There’s a lot of dying going on around me. It’s to be expected, I suppose. I’m at the age where my friends, colleagues, and their parents and siblings are passing away. It’s not remarkable; it’s just life. Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered death. Like most everyone else – at least everyone my age – I’ve experienced death before, sometimes very sudden and unexpected death. [I suppose I should mention here that, because of my spiritual beliefs, I don’t see death as the end of anything, so I’ve never been afraid of it, nor have I ever felt outraged or saddened by “untimely” deaths. The loss, yes; the death, no.]
But this is the first time that death and dying have been such prominent topics of conversation among my peers. It seems that the subject of who recently died, or who was just diagnosed with this or that terminal illness, comes up a lot lately. Both my parents died when I was relatively young and at at time when dying was considered an event, not a process. Now I see people really grappling with finding the best way to deal with – and help with – the process of dying.
And in thinking about that, I was reminded of one of the most moving and meaningful experiences of my life, the passing away of our family dog, Ziggy many years ago. Ziggy had been hit by a car and was paralyzed from his little doggie waist down. There was no question of keeping him alive, even though from the waist up, he was fine – alert, perky, and very, very excited to see us when we arrived at the veterinary clinic where he had been taken. But his quality of life would have been horrible, so it was time to let him go. As the vet prepared to give him the injection, I put my forehead against Ziggy’s, we gazed into each other’s eyes, and I said to him the words I knew would make him the happiest. I said over and over with excitement, enthusiasm and utter sincerity, “Good dog, Ziggy! Good dog!” And as his big brown eyes slowly closed, I knew he had died happy, peaceful, and content, knowing he had achieved the ultimate accomplishment in a dog’s life — he was a good dog, and he was loved
Then a few evenings ago, I was looking up at the enormous and beloved cottonwood tree which, after filling the sky in my front yard for almost 30 years, may be dying after last summer’s drought. With deep sadness at the impending loss, I was moved to tell the cottonwood, “Your life had value, and I will remember you.” And it occurred to me that maybe that’s what all of us want to hear as we leave this world. That our lives had meaning and that we will be remembered.
Good words to die by. And maybe to live by, too.