Letting what you love die
HE LAY ON my chest, his purrs reverberating through my body. I stroked his ginger striped fur, soft as his baby fluff had been. This little one who had joined our family fifteen years prior—before babies, in the era of walk-up apartments and cross-country moves, when it was just Matt and I and the kittens: Armstrong and Ella—was now at the end of his days. It was cancer, filling his chest with fluid, making his breathing fast and shallow. But still he purred for me. Still he hurried to climb up into the bed with me, just as he had been my constant companion through chronic illness, postpartum depression, and loneliness. My comforter when we lost Ella. My nap buddy, jokingly referred to as my “emotional support cat.” My friend.
It was time to say goodbye.
I’d never before had to decide the time to lay down a beloved’s life. It still haunts me whether we made the right decision. If that day had to be the day. Yet, he was leaving us already, and we couldn’t stop it, no matter how much we wished we could. When it seemed his breathing had become too much of a labor, we made the call.
As each year passes, I’ve learned that all this is familiar territory. Things die. Seasons pass. Friendships fade. There are good and beautiful things in this world that are temporary—including each and every one of us.
In 2019 our faith community, a quirky, tiny church full of artists and mental health therapists, had to close its doors. I grieved deeply its loss, but I knew in my bones that I couldn’t be the one to save it. I didn’t have what it would take. No one else seemed to either, and I had to accept that.
The pastor, Kira, told me that she had recently visited the southwest and learned about the agave plant. After about 10 years the plant blooms for its first and only time. It sends up a twenty foot stalk that fills with flowers and sweet nectar. Then the plant dies, the stalk topples, and the plant’s offspring are propelled to the earth. Once that bloom begins, there is nothing you can do. The plant will die. But it will spread new life when it goes. Kira told me that the image helped her to release our church to its unavoidable conclusion.
And so it goes with Kindred. This wonderful shared enterprise with women whose hearts are made of diamonds, my closest friends, has come to its end. It’s simply time—the vital energy it needs no longer resides in us. And while so often in this decision I’ve wanted to pull us back from the brink, I know that it’s not my place to rescue it. Rather, I must graciously lay down another thing I love that has come to the end of its life.
I hate death. And yet, I am learning that to keep something artificially alive is far worse. It saps our energy and fills us with resentment. It erects a monument where there should be an open path for new things to come. New life is its own good. And grief is evidence that the passing thing mattered deeply, brought such great goodness that its loss brings pain.
I have had to lay so many things to rest in the last two years. In the last stages of the pandemic, living in a new city where we know very few, on a major career shift from teaching and parenting littles to voice acting and writing full-time, I’ve been standing on the brink between the death of one life and the rebirth of another. Losing Armstrong really feels like the end of an era—the first 15 years of our marriage. And yet, I’m hopeful. We’re going to meet some kittens tomorrow. Grief will remain for some time. But life begins again, and I will choose to welcome it.
Featured image: Photo by Joe Pilié on Unsplash
J.M. RODDY writes fantasy novels and narrates audiobooks from Bend, Oregon. Find her on Audible as Joanna Roddy or at jmroddy.com.
As you might guess, so much of this resonates. Beautiful words. They remind me that death is never just an end – it’s a threshold.
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Tara, that is such a good reminder. You two have shared some of this journey with us, and then had your own parallel journey to ours. I love the idea of thresholds–very Celtic. Thresholds are holy places. And if this past year hasn’t been a time between times, I don’t know what is. I need to remember to keep myself open to visitations and visions of the divine.
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As always Joanna, your writing resonates with me and brings so many thoughts and feelings. So sorry to hear of Armstrong’s passing – I know your pain. You sense of “its time” is wise. I love the agave example – so full of things to ponder. We have a bunch of succulents and most of them blossom without the plant having to surrender, but there are some that like the agave, die after blooming. Thankfully, they always leave their “pups” to go on and continue with life. One plant that is a favorite (a paddle plant) began to bloom one year and we had to decide whether to cut the bloom or let it go and see if the plant would make it. After much contemplation and research, we decided to let it go and we watched the stem reach the top of our fence – a full 6 feet from a plant that was only a foot or so tall. It was wonderful to watch it in all its glory, express itself in the hundreds of tiny flowers that grew up the stem. There is a time for pruning, but there is also a time for blooming. You have had to face both. Thank you for reminding me of the wonders in each of them 🙂
Such beautiful wisdom here, Sue. Plants and animals have so much to teach us. I love hearing your thoughts. xoxo
I know as your mother all the changes and things lost you have experience these past two years. I have grieved and cried along with you. But with loss there are new things to be gained, and with grief and sorrow, we are promised joy that will follow. You are strong and resilient. The future is full of good things for you. I love you.
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Mom, you are so gracious and supportive. I love you too.