My friends Graham and Liz called today from Juneau. Her brother just died in the Persian Gulf, he was in the Navy and he died of a heat-related heart attack. Only 41, and leaves a wife and three little boys behind.
I am so sad for Liz. I have a brother just that age, who also has three little boys, and although he was nearly killed in an accident at 21 and has had three bouts of Bell's Palsy (which ordinarily you get only once in a lifetime) his health is good overall. I can't imagine losing him all of a sudden, out of the blue. I remember how breathtakingly horrible it was to almost lose him twenty years ago -- almost to the day, as it turns out.
Not to bring religion into this but the thought of my cat eventually dying is what made me believe there must be an afterlife, because it seemed impossible that we should be parted forever. It happened to be my cat that started this dialogue in my head because he was the first living being really close to me that I thought might die sooner than later. This was some time ago when he got really thin and I thought he was not long for this world. Turned out he had hyperthyroid and we had him a good while longer. But my point is that it could just as easily have been a person, say Julianna or my grandmother or someone else human and close to me, who had a brush with death and got me on this topic. I want to make it clear that although I felt a strong bond with Beany, I am not the sort of person who doesn't also have strong bonds with humans. For some reason I feel that it is important to differentiate myself from those weird folk who think humans are all crap and animals are where it's at. You know the kind, who have houses full of cats and dogs and treat them like people in little fur suits.
Anyway what I decided about it all at that time, and this has served me well since, was that what harm would it do to believe that we would be reunited one day? If it comes true, yay! My heart's desire, to see and pet my beloved cat, or be with my grandma, or whatever, comes true. Nice thought. And if not, if when we die our eyes just close and our bodies cease function and we don't exist anymore, like a light going out, well, would I ever know the difference? A light turned off doesn't think about anything.
It gives me comfort to think that somewhere my cat is happy, he doesn't feel sick anymore, he has a mouth full of teeth and a healthy heart and he sits in a lap and purrs, and chases bugs, and is content. It gives me comfort to think that when I die all my loved ones will be there, and I can sit in a chair with my cat in my lap and my dog leaning on my leg and just be happy.
There's certainly nothing wrong with that. Call it what you will. But I believe it, and that makes it so.
Of course there's that other possibility that something entirely different happens to us, but since we don't carry around memories and tortured longings from past lives (though I'm sure there are those who would argue about that, to whom I say get a job and buy some real beliefs), whatever it might be would be something outside of our ability to know. I like to think that there's some kind of purpose to all this, so the thought that we would be born into this bittersweet existence only to exit it into an eternity of torment or similar just doesn't jive. Balance in all things... Perhaps in heaven (or whatever you'd like to call it, it's just a word after all) there's happy things like being reunited with your family and friends and pets, and there's also things that suck, like here on earth. I'll take it, whatever it is. What choice do I have?
So Liz, if you read this, I don't know if it's any comfort to you that I think your brother is okay, and one day his family will see him again. It comforts me a little although I did not know him. Hopefully he was doing something that was important to him. And although there's no way for me or anyone to fathom the pain of losing him, I feel for you and your mom and his wife and kids. I'll be thinking of you all.