On Dying and Death, and Remembrance

angel daisies

Angel Daisies © © B.E. Kazmarski

I know I risk losing a lot of readers with a title like that, but this is really not a sad article unless you are working with current loss of your own.

I’ve been remembering my Peaches in a very strong way lately, feeling her little spirit walk across my desk and help awaken me in the morning. I had planned an article about remembrance in the aftermath of loss, but somehow it just wouldn’t come together, though I knew in the back of my mind both why I was remembering her so strongly and why I couldn’t focus on writing.

I recently lost my mother at age 85 after so many levels of illness in her life: decades of chronic conditions and surgeries, the lung cancer ten years ago that weakened and eventually put her in personal care, the beginnings of dementia two years ago, the move to skilled nursing a year ago, the weight loss and greater need for care all leading to the last few months of decline.

I would not compare the loss of my Peaches or any of my cats to the loss of my mother because the relationship is entirely different, but I can say that Peaches’ recent progress toward death and her quiet passing, and that of many before her, were what prepared me for understanding and accepting the progress of my mother’s passing, and this is the reason I write this on The Creative Cat.

silvery checkerspot

Silvery Checkerspot © B.E. Kazmarski

I have been lucky not to have lost too many people in my adult life. My parents were older and their parents older yet, so I lost my grandparents when I was really too young to have had a relationship with or remember them. My father died 20 years ago in the same nursing home as my mother after a recurrence of cancer and the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. I have lost a few dear aunts and uncles, but I was not part of their everyday life.

When I lost my father I was barely aware of the process of death. Twenty years later I have learned so much more, all in the daily ebb and flow of life with my cats, and I was prepared, not only for my mother’s loss but for the months-long process that led to it, and I’m anticipating the aftermath.

cabbage butterfly

Many Asters © B.E. Kazmarski

In any living being, living is an act of will, because without it a being does not thrive and eventually dies. But death is not the lack of that will to live, rather it is part of the same will as a being accepts that this physical body can no longer sustain and the body and spirit must part, but living does not necessarily end there. I make no conjectures about what happens after the body and spirit part, but for those of us who’ve felt the touch of a loved one no longer present, however brief or peripheral, I find it hard to believe that living is only accomplished in a physical body.

Especially in age and chronic or terminal illness, the process of death is the same in any being; at some point the person or animal realizes that the body has lost its potential for renewal, for self-support and will eventually stop functioning. Referencing Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, each individual goes through the same process though with different means and at different rates, but eventually arrives at acceptance.

st john's wort

St. John's Wort © B.E. Kazmarski

Even though animals can’t speak in human words, the depth of our relationship understands communication beyond, or perhaps even before, the use of spoken language, and we perceive and understand many things sometimes without consciously realizing.

From late last summer I’ve been having an increasingly difficult time staying organized, focusing on anything for as long as I am accustomed, also feeling restless and distracted, sometimes fearful or angry, without any obvious reason for it. I may have a reputation as being a scattered and abstracted creative person, but I’m actually organized and efficient or I’d never be able to run my business and take care of my home and cats and affairs for my mother and brother, so this wandering lack of focus was not at all like me, and it was also very distressing because I really need to stay focused to support myself and make sure all is done correctly for two disabled people.

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

Years ago when I was walking my 25-year-old Stanley through his final months I experienced this same distracted period, these flashes of fear and helplessness that didn’t seem to originate with me, and I realized I was actually perceiving what he was feeling as he accepted his own passing in addition to my own process—and no doubt he was sharing my process. I remember looking into his big green eyes as we both understood this and felt relieved that we weren’t experiencing it alone anymore, and though the distractedness continued, I understood. I have experienced this same wandering focus, periods of fear or anger with each of my losses since—and likely before as well—but now I am prepared and understand that, when this begins, they understand they are in the final part of their process and their passing won’t be long in coming.

silvery checkerspot on butterflyy weed

Silvery Checkerspot on Butterfly Weed © B.E. Kazmarski

I knew that a part of what I was feeling this past autumn was my process with Peaches as she gracefully accepted the slow deterioration of her body’s functions through renal failure and simply age. As September passed she needed her sub-cutaneous fluids more often and supplements in addition to her food as her appetite began to wane. One Saturday in mid-October she refused food and supplements and told me she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and she was okay with that. I gave her fluids and little sips of milk and bits of supplements, but she let her body follow its will and gently went into her end stages the following Tuesday night. I sat with her all night long as she slowly faded until morning when she showed some signs of pain and I called my veterinarian (read “Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye”).

sweet peas and vetch

Sweet Peas and Vetch © B.E. Kazmarski

After Peaches passed, though, I still felt the pull of another loved one, the distractedness and restlessness. In November our quarterly meeting at the nursing home discussed my mother’s lack of appetite, weight loss and increasing frailty and difficulty swallowing and feeding herself, though she was not withdrawn. After a hospital stay in November we decided to implant a feeding tube in case the issue was that she just didn’t like her pureed food and thickened drinks (she really hated them) and just couldn’t nourish herself enough, hoping she’d gain weight and strength. In the same case at home, I might have tried a few force-feedings of one of my cats just in case they simply weren’t strong enough to eat and sustain themselves, hoping their appetite would take over, but stopping the feedings if it didn’t.

By December there was no difference in my mother, and I knew that nothing we did would change her now. My mother was accepting her end, in the same way Peaches had looked at me and let me know she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and it was what was meant to be. I have no doubt that Peaches showed me her process in preparation for what would come with my mother; I took daily care of Peaches and was intimately aware of what was happening with her, but my mother’s care was in others’ hands and it was a little more difficult to determine what was happening even through visiting.

forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots © B.E. Kazmarski

If I was distracted and restless before, I was about as non-functional as I’ve ever been in January, sleeping odd hours, sitting and looking out the window for minutes at a time without realizing, nearly incapable of visualizing a complete design idea along with more and more odd behavior, and every time the phone would ring I jumped and grabbed it. I let this continue, knowing there wasn’t much I could do. The nursing home called early January 20 saying my mother needed to go to the hospital, and while she seemed to be stabilizing she had a crisis Monday morning and we decided on comfort measures rather than life support because she would not have survived the condition, remaining on life support indefinitely. My sister, brother, two great-granddaughters and I took turns sitting in her room for her last two days.

Even though I knew that Peaches and my other cats had gone into some painful distress in their last few hours even after gently fading, I had no means of alleviating that distress or any other pain other than calling my veterinarian for a painless euthanasia. Humans, though, have a morphine drip and any other means the hospital can provide to assure the end is as painless as possible so I wouldn’t have to fear helplessly watching a painful end with my mother.

dogwoods

Dogwood © B.E. Kazmarski

And now after the processes of planning, meeting, greeting and thanking, I am remembering my mother, still accepting her passing as I will be for some time to come. I am grateful for the gentle guidance of the felines who’ve entered my life to teach me life lessons in addition to living their own agendas. I understood my own months of inner turmoil as normal and I was more prepared for her passing than I would have been otherwise. I won’t fuss and fret when I encounter a photo or a passing memory of my mother months from now and have a little cry, I’ll know that’s a natural part of my process of accepting her passing.

And I think little Peaches has been wandering about to comfort me in a way she could not have in life with our concern and treatment in her geriatric condition, and also to bring me quiet comfort in the way no other being could. After all, she lost her first human mom before she came to me, so she had an extra special lesson to teach me.

family

All of us

Here are the four of us about ten years ago, my mother, my sister, me and my brother. This photo was from my film camera, and I just couldn’t get to the box of prints to scan it again; I scanned it from a print I had made, which is rather faded, but it still gets the point across.

I hosted a poetry reading last week, just two days after my mother died. I decided to go through with it since all my immediate family could be there and it was a wonderful opportunity to share my mother with other people. I wrote a poem the night she died, and I’ve also posted that on “Today”.

I will write soon about Peaches, and many other things, now that I can focus and time is not so compressed.

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25 Comments on “On Dying and Death, and Remembrance”

  1. […] is a year ago on Wednesday that my mother passed away. I know the memory of that time and the thought of loss is heavy on my mind as I remember my […]

  2. […] edited length in the CWA newsletter, MEOW; you need to be a member to read the actual article, but here is a link to the original article on The Creative Cat. I had recognized last fall my mother’s final time was at hand after […]

  3. […] edited length in the CWA newsletter, MEOW; you need to be a member to read the actual article, but here is a link to the original article on The Creative Cat. I had recognized last fall my mother’s final time was at hand after […]

  4. […] addition, and article, a photo and an illustration have won, “On Dying and Death, and Remembrance” in an edited version and “Birdwatching“, both published in Meow, the newsletter […]

  5. […] symptoms, see if there is anything else we need to do. I lost Peaches less than a year ago and I lost my mother in January, and I told Cookie I’m just not ready yet, she has to get better, this was just a practice […]

  6. Chris Davis says:

    Thank you, Bernadette, for this very moving piece – your words deeply touched my heart. I lost my Mom 5 years ago to Alzheimer’s. It was my dog, Jake, who stayed by my side as Mom came to the end of her earthly journey, even though his health was failing, too. I lost Jake about 2 1/2 months after Mom.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope your Mother and your beloved Peaches have found each other and are watching over you from the starry skies.

    • animalartist says:

      Chris, I remember you talking about losing your mother. I can’t imagine losing Jake that soon after your mother. I know my mother is much happier now than she ever was on earth, and Peaches is probably happy to stop having to stay with me ALL the time.

  7. animalartist says:

    Good morning, everyone, thank you for visiting, reading and commenting!

  8. Bernie Tracy says:

    Thank you for this article. I know of what you speak. I know where my loved one is and can read everything we have endured in your words and acts. The final chapter is not yet written, and I pray I have the strength and grace to handle it as graciously as you.

    • animalartist says:

      Bernie, I can’t imagine your inner struggle with your husband so far away in so many ways. I think when it comes time for that final chapter you’ll handle it with as much love and energy as you’ve handled everything so far–caring for your husband at home, running to the VA hospital in all kinds of weather, always mentioning him with love shows what a beautiful and strong person you are, and has been beautiful for me to see in this time.

      I can tell you that, even when it doesn’t seem people can hear you through dementia or other physical or mental condition, I learned from my mother, who through the years was in comas, on life support and in various types of dementia, that they can hear and understand what you say, and they know when you are there and understand you love them. He knows.

  9. Bernadette, thank you for this. I recently lost my mother-in-law and have some of the same feelings you have described. It is very reassuring to hear another person sharing them. It reaffirms the circle of life and the inevitability for each of us. That removes guilt or responsibility for changing what must be. I feel peaceful after reading your work. Thanks.

    • animalartist says:

      Janet, I’m so glad I could reach you with this; that’s part of what brings peace to me in my losses. I’m glad you had a mother-in-law you loved that much, even if it meant the pain and confusion when you lost her. We just have to accept things as they are, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.

      I enjoyed my visit to your site as well!

    • animalartist says:

      Thanks–nature photos are my specialty–when I need to get “away” I hit the trails and woods with my cameras and find the beauty in the landscape. I have so many I don’t know what to do.

  10. What a beautiful piece, Bernadette. I lost my almost-20-yr-old cat in December and have been experiencing the the distraction you mentioned. His end came quickly and somewhat unexpectedly, and I felt “lost” after he was gone. I can’t imagine what it would be like to deal with two major losses back-to-back. I’m sending you a big hug.

    • animalartist says:

      Karen, thanks for the e-hug. I have the cats who’ve passed before to thank for showing me that loss begins way before the event and to begin preparing myself if it’s at all possible. I’ve had a few quick, unexpected losses like yours in December and I was still weepy and confused months later. My thoughts are with you on that.

  11. A powerful piece, Bernadette — all heart and soul and something else I can’t quite put a name to. Perhaps the beginnings of that peace that passeth understanding? Whatever it is, it turns this post into a truly illuminated manuscript, spiritually speaking — one that can’t help moving anyone who reads it.

    • animalartist says:

      Tammy, thanks–coming from a longtime journalist and writer, I’m very complimented, and I really appreciate your visual imagery. Now I can begin on your portrait with a clear heart and mind.

  12. Ingrid King says:

    This is beautiful. Your sensitivity, wisdom, and grace are an inspiration.

    • animalartist says:

      Ingrid, I truly appreciate your compliment. I was truly hoping I could honor both my mother and Peaches, and all the others, with the talent and sensitivity I’ve been given. Thanks, too, for sharing on Facebook. I love to know this will reach many others.

  13. Kimberly Helgeson says:

    Perfectly Eloquent

  14. […] the original post: On Dying and Death, and Remembrance « The Creative Cat This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged aroung, award, beyond-food, color, […]

  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bernadette Kazmarski, Bernadette Kazmarski. Bernadette Kazmarski said: On Dying and Death, and Remembrance: http://wp.me/pqHPa-Sk […]


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