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Category Archives: death and dying


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Every once in a while there’s a book that I’m afraid to read, but I know I should read it. Usually they contain some sort of horrible behavior that will give me bad dreams for a long time. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, is one of those books that I have been avoiding since it was published in 2009.

I had read, totally respected, and enjoyed several other Kidder books: House, Among Schoolchildren, and Mountains Beyond Mountains. What kept me from Strength in What Remains was the story of genocide in Burundi and Rwanda 1994-2008.

I was mistaken in avoiding this book, because although it tells the story of man’s inhumanity to man and the unspeakable atrocities that took place, it is just as much a story of one man’s ability to survive under these horrific circumstances. Deo is this man, and Kidder makes him come alive in every paragraph, every sentence, every picture that the reader creates in his/her mind.

This is a book I could not put down. I started it on Saturday and finished it on Sunday morning. Deo suffers greatly, and yet is able to push through the pain, the misery, the loss of his old life, and the trauma in the new life. The reader sees the battle to survive in war-torn Africa but also sees the desperate struggle to survive in New York City with two hundred dollars in Deo’s pocket, unable to speak English, and vulnerable to every sort of vermin the City has to offer. Both experiences create desperate, debilitating, unforgettable memories that may fade, but never go away. They haunt him like shadows in a darkened hallway forever.

Reading this book certainly put life in perspective for me. It presented struggles that were real and traumatic. It shows hope build and then be dashed. These are stories that were difficult to tell, but needed to be spoken, and most importantly, needed to be heard. Kidder is a wise, articulate, compassionate writer. He tells Deo’s story, and we can’t put it down.



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This past week was a tough one. We had a surrendered cat at the shelter that seemed to be uncomfortable and looked like she was in pain. A visit to one vet yielded some, but not much, comfort to both me and the cat. The kitty, Zoey, was a very pretty black cat with very sad eyes. Every day the gang at the shelter would check in to see if Zoey ate, pooped, moved around, or maybe even played a bit. A week went by and there wasn’t much improvement. She did eat and took her meds, but things just didn’t seem right.

On Thursday we decided a second opinion was in order. I carefully wrapped her like a little furry burrito in soft blankets and gently put her in the carrier. She meowed once as if to warn me to be careful because she hurt. While walking to the car, it started to snow and she looked out of the carrier and checked out the white flakes. Her pretty black coat was sprinkled with snow—and I think she liked it. She laid down and purred.

Once at the vet’s office, Zoey checked out the big dog that was leaving and looked the other way. She had bigger fish to fry. Little Zoey remained quiet and relatively peaceful. I talked softly to her and let her know we were going to see a vet who I hoped could make her feel better. Dr. Lucy entered the room and paid attention to both of us… me and Zoey. She picked up that Zoey was in pain and did not do anything to make it worse. She asked questions, collected the history and then she connected the dots.

Poor Zoey had spinal lymphoma. The diagnosis was “no prognosis”. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this situation—I didn’t expect it at all. I thought I was going to leave with a magic bullet, and Zoey would be well and happy. I can’t explain the feeling in my chest… it’s like everything dropped to the floor—or a hole got blown through me from front to back… The vet said this is a very painful condition that moves throughout the body quickly. Zoey’s pain was unrelenting, and there was nothing I could do except… well you know where this is going….

I made a few quick calls to my hubby who could miraculously understand and support me through my sobbing, and to my partners at the shelter—all best friends who are both compassionate and wise. I thought about taking her home with me for the night, but transporting her back and forth would only prolong her agony. For Zoey’s sake, it had to be sooner rather than later. David said he’d be there asap—but a half hour was too long to have her in pain. So, it was time, and Dr. Lucy helped both Zoey and me through the process of releasing Zoey from this miserable condition.

I’m always surprised when strength shows up in the midst of a shitstorm. Zoey had been given something to help her relax, and I pet her gently and talked to her and held her close. What do you say to a dying cat? Well, I sang “I love you a bushel and a peck.” Her eyes were open and she looked at me, and I cuddled her in my arms. While I was fumbling to do the next “right” thing in this situation, I told her Papa Stan who spent hours with her at the shelter said hello and wished he could be here, but he was in spirit. In the whirlwind of anxiety, sadness and fear, I thought of my Dad and told Zoey that he would be waiting for her. He loved cats—he had green eyes and freckles—and she’d recognize him. He’d play with her and be with her forever “up there.” She cuddled up closer. I let her know that my dad sings too, so she better get ready for “Five foot Two, Eyes of Blue, And oh my baby what I wouldn’t do, Has anybody seen my girl”. And yes, I sang it to her.

When it was time for the final injection, Zoey was at peace. She kept eye contact and had the most peaceful look on her face. No more sad eyes, no more tense body. She was at rest. I held to the bitter end, but it wasn’t so bitter. It was sweet and restful and right. She got more kisses and hugs and was set free. I will miss her, and she taught me more than she’ll ever know.

On the drive home, the snow seemed so other-worldly. I realized that this was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. I also realized that my Dad is still such a strong, supportive force in life. He’s always there for me… always. I can see him with Zoey in his lap amidst the clouds. She’s purring and he’s singing to her.