Every day as part of my spiritual practice, I remind myself that ‘death is real, it comes without warning; this body will be a corpse’. Remembering death makes us appreciate life. It reminds us that things change every moment, and so not to take anything for granted, especially the living beings in our life, because one day they won’t be with us anymore. We will leave them, either by our death or theirs. This may seem like a morbid way to think, but actually, apart from being the truth, it makes us truly appreciate everything. Our lives are richer if we live them with awareness of death. It is only through knowing death that we come to know life in its fullest.
‘Death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.” (Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, p11)
I used to look at my dear cat, Prince George with the knowledge that, being a cat with a shorter lifespan than I, I would—accidents aside—outlive him. I used to watch him with this awareness and that brought me right into the moment where I was truly with him and I felt blessed to be in his delightful presence. With this awareness, I didn’t miss a moment of our life together—even when he was interrupting my work! I’m so glad I did that, because now he is dead. Even though I knew the day would come one day, I did expect more than two years and three weeks with him. But he played with a snake and the snake was deadly.
I didn’t see his interaction with the snake. He just came back after being outside and I noticed his eyes were dilated. Then he plonked himself on the floor with his head on his paws. I thought he was exhausted from whatever he’d been up to. When I checked on him a few moments later, he was on our bed, floppy and drooling a little. And he wasn’t purring. He always purred, so I knew he was unhappy. I checked him for ticks and found a couple walking on him, but none attached. I googled snake bite symptoms in a cat. It all fitted. I checked to see if his pupils would dilate or not. When they didn’t I phoned the vet. The local vet was out on a job, so the nurse sent us to Albion Park forty-five minutes away. We were stopped at road works for several agonising minutes. I think it was the longest fifty minute journey of my life and when we got there I rushed into the vet, saying George was in a bad way. I feared the worse because he’d stopped moving after having convulsions. Sure enough, he was dead on arrival. From the time he came in looking at me with those big eyes to the time he died was about an hour and fifteen minutes. Death does indeed come without warning. Needless to say, it was a terrible shock.
That he might play with a snake has always been my greatest fear for him, but he so loved escaping from the enclosure we built for him and exploring the bush. The last few days he kept escaping, and with such glee as if to say, ‘ha ha; you can’t keep me in.’ he was the happiest, most loving and handsome cat I’d ever been blessed to spend time with. My solace is that he had a wonderful life. A cat couldn’t have wished for better. He had humans with him for all but a few hours of his life, and he loved his humans so much that when I went walking in the bush a couple of days ago when he’d escaped his enclosure, he found me and skipped along with me for a while. He raced up trees and looked down at me with such happiness in his little face. I will always remember his delight that day in particular. His life was short, but he shone like the brightest star, and he brought us so much happiness. I feel his absence as an ache in my heart. But the ache is filled with love—a mixture of love and sadness.
We brought him home, buried him in flower petals and placed a stone on top with a little Buddha stature. My husband sobbed the whole time he dug the hole and I bawled my eyes out while I took away his toys, his bed, his food bowl and made our house as it was before he came—as much as it could ever be, for his presence has changed it and changed us forever. We said our goodbyes, thanked him for being him and for bringing us so much joy. Then I sang Om Mani Peme Hung over his grave, at first in a broken voice through my tears, but then stronger as the power of the mantra elevated my mind and opened my heart to embrace all of life and death. They are, after all, just different sides of the same coin.
I don’t believe that things happen in order for us to learn—that’s an egocentric view of what is actually an interdependent world, a vast web of interconnections of which we are only part, not the centre we might wish to be—but we can use every experience as a teaching, and George’s death for me is a reminder of the ever presence of death, and the truth of the statement I say every day: Death is real, it comes without warning; this body will be a corpse. We know that death will come to us all and that it can come at any time, but can we never know when. We can, however, live every moment as if it were our last and in so doing get the best out of life.
Thank you, George.
You haven’t seen the last of him though. I have videos of him still to edit, and an exceptional one my daughter put together is coming on Sunday. (Saturday afternoon for the US)