Dispatch From the Snowpocalypse

We kicked off the Blizzard of ’10 with a Friday snow day, wherein my husband and I raced to drop off our daughter at her grandmother’s and then to the animal hospital to have our cat euthanized before it got really hairy out there, since we didn’t want to leave Noel suffering in the hospital if we got stuck at home, and didn’t want them to kill him without us. I wanted to hold him in my arms as he died, and I got to. He was a feral kitten we adopted when he was about six weeks old, as his mother (a well-known kitten abandoner, as it turns out) left him and his three siblings on our back porch on two consecutive days.

At age ten, we weren’t expecting Noel to go. He had become the top pet in the household, and my furry protector, keeping vigil over me at night like a feline vulture, posted on the headboard. Sometimes I’d wake up and see him looming over me. His death was peaceful, quiet. He was ready. “We should all be so lucky,” I say, as we walk out, mindful, as always, of death’s mark on me. I do tend to be dramatic, it’s true, but in this case, I don’t think I am…I’m a recent survivor of Stage III HER2+ breast cancer. I hope to have a decent-sized life in front of me, but I am aware, as much as anyone, that might not be the case. I also drive my dead brother’s Volvo. I think of a little exchange my dad and late brother had, when my late brother wasn’t behaving himself while being ill with various HIV-related maladies.

“But Dad, I’m dying!”

“Michael, we’re all dying!”

Touche, Dad. Touche. My dad isn’t a big talker, but sometimes he just zings out the truth with doomy swiftness. We really are all dying every day; spoon an imaginary glob of dirt into your grave like the monks of old just to remind yourself. Of course, we all walk around like this isn’t so.

I was alarmed when the Vatican recently came out with proclamations against “too much pain relief” for the terminally ill, since it might prevent a “good death.” I wondered if any of the magicians who came up with this one have ever been in extreme physical distress? Because when it gets to a certain point, you don’t really care about anything in this world. It’s way beyond that. And if you haven’t said your goodbyes and told everyone you love how much you love them, it really isn’t going to happen then, anyway. For people who are so concerned about death, obsessed with death, they don’t seem to understand what it is in the least. They seem more concerned about the living, in this case, who selfishly want to have “last words” with the sufferer, no matter the cost.

Then, I read this morning about a new Catholic health initiative to force-feed people in a persistent vegetative state. Note to self, I thought. Do not die at a Catholic hospital. And I wonder if their belief in the afterlife was as strong as they purport it to be, wouldn’t it be most merciful to let the poor person go on, and not get trapped in the limbo of artificial nutrition and respiration? Purgatory is supposed to be God’s decision, mortals.

We got over two feet of snow over the weekend and there’s more coming down today. There’s so much snow in the air it appears as a blowing white fog out the window. Paths that yesterday had been shoveled to the ground are once again deep with powder.  We were able to get food in the lull between the storms, and our heat and electricity are humming along, so all we have to do is just stay warm. As far as “surviving” goes, this is easy. This is infinitely better than the good days of most of the people on the planet. I am reminded that, no matter how I die, the most important thing is the quality of my days and what I do with them. And, as I am prone to do as of late, I pray. Let me be kind. Deliver me from impatience, coldness and meanness. Let me love them as they deserved to be loved, as if these are our last days together. God, I plead, please help me to not be a self-serving lazy bitch. And if I am to die, please make it fast. Amen.

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.