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A GENTLE GOOD NIGHT
September 29, 2003
 
The campaign to cure Santana the cat of his liver ailment by feeding him every couple of hours proceeds apace. Everyone has gotten good at it by now, not just me, although we each have our own way of doing it. I cross one leg over the other and lay him in the little hollow between my thighs. I can't cross my legs like that, Q says, and so he places Santi on his lap and feeds him from above and behind his head, with long interludes of stroking and fraternal murmurs in between bites. Anna does it a couple of ways: my way, sometimes, at other times allowing Santi to be on the floor with all four feet, in an effort to bolster his sense of independence and self-esteem.

Santana takes all this with Buddha-like grace -- he ends each session encrusted with cat food and soaked with spilled water, but submits patiently to the necessarily-brisk postprandial towelling. Then he goes off to a quiet place and sleeps it off until the next time. He is very quiet these days. We still don't know if he'll get better.

A cat is one thing -- a human being is another. All life is treasure, and a human life is a unique one: human beings reflect on our lives and assign meaning to their events. We write our own histories, remembering and making stories about our past.

I have bad news, Q told me on the phone over the weekend. I was pretty sure I knew what it was -- PJ's mother had never really awakened from her surgery, and she was on life support. There could be no memory left untouched by the ravages of Alzherimer's disease and no life apart from the machines, and so they were removed from her, one by one. For a few minutes, she breathed on her own, and then -- so gently -- she just stopped. Her daughter and two friends and her pastor were with her. It was her time.

Her long months of sadness and weakness are over. Her widowhood is over. The son she lost has been restored to her.

Now we can remember how cute she was, I said into the phone. Yeah, PJ said. She sure was. All the waitresses at Perkins knew her, and would bring her strawberry pie without even being asked. On her birthday, she had a crown made out of balloons, and smiled shyly, like a little girl. Only a few times did she have to ask where she was. When PJ was little, she washed and ironed little dresses with puffy sleeves and yards of ruffles. Later on, she made costumes for her actress daughter. She attended every show PJ was in. She told strangers that her daughter was on Broadway.

Last night, PJ had a show. I wondered only briefly if she would go ahead with it -- there are no understudies in cabaret -- and quickly concluded that she would. Actors are like that -- it may seem odd to others, but it helps them. The dead have the best seat in the house on a night like that. I hope she enjoyed it. I imagine she did. PJ's mom was a singer herself. Never on Broadway or anything -- just around the house, filling it with music, so that her little girl could sing and dance before she could talk.

Last night I lay with Santi, while he had his IV. He doesn't mind it at all, and seems to feel better after he has it. I held the needle steady with one hand and combed him with his comb in the other. He likes that. Life is worth living for him, so far. He can still be who is is, so far. I don't know if Santi is nearing the end of his life or not. Time will tell. But I love him with abandon, while he is still here. He summons love from us, and we respond.

The love between a mother and daughter is so much more complex. So much story at stake, so much that dies with us when we go. It is enough for Santi to be just a lovely bundle of fur, as long as he is not in pain. For a human being, it is not enough, not always. Sometimes, we must judge when too much has been taken away from those we love for them to remain in their bodies. Sometimes we are the ones who must decide if the body has become a prison from which the spirit should now be set free, to mount to its heavenly home and wait there for us.

The soul understands how hard this can be, and clears us of any guilt. Only in this way can I go free, it tells us as it departs. Don't worry -- I don't . I'll be right here, closer than you know.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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