death (warning: probably depressing), and life

this morning i buried someone’s cat.

while i did manage to kick myself out of bed and get on the bike for my morning ride, the small corpse at the end of our driveway caught me completely off-guard. it wasn’t one of our cats, but it was somebody’s cat. i’ll be calling the vet in a bit to see if there have been any reports of lost cats to match the description, which won’t be terribly fun, either. in the meantime, though, i carried it out to a far corner of our back yard and i buried it. which also wasn’t easy. our yard is filled with roots and stones and the humidity has yielded some particularly lively and aggressive breeds of bugs in our area.

as i was digging, though, i wondered at what i was doing. i didn’t know the cat, and the last time i buried an animal myself was probably 20 years ago when i managed to catch a crow in the grille of my car.* i’d done the same thing, then, bringing it home to give it a space in the ground. i wasn’t sure why, really. i mean, animals die all the time in the wild, obviously, and they go through nature’s recycling program above ground and it’s the way it should be. i suppose it was the fact that i’d caused that death, and somehow felt responsible for doing something more than simply dumping it in the grassy ravine beside the road.

these thoughts rolled around in my head as i dug and fought with the rocks and roots and bugs. of course, this morning’s cat was not my fault, but i also wasn’t about to leave it on the edge of my driveway. it seemed only proper to bury it, so that’s what i was doing.

it’s been a little while since we’ve dealt with death within our circle of close family and friends**, but the act of digging the hole with my own hands (and a shovel, of course), of giving that nameless animal whose life had been struck short*** its own space in the ground, this felt more personal, more real, more right than many of the funeral processes we often go through in our Western society. the body is done, the spirit has moved on.

not to trivialize it, but it’s kind of like taking our trash to the dump instead of having curb-side pick-up. when we go to the transfer station, we separate all the recyclables ourselves, carry own waste to the hopper, put our own yard waste in the bins. i grew up with curb-side pick-up, before recycling was much of a thought, too, and i know it’s easier to put the full bags and bins at the end of the driveway in the morning and bring the empty ones in in the evening, but since we’ve moved out of the city a bit (and not really very far), i’ve come to appreciate the sense of…ownership, i guess, responsibility, even, for my trash. every time i go to throw something out, i think about where it’s going, whether it can go in our compost instead or if it can be recycled or whatever. it’s my trash, and i’m the one responsible for taking care of it.

i may well be making more out of all this than there really is****, but it seems to me the further we get from the basics of life, the easier it is to forget what life really is.

like burying our own dead in a hole we’ve dug ourselves. being this close to death, for me, takes some of the mystery away. i certainly don’t mean to say that i would wish the burying of a loved one on anyone, but death is a fact of life, and i tend to want to face these things head on, rather than at a distance.***** we can’t stop death, but the living can mark its passage not just with tears, but with deeds.

as i was digging this morning, a sense of rightness came over me. not of the death of the cat, obviously, but of what i was doing for it. somewhere, right now as i type this, someone is probably calling at the back door for a cat that won’t ever come home. i can’t fix that. hopefully, though, i’ll be able to connect with that person through the local vet or animal shelters and offer a sense of peace that this animal’s untimely end was given some care and attention.

walking back from the unmarked grave, through the heavy morning mist, i wasn’t sad as much as i was satisfied that i’d done what i thought was the proper thing. the digging was good work, real work, if sombre work, and there was a solace in that. which, of course, led me to the recognition that i live a graced life, with a loving wife, supportive family and good friends.

then, of course, i checked the mail that i’d forgotten to get yesterday, where i found another form rejection notice for NGD from another agent who had requested a partial.

and life goes on…

* yes, i was probably going too fast.

** which is oddly unusual for us over the years

*** important note: i’m not a hunter or fisherman or anything of that sort, nor am i a vegan or fruitarian. i eat pretty much anything that comes on a plate. i believe it’s okay to raise animals for food, though i do my best to buy such food from humane and local sources. i admit to a subconscious distinction between ‘pets’ and ‘animals’ – would i do the same for a squirrel? well, i haven’t yet. – but i try to keep it in check. what i’m talking about here, though, is the unexpected death of a creature – human, cat, pig, or otherwise. maybe there isn’t a difference, in the big picture, but i can’t get my head around that one, yet.

**** something of a skill of mine

***** of course – knock on wood – we’ve been very fortunate lately, and with any luck we’ll stay that way a while longer, but i know others who are not so lucky right now, for whom this might not seem so acceptable, and may even seem ignorant and thoughtless. i maintain that it’s neither of those, but if there’s one thing i could wish for, it would be that no parent would have to bury his or her child. i can think of nothing else so hard to comprehend.