Thinkin' About Death on a November Afternoon


So I’ve developed this theory about death. Maybe this is a little off topic. Sorry. But we’re all going to die so I figure it’s worth thinking about. Anyway, I developed my theory over the course of a few death-related events this year, but what really made me sure that I was onto to something was my friend’s cat, Punch.

Punch got really really sick this week. He has some kind of kidney thing which they’re still not entirely sure what it is. At first they thought it was kidney stones, then an infection, and now they’re not sure. He’s been in kitty dialysis for the last week or so. Which I know what you’re thinking because it’s what everyone thinks when they hear about kitty dialysis, which is: kitty dialysis exists?

Isn’t that a little crazy and extravagant? Aren’t there human beings in impoverished areas of the world that can’t get basic things like clean water and antibiotics?

Which, yes, of course there are, but not inventing/not using dialysis machines on cats isn’t magically going to make life better for someone halfway across the globe. And you think that giving that kind of care to a cat is ridiculous until it’s your little guy and what are you going to tell the vet? “Nah, just gas him. We’ll get a better one tomorrow.”

So anyway, the point is that Punch was not looking good. Punch’s owners were feeling pretty sure they were going to have put him down. When I found out about it, I was so sad. So so so sad. I mean, I cried at work, is how much it made me sad. And he’s not even my cat.

I recognize that that’s silly. But what I think is that when someone you love dies, it’s sort of too much for your brain to handle. If you were to experience the full sadness and fear of knowing that you’ll never ever see your loved one again, and that also one day not too long from now, you will also die and be dead FOREVER, it would kind of make it impossible to go about your business.

I mean, how could you do things like make funereal arrangements and reassure other people that you’re fine and get on with your life and heal if you were feeling all of the grief of losing someone? You couldn’t. So when tragedy strikes close enough to them to really hurt, people’s brains kind of partition things off, mute some of the sharper edges, or make some of the feelings time-delay. Hence the grieving process.

But when someone or something dies that is a little less gut-wrenching—a pet, someone you don’t know very well—you can fully experience the sadness of it, because it’s not nearly as much. So for example, when a co-worker’s husband committed suicide this summer, for some reason it made me way sadder than when my aunt died suddenly this winter, even though I’d only met him once or twice and my aunt was, you know, my aunt.

It’s like a defense mechanism. If my aunt can die suddenly, than that means that my parents could, just as easily. To dwell too much on thoughts like that leads to fear and depression and loss of function. But dwelling on my co-worker’s husband’s death had no potential repercussions emotionally. In fact, maybe getting inappropriately sad at tangential things might be a sort of pressure release valve of sadness.

Maybe that chick who cried all super loud in high school when that one kid died in the car accident, who didn’t even really know him, she just sat next to him in calculus, wasn’t being a drama queen after all. You know?

Anyway, that’s my theory. And that’s why I think it’s not stupid to cry over pet deaths, or get really sad when someone you don’t know all that well loses a parent, or get depressed when you read in the paper about some young-ish guy who got hit by a bus on his way to work. Your brain is just trying to cope with the inevitable truth that everyone you know will die someday.

So uh, yeah. Sorry to get all heavy. It was just an idea I had. Next week we’ll return to your regularly-scheduled Thanksgiving anecdote. And get well, Punch.