This is the conclusion of Sparkie, Living and Dying. Maybe it isn’t good for me to dwell on that loss right now, since I am about to absorb a catastrophic loss but here I go. The references to Sparkie as a Jewish mom is a figure of speech and is not intended to offend anyone of any creed but a way to give a personality to an animal that, above all others, I still grieve.
The morning has worn on and Sparkie is in the hall asleep. Sparkie the cat is in her last days. She’s diabetic and all feline diabetes is partly autoimmune. That means that she not only had autoantibodies attacking her pancreatic beta cells but also her liver. She has the liver of a late stage alcoholic, thanks to her diabetes. A third problem is that this kind of liver disease attacks the visual part of her brain, and she can hardly see anything. Sparkie’s bright green eyes have grown dim and feeble and when she walks down the hall she hits her head on the wall.
I’ve lost so many people. Lost so many cats. Sparkie is like my own human daughter. My insides feel pulled out and hacked at. This morning she is asleep in the hall. The hall is dark as hell’s cellar even in the daytime. When she wakes up and doesn’t know where she is she has a fit and when i call and she hears me she calms down. I am tired and pick her up and put her on the king sized bed close to me. The bedroom has more light and she can see me.
I lay my head down and get drowsy. I get panicky and think if I go to sleep she will too and will wake up dead. When she sees me lift my head she looks at me alertly as if to say, What, Daddy? I know I’m being stupid and lie down and in sleep I dream stupid dreams. Sparky is sleeping peacefully when I wake an hour later she is sleeping quiertly, her lungs working normally at least for now.
It’s hard to say how I know she’s dying. I’ve just seen so many of them die.
She sleeps and wakes and looks bad. She’s so sick she gets more attention than any cat in the house. I spend so much time with her I can tell how she feels just by looking at those emerald eyes that have grown old in a mere fraction of my life. She has lost so much weight i can actually see her heart beating in her chest. Her ribs are so prominent she looks like a refugee from a gulag. I have been force feeding her because when a cat gets old and stops eating they will die if you don’t. But it isn’t working.
Sparkie would never eat pork. Years ago when we first got her she got pissed and went on a hunger strike so I got every kind of cold cuts I could find and she started eating. She ate all of them. Except the pork. She never would eat it. I was sitting at the table eating pizza when she jumped on the table. I offerered her some pepperoni and she refused it.
Sparkie was militant and had enemy cats in the house. When her worst enemy got sick she sat with her and guarded her and attacked any cat that came too close. She was vocal and bossy and pushy, like a Jewish mother out of a Woody Allen film. She was as much like a jewish mom as she could be.
But she is dying.
When Dana comes home Sparkie sniffs and tries to find her because the light has grown dim in the room and in her eyes. While Dana nuzzles Sparkie I go out to the hall and into the bathroom to leak. I have barely finished when I hear Dana yelling at me.
She had a fit when she couldn’t find you, Dana says, looking at me gravely. I pick Sparkie up and put her on my lap until she falls asleep and into a coma she will not come out of.
She may not come out of this, I say.
Maybe she was hanging on till I got here because she didn’t want to die when you were alone, Dana suggests.
Or she wanted to see you one more time, I say.
We put her in the walk in closet on a towel.
That was Friday. She never came out of it Saturday. But she didn’t start to die until Sunday afternoon.
And right after the Falcons’ game I walk back to where she is lying on the bed, unconscious. I give Sparkie fluids, which is pointless but I do it anyway. All of a sudden she starts dying right there in the bright, dappled November sunshine.
She stiffens. That’s a jolt from her sympathetic nervous system trying to keep her alive. And in then in that cheerful light she stops breathing.
But her heart keeps on beating for thirty seconds and stops and she is dead.
We both stay away from each other the rest of Sunday, finding a way to grieve. Grief is a highly personal matter. I observe Sparkie’s life and death by not eating pork. Since she died to this day I have not eaten pork.
After I get back what’s left of Sparkie i get a little wooden urn for her ashes. Then I find the right store and buy a little blue Star of David and glue it on the urn and place the baggie of ashes in and seal it.
I am a nonbeliever but if I did believe I would say that if we have immortal souls why shouldn’t animals, even the lowest beast of the field? And if we are reunited in some afterlife with humans, why not our pets? Ecclesiasties notwithstanding I believe they would indeed have souls. Why not? And even if we are immortal only in the sense of being remembered by the living, Sparkie will live, deep in the hole in my heart that was ripped out when she died. Until Dana and i are no more Sparkie will live.
Why do animals not appear to grieve as we do? Since they are not blessed with speech and other gifts that make us “higher” organisms do they merely not need it? Or do they remember something we have forgotten, how to live with death without bitching but with acceptance and utter humility? Since they cannot speak they cannot tell us. Another agonizing unanswered question for the ages.
I have instructed Dana that if I die before her that she will put what’s left of Sparkie in my coffin with me even if she has to hide it, because Sparkie’s place is with me, always.
Sparkie, i will follow you into the dark.