As it turned out, October was a dangerous month.
*We went to visit family in Cincinnati halfway through the month. A few years ago, when we’d leave town for less than a week, we’d leave out a pile of cat food and an extra water bowl. If it was more than a week, we’d have a friend stop by a couple times to socialize with the cats (if the cats were willing) and replenish the food and water. Cats are low maintenance.
That changed when Chyna, the older cat, started peeing blood. Honestly, when I brought her into the vet I was expecting the worst, so when the vet said he had bad news, I was pretty relieved that it was diabetes.
So we were pretty excited to find Dana.
Dana worked as a vet tech just five minutes from our house. She was youngish, full of energy and obviously loved animals. She was comfortable giving injections and careful with directions. We always returned from trips to happy cats and a note from Dana with anything needing our attention, or just an update on our pets’ moods.
We scheduled ahead of time, so when our trip mid-October was cut a day short, I called the night before we were leaving to let her know she didn’t need to take care of the cats on the last day.
I gave her sister my condolences, and hung up quickly and awkwardly because I didn’t have any idea of what else to say to a woman I didn’t know about her sister who I only knew as my excellent cat sitter. I then guiltily turned towards trying to find out whether my diabetic cat was still alive or lying in a hypoglycemic coma.
The cat is fine. I called my friend Amy to check on her, feeling terrible and not knowing what she’d find. Fortunately the cats seem to have suffered no long term ill effects aside from being a bit pushier at meal time.
The first thing I did, after calling Amy was to apologetically call the vet. We had switched to Dana’s vet shortly after moving to our new house because it was so much closer. They were extremely shaken, and sad. The office has only a handful of staff, so losing Dana not only made them scramble to take care of their normal business, but it seemed to be like losing a family member. The vet herself had found Dana’s body when she went to check on why she hadn’t shown up to work.
Dana’s death left me feeling a bit broody. I was sad the way you are sad when an acquaintance dies, but could not sincerely call it a loss of a friend. She was so young and healthy seeming that it made me stop and wonder at the fragility of life.
William died on October 30th.
I had known William for about five years, Matt, who was much closer to him, knew him for ten years or longer. He was among the first of Matt’s friends I met. When we heard the news, we both thought it was a joke. Possibly a joke by William himself. Several of his friends thought the same thing.
It’s not just that William, a forensic pathologist, had a particularly dark sense of humor, nor that it was Halloween. It was just surreal. William was only 42 (I think) though his health was not all that good. He was constantly talking about death. Stories of especially weird deaths. Details of working with death. The politics and legality surrounding death. It was even more difficult to comprehend for Matt and I because neither of us saw him all that often. He lived on the other side of town so we would get together every few months for dinner or brunch and catch up. With the baby, that had slowed, and the last time I saw him I was seven months pregnant, chatting with his mom about the baby shower. Matt saw him in July when I went back to Oregon to visit my family. His death was a stomach sickening blow, but not a tangible absence because we just didn’t see him often enough for it to be real.
I’d never understood why anyone would want an open casket funeral, but as Matt and I prepared to go to William’s visitation (sounds spooky, yeah?) I realized I hoped there would be a viewing. The idea of being afraid of William’s body was laughable, and he had always been so comfortable and familiar with death that it just seemed right to pay respects in person so to speak. I also thought that maybe if I saw William saw his body, I would be able to believe he was dead.
Matt had initially planned to go alone, but I wanted to be there. We could have hired a baby sitter I suppose, but I thought William’s mother, the only person in his family who we really knew, would like to hug a baby. It is hard to imagine anything more comforting than snuggling a chubby 5 month old.
On the other hand, I wondered if holding a baby would remind William’s mother of her child that she had held and snuggled 40 years ago. It is so often said that no parent should have to bury a child, but usually they mean a child. We don’t often think of the parents of an adult who dies too young, well on the way to middle age, firmly in the midst of life and career.
If anything, we think of the spouse, the children, the siblings, the best friends. The parent crouches in the background of grieving, an afterthought. William’s mother is a friend of ours as well, and I tried not to think too hard of what it would be to lose Ender at any age.
Ender was hugged, and I think he brought comfort. I know I hug him a little tighter.
(*Sappy Cat photos seemed appropriate.)