Things have drastically changed in my life recently.
The biggest change is that I am now a parent: Nishta and I adopted a little son this past summer. He was born on July 17, and as we watched him emerge from his birth mother’s body, I felt my life and heart dramatically alter. He was so tiny and helpless, yet strong and loud! And he is ours. And mine. Mine–not to own or control–but mine to love, nurture, teach, and to create a stable home for so that he can become the man he wants or is destined to be. It’s a huge responsibility, but not one that feels scary or worrisome to me. It all feels like grace. Shiv is simply a gift, all day every day. There are times when I struggle to remember what I did with myself before he came, and why any of it seemed so important.
The last two months have been laced with sadness, though, because we lost two of our companion animals one right after the other. First, our sweet old rat terrier, Dolly, died just before Christmas. Then, last week, we lost Reece, an orange tabby I rescued as a kitten on Washington Avenue over 14 years ago.
It’s brutal to lose four-legged family members–there’s just no other way to say it. It’s part of the bargain we make when we take them in. Chances are, we will outlive them and will have to make the hard decision to end their lives when their suffering is too great. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s searing every time. I’ve done it several times in my life, and it never gets any easier.
Losing these two is especially hard, though. These two were my furry caretakers during 2011 when I spent most of the year fighting cancer. I had a battalion of human friends and family who brought meals, did laundry, straightened up the house, ferried me back and forth to appointments, sat with me while I puked–the whole thing. But these two, Reece and Dolly, were like furry leeches who maintained nearly constant physical contact with me. They slept beside me or on me every night, and during every nap. They shared my lap if I sat up. They followed me from the bed to the bathroom to the kitchen and back to the bed. Theirs was the breathing I heard and felt as I went to sleep, and the first I heard when I woke up, other than my own. The days I spent in the hospital for open chest surgery were the worst days of the whole ordeal, mainly because they weren’t with me.
So, losing them feels like an especially strong thread has been cut. I miss them terribly, almost every moment.
After we hugged and kissed Reece into his death at the vet last Friday evening, I sat at our open backyard window with a glass of wine, listening to the blustery wind and the chortling of the purple martins as they did their final swoops over the lake before settling into their box for the night. I allowed myself to settle into the dusky stillness of the evening, to match the rhythms of my heart and mind with those of the natural world around me, a world shot through with the interplay of life and death, struggle and ease. It’s a good world, and I am glad to be in it.
After a few moments, our son cried out from his room. It was his feeding time.
The dead are dead, and we cherish their memory. And the living are alive, and deserve our attention. So, I wiped my tears, got up, and went to feed our son.
Dr. Jill Carroll is a scholar, writer and speaker in religious studies. She was an adjunct associate professor in religious studies at Rice University, and directed the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance there until June 2009. She writes and speaks on issues of religion in public life, world religions, and philosophy of religion. In addition to being a best-selling author, she is a featured blogger at the Houston Chronicle. Her first novel, “Quail Fried Rice,” is available on Amazon. Find out more about her at www.jillcarroll.com or follow her on Twitter @JillCarroll.
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