During the last week of her life
she stops eating, recoiling at the offer of any food.
She follows me friskily around the house, into the shower, even
dropping her usual annoyance at the threat of water.
Still, she does not eat.
During the last days of her life, she feels the unquenchable thirst.
During the last days of her life, I sit beside her and cry.
Still, she purrs readily when I pet her
slipping back into sleep within moments of my touch.
During the last day of her life, I watch while she makes her rounds
through every room of the house, visiting every favorite spot.
During the last day of her life, she stops purring.
I can no longer give her love.
Not like this.
She seems restless, yet moves less and less.
Progressively heavy, weary and weak.
Having barely broken through my fear and doubt
Having only barely begun to let go
I fetch the case, crying.
I lay it softly by the front door.
She awakens (not having moved for hours)
to collapse unconscious next to the case.
Still, ready to go.
During the last hours of her life, I cannot see her breathe
but I can clearly hear the struggle of each breath.
During the last hour of her life
I step outside into the mist of the day to dig her grave
knowing I would not have the strength later…
I want to be ready.
During the last hour of her life, she awakens
to the flow of fresh air, and slips outside through the front door.
She musters great effort to make her way through the gentle damp
around the house, to the back patio, where she lays
exhausted, recovering her strength.
Still, I watch with spading shovel in hand as she floats
down the path, by the blueberries
to sit resting on the steps leading to the creek.
I break the surface of the soil underneath her favorite fig tree.
The shovel catches on a sprinkler head. The handle breaks.
I feel doubt swell within me, and check on her.
During the last minutes of her life, with the last of her strength
she basks in the muddy shallows of the creek
unpurturbed anymore by muck or fear of falling in.
A conspicuous line of five wild waterfowl hover before her
so close, the honorary flottila almost grounds itself ashore
disinterested in and unpurturbed by my presence.
I find comfort in this, and follow their lead.
I find another shovel, and return to my task.
When finished, I fetch the case from inside the house,
set it on the patio
and rejoin her in the muddy shallows
a few feet south along the bank
upstream, past the infamous Gate to Nowhere
(a gift of beavers to mark the return of life to the stream).
Smaller and shorter steps
Smaller and shorter breaths
before the current takes her
and delivers her into the ready hands of Entropy.
I wish it could happen here, in the mist, among the birds
in the water, with neither suspicion nor interruption.
Lacking sufficient courage, I wish others of my species could understand.
Instead, I scoop her up. She does not complain.
I hug her securely to my chest as I walk against gravity
up the steps to the path
past the blueberries, past the fig tree, shovel and grave
to the patio. I lay her in the case, sad and satisfied
she has said her goodbyes.
During the last minutes of her life, we drive together to an office:
White rooms, hard corners, harsh lights.
During the last seconds of her life, I hope something smells familiar to her.
“It’s like falling asleep,” professional strangers reassure me with confidence.
I know this. Except now she sleeps with her eyes open
and part of “how” means “where,” and I can’t help but wonder,
“What is the last scene she wants to feel?”
But I know.
She already told me.
This moment always feels like a long time coming.
I take her limp body back with me
wrapped in cloth
clutching it tight
as the colonies and communities and individuals
who had once warmly cooperated and collaborated and schemed and dreamed
to create her
cool and disintegrate and return to the earth
perhaps to pursue some other form.
This final work comes easy
aided by the ubiquitous forces of entropy, gravity, currents
I feel no struggle in death
As I walk downhill to the grave.
I cover her gently with familiar dirt.
It takes me thirty three years to grasp the relentless weight
anything but subtle as it gives meaning to the exceptional role
emerging, for a little while to move playfully
against the gradients and inevitable tendencies
always at the margins, poking, prodding, testing.
I feel the final vestige of fear dissipate.
The end no longer exists — only origin and context.
In this, I find and embrace my own death.
In this, I find and embrace my own life.