This morning I drove with the two younger girls to a veterinary hospital that specializes in exotic pets. One of our three rats, Tulip, (yes, we have pet rats) had, over the course of the past few months, developed a large tumor that impeded her ability to move around much. After much discussion and calling around, we decided to euthanize her as surgery was both expensive and no guarantee that the tumor wouldn’t return.
It was gray, cold, and rainy as we drove – a kind of day that seems to portend the potential of even greater wintry weather to come. Also the sort of slate upon which feelings for an entire year can be etched. In our case it was a hangover from New Year’s Day; we were saying goodbye to something known and loved before heading into an uncertain and gloomy short-term future.
At a stoplight somewhere on South Marietta Parkway near Whitlock Avenue west of the Square I had an intense sense memory of winter sadness. Something about the warm, arid air of the car heater juxtaposed against the winter slop outside reminded me of the passing of each of my grandfathers. My maternal grandfather became gravely ill just after Christmas and my paternal grandfather passed just after the New Year.
In my mind’s eye I can see the Michigan snow, feel the wind licking my face, and easily recall the at-first welcome and soon grating heat of my grandparents’ homes and cars. The days had the same sense of creeping coldness, of finality, and of fires and heaters and coffee barely warming parts of body and soul.
Maybe, in the end, all deaths feel the same. They all tug at the heart in the same way. They are all bracing cold and icy unsureness contrasted against the intense heat of life.
Today in the car, on the road, and later in the vet’s office I was present for the pain of my daughters as they said goodbye to their Tulip. But I was also remembering my own pain. Remembering my grandfathers. Remembering other pets I’ve lost. Remembering winters and New Years and goodbyes and hopes for futures which became present then past.
We all cried a bit today and brought Tulip home for a simple backyard burial. None of us did too much after that point, but I spent some time in the afternoon in quiet reflection on our deck, warmed by blankets and a propane heater while the rain and wind whipped in through the screens.
Today was a reminder that seasons and change, life and death, are with us and in us always. In remembrance of the people, pets, places, and times that came before I’ll quote Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
Happy New Year, friends.