THE USUAL BUSINESS
On the way home, I had to stop at Dorion. I had to tell Penny and Doug about Shiloh. And Susanne wanted to see the cats.
My sister Susanne was coming to the lake for a few days. Penny and Doug run a kennel, and Shiloh often boarded there. I knew they’d want to know. So often animals never come back, and they never know the reason. Not for any misstep on their part, for they love their charges. But animals die, or clients move away, and they never hear from them again.
When their cats don’t return, they know why. The bush has claimed them.
Penny and Doug live in the bush, and have appointed themselves caretakers of a horde of feral cats. The cats are wild, completely wild. Females have litters and the kittens grow up feral. People dump their surplus cats at their kennel, but never with a thank you or a cash donation to feed them. Penny and Doug scrape up the cash to feed them once a day, but in the main, the cats live off the land, feeding themselves. Dozens of cats.
We long ago adopted one, called Trouble. Trouble roams the bush around our home, honing her hunting skills. Last week she caught and ate a rabbit twice her size. But she deigns to live in the house with us, because she loves us.
Bushcat, on the other hand, was abandoned in the bush before we found him. He hates the bush. Avoids it. And if he finds a mouse indoors, he befriends it.
When I got home that night, things had changed. Olga had washed all of Shiloh’s mats and tucked them away. This is what Olga does so well: she brings order to our little universe. I know for a fact, and I did not have to ask her, that her tears mingled with the water that washed the mats. Some grief has to be private.
What I do is bring meaning to our little universe. I write. And I have made our grief communal, because you are still reading this. You know you have to read this, but you may not know why.
I may have finally figured out why.
As I write, my tears threaten to short out the keyboard. And I am changing.
Every man’s death diminishes me . . .
John Donne wrote that line if 1624. What Donne’s line means to me is, Every man’s death humanizes me . . . With every person’s death, I become more human.
The process of humanization begins with the death of people we love, particularly the pets we love, and the process will approach an end when the death of any pet, of any animal, of any person, even those we do not love . . . changes us.
My grief, our grief, is not just for Shiloh. It is for every single pet and every single person that I – that we — have ever loved, that now has died, or will someday die.
That explains why I have become so teary in my old age. I am changing. And I am so happy. For I am becoming so much more human.
Not so you’d notice.
It’s just the usual business of living.