Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Lesson on Life and Death

Many of you know that I used to have a golden retriever named Oscar that I loved a lot and that I miss often. What many of you don’t know is I have another pet, a Tetra Fish named Horton. I brought him home in November 2008 with a few other pals (Thing1 & Thing2), but he was the only one that remained after three months. He took the move to my parent’s house in stride. I found myself talking to him every day; saying good morning or good night, telling him about my day or just asking how he was. I know it might seem odd that I talked to a fish and could not understand me or even hear me, but he was my buddy. I knew things about him like what food he preferred and which live plants he liked in his aquarium to munch on.

Horton died today. I had him for over a year and half. When I woke up I looked over at his tank and saw him lying on the bottom and I immediately thought he was dead, but upon a closer look, I realized that he was still on the process of dying. He was on his side and his gills were moving. He was gasping for air. It was so painful to watch him knowing there was nothing I could do to save him or to ease his suffering. I knew too well that death has own time frame. I screamed an “Oh no, Not Horton” when I first saw him and then proceeded to sob for several minutes.

It may seem weird to you that I felt like I have a bond with Horton and probably think that my reaction to his death was a little much. You might be thinking to yourself, yeesh it was just a fish and maybe asking if fish can feel pain. I know the Horton was just a fish, a tiny being in the circle of life. But he was my fish, something I care for. Even as I write this, tears are in my eyes. I think there are many reasons for my emotions. Horton has been a constant in my life during a time that everything seems to always changing and often in crisis. He also depended on me to care for him. His death is just another example of the losses that we experience every day and for me another harsh reminder of life and death. It was hard to watch him die without thinking about my own death. Did he feel pain? Is that what it will be like for me as I am dying? Will I be lying on my bed gasping for breath?

My energy level is low these days and I try to keep it in reserves so I use it when I want to go out with friends. So I spend a lot more time in bed or lying on the couch. I try to fill my time up with books, tv, music, movies and crossword puzzles, but the more I feel bad, the more time I have to think. I have been thinking more lately about the process of dying and what that will be like for me. I don’t know when I will die. My time was supposed to be up over a year ago. I am very blessed to have been given the last year and love the gift of each day. It is hard though to not wonder about the future. I wonder why I have been given this extra time and I wonder when this time will end. I feel like I am living in a bit of limbo. It is impossible for me to plan things for the future. I have no idea how I will be physically in two weeks, two months. Do I dare hope for more time? I have been preparing for over a year for my death. Sometimes I think I am ready for this whole dying process to start already. Please don’t take me wrong, I do not want to die anytime soon, but wondering when it is going to happen and how it will happen is excruciating. Tonight I am sad. Sad for the loss of my pet and sad about how painful it is to think about my death. I think it is ok to be sad though and good that I allow myself to think and write a about this topic. It is an important one and we may not want to talk about it, it is always there in the back of my head.


chari olmedo said...

Thanks for sharing the loss of Horton with us. Death should be talked about as much as Life because they are not but one entity: they aren't understood without each other.
We are all dying from the moment we are born but only some of us are given an 'use by' date in the course of our lives.
I haven't cancer (or at least I'm not aware of having it yet) or any other disease supposed to limit 'my time' here so I can only try to imagine what it must be like for you, and the rest of my friends out there, beating the odds one day at a time.
I, sometimes, feel Life would be better, the World would be a better place, if all of us were born with a date for our final breath tattoed somewhere in our body. Most of us would be that much more careful on how we spend our time, who we spend it with.
I feel lucky to have been born in family where Death is not a taboo. Fearing what we have no control over, and will happen regardless, may be normal but it's also pointless. I fear Pain, though. I'm human. But aren't we lucky, you and I, to live in a time when Pain can be controlled, Suffering eased? I believe we are very fortunate, indeed.
So hang in there, Allison. Enjoy every minute of Life but talk about Death as much as you like. We will be here to listen.

Vijay said...

I came across your writing, looking for answers for my friend (more like for myself) who is going through ovarian cancer too.

I want to say this...
continue to be brave, Ali. you are doing so great considering all the pain you have and had. I cannot imagine your pain, so I won't say I understand. give it all you can! you'll come through this.

-jimmy from india

Marcia Banta said...

Chari said it well...the balance between life and death is one we deal with all the time and deserves to be examined openly - from both(all?) sides. Don't let others discourage you from exploring the ideas and feelings just becasue they are so near to the surface for you. Thanks for speaking in a way that makes us all listen.

But mostly, {hugs}.

kris said...

I too find myself sitting here shedding a few tears for the loss of Horton. It doesn't matter that Horton was a fish, he was connected to you, part of the circle, and cycle, of life, and he had meaning in your life. Although I don't think it's any fun to ponder one's end of life, I think that those of us with diseases such as cancer, have the opportunity to enjoy moments, resolve issues, and consider what we have done and want to leave behind, in a way that most people do not. I believe that your open, honest blogs allow you to help yourself and so many others, as we all try to make sense of our lives.

Good for you, reserving your energy so that you have it when you want to spend time with friends or family. You make all of us who know you, in any way, proud of the way you are living your life with integrity.

Big hugs,

Trish said...

for those of us with an accelerated "expiration date" potential, any death can be tough to take. When, as in your case, you've exceeded expectations, it is tough not to parlay that into your life. As long as Horton was alive, you could feel alive, his passing gives more meaning to your impending end of life issues. Grieve, for Horton, for yourself. But keep living, as you already are doing. It is important. *I* want to hear about your stories, am sure you want to experience them.

know that you are in my thoughts and prayers and remember to keep feeling & keep living this life---you're allowed to live it as you wish, even if you expend energy you think you're saving for something "more important" than Horton. This IS important, to you, right now. Keep it up!arant