarian technician carried Alice into the small room we were in, wrapped up in a bundle of blankets. After laying her down on the table, Alice tried to get up and move toward me, despite the fact that her hind limbs were paralyzed.

Throughout her life, she had always loved to headbutt and then snuggle me. Now, in spite of her condition, those last moments were no different. So, with all the strength she had left, she victoriously managed to crawl her body across the table to where I was standing and gently nudge my arm with the top of her head. I held her, with the oxygen cord pressed closely against her face for air.

The technician quickly gave me a list of suggestions for Alice’s burial arrangements, each with its own cost, as well as options for payment. After this, we were left there together, just the two of us, to gaze at each other in the flesh for what would perhaps be the very last time. I remember, in that moment, how Alice looked at me with what seemed like a serious and rather sorrowful expression, as though she was apologizing to me for having to go in what seemed like too soon in a metric of time.

I looked back at her, practically sobbing.

“Alice, I love you so, so much,” I said to her.

“You’ve always been my very best friend. We’ve been through so much together in the past seven years. You’ve been with me through some of the most exciting, and yet perhaps most turbulent, years of my life. I could never ever forget you. No other cat could compare to you.”

I continued. “I’m so sorry about what is happening to you. I’m so sorry I couldn’t do more for you when I had the chance. I’m sorry I can’t save you from this.” I choked up.

Shortly after my mother said her own goodbye, the doctor came in to perform the procedure.

“This will make the heart stop,” she said. “Usually within only a few short minutes.”

We waited. As the medicine circulated her bloodstream, she tilted her head off of the steel table, and with eyes half-closed, took one final breath.

The vet held the stethoscope against Alice’s heart.

“That’s it. She’s gone,” she whispered.

However, almost instantaneously, I felt a life force that once animated my feline’s body disperse, as though a flame on a candle had, in less than a flash, flickered out.

As heartbreaking a moment as it was on a personal level, I unexpectedly experienced a peculiar sense of inner spaciousness. It practically engulfed me, as though I, myself, had just died and suddenly felt immersed in a pool of pure and senseless light. Tears streamed down my eyes, and there was melancholy present, but despite that, I could not truly detect a feeling of absolute loss. In fact, in that instant, Alice felt more alive to me than ever before, and this time unencumbered by the illusion of duality was infinitely closer to me than she had been in all the years I’d had her by my side, directly. I remembered then what one of my most respected pointers of non-duality, Rupert Spira, once said regarding death: “Now you can’t find him down the road anymore, so the only place you can find him is in your heart. That’s how to understand death and the ones you lose. You don’t lose them; you gain them….”

Truly, those words took on a whole new meaning to me. Not only did I understand them conceptually, but I also felt each and every corner of my heart fill with the purity and brightness of the knowing, or inner-standing, that was far deeper than merely an abstract thought alone. I knew that my fur-baby hadn’t really been taken from me. Instead, she existed in me, in my heart, and as my heart. There, she dwelt in a timeless and indestructible place that is essentially free of the natural law of impermanence, free of the cycles of birth and death, gain and loss.

On our way home, I heard the words, thank you, mommy, as if spoken from some remote space inside me. Gratitude flooded each cell in my body. Right then and there, I didn’t think—rather, I knew—that Alice was not only now ultimately at peace, but that she was also indelibly thankful that I had gathered enough grace and integrity to allow life to do what it wanted to do, which was to return to itself as itself.

Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon a deeper realization: that is, we do not have a life. Instead, there is only one life, and that one life animates every seemingly separate thing. When that life is apparently ejected from an object, that object then ceases to be. Because it ceases to be, the only relative significance in nature is indeed that one life force which animates all there is. Therefore, there is no “you” and no “me” except to the one who sees with the eyes. This too is a trick of some divine energy, longing only to make itself perceptible to the human who has dreamed him or herself into existence in order to experience an imagined world.

Furthermore, it is the same intelligence that inspires buds to blossom each spring that also causes the dense structure that is the body to do what it does so instinctively each and every day as it is so apparently keeping us afloat.

So, instead of owning something we term “a life,” life owns us, and, in truth, we can never really claim any ownership over it whatsoever. After all, reasonably speaking, how could we? It doesn’t belong to a “me” (a concept, an ego-identity, or otherwise known as “the separate self”), and it never has. Essentially, we therefore have no free will. Rather, life has its own higher will, its own un-negotiable laws, which ultimately overpower any one individual will stemming from a single and unique mind.

Because of this greater intelligence that is constantly working behind the scenes, to claim that we are the “doer” is downright absurd. Moreover, it would then follow that there is no person to take credit for any one thing that is simply happening. When life is finished working itself through us, there is no separate self in existence any longer. This would follow that there is no “me” to live or die. There is just this one light in all its full, undivided expression, which then seemingly splits and refracts itself through a prism and becomes a part of a multiplicity of apparent objects. The ancient Hindus called this the divine game of Lila.

Instead of threatening some fragile sense of self-importance, that realization offered me a wealth of comfort and moral strength. There is only one life, and Alice was that one life. I am also that one life in turn because it is beyond duality and therefore all physicality. Alice and I are one, in an ultimate sense, and everything in existence is one with the life that informs any “separate thing.”

Now, whenever I walk outside in nature, I feel Alice’s presence in every living creature. I see her in the clouds and feel her in the sunshine on the skin. I feel her dancing in the wind that so gently blows. She is in each breath taken.

Indeed, death is real only to the personal self, who sees and believes in a world of matter, time, and space, and thus believes he or she is a limitation of density.

Despite the part of the mind I acknowledge to be still grieving the loss of the form of my beloved cat, there is a deeper part of me that knows we are, in fact, inseparable, that time and physicality are merely illusions, and that, just as the great masters have said time and time again, there is no birth, and no death.

~

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