In her touching essay in The New York Times, Margo Rabb writes about her mother’s death over 24 years ago and compares it to another death, that of her beloved cat. It seems an unusual comparison, but Rabb makes an important point. Rabb describes her mother’s death as “unbearable” due to a lack of privacy in the hospital and the indifferent attitude of doctors and hospital staff who tended to her mother in her dying days. Rabb’s experience at her mother’s bedside left her traumatized and her grief was made worse by feelings of guilt about whether she could have done something to keep her mother more comfortable in her final days.
Rabb ponders whether the death of our animals, painful as they are, are easier to bear because they seem “part of the natural order,” of life and death, like familiar seasons of winter and rebirth, and therefore, we can be part of it. We don’t look away. In our culture, we have a difficult time accepting that people die, sensing it as some sort of failure. As a result, many of us live out our final days in a hospital bed, without the comfort of soothing sounds, familiar surroundings and the loving touch of family and friends. Grief is made more traumatic by this absence.
In another Times piece recently, the author wrote about the non-linear process of grief and how each person must find their own way. Formal stages of grief, that familiar framework for moving through time and loss, are a construction that is more usable in theory than reality. Each of us finds a way to grieve the loss of people we love, and to make peace with the natural order of life. Whomever we lose along life’s journey, I hope for each of us, nature is kind.
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