1.17.17 The Death of Me

Larry 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

Aging brings with it many unexpected aspects. Some not so good, of course; the many indignities of the body spring to mind. But now that I am able to look back over more than thirty years of adulthood, I am fascinated by this new perspective on my own life. Only with the passage of time, and growing self-awareness, do patterns emerge. Last week, the untimely and violent death of our resident grouse, Larry David, brought a flood of memories and associations that suddenly crystallized into something freighted with greater meaning. I'm not sure how you will receive this rather unusual story but I would love to hear your reactions. Please feel free to respond candidly.

Foot 790 xxx
feet first

You may remember that a wild grouse appeared in our yard in November, when we were cleaning up the garden. (I featured him here.) He became a regular presence, eating cracked corn on the ground beneath our feeder, along with the jays, juncos, woodpeckers and mourning doves. I came to understand the derivation of the verb "to grouse" because he kept up a steady stream of mumbling/grumbling at all times, so quiet you could only hear him when he came close. Thus the name Larry David. When the temperature dropped, he would puff up his feathers until he was round as a basketball. Sometimes, he would sit near the heating vent on the side of our house, basking in the stream of warm air. 


Last week, as I was driving home from yoga, I saw something lying in the road in front of our house. My heart sank a bit and I slowed to see which animal had met its demise this time. I  opened the car door as I approached to get a closer look and there he was, my beloved Larry. I pulled into our driveway and went back to collect him, hoping he might be alive. But he was dead, his body still warm and pliable despite the frigid weather. I brought him up to a spot in our yard where he often pecked for seed and laid him out on a large rock to take his portrait.


I wouldn't go so far as to say he was like a pet, but Larry was around a lot longer than most wild creatures and he brought us so much joy. His death came at a time when I am feeling highly sensitized, so perhaps this helps explain the depth of my grief. It also reminded me of two other times in my life...


The first was when I was 26 years old. I had left behind my life in New York City to help care for my father, who had stomach cancer. It was strange to be living again in my childhood home in California for the first time since I had left for college, sleeping in a twin bed and taking grocery money from my mother. Her health was failing, too, and she was trying to hold it together while my father lay dying down the hall. I immediately got busy trying to feed him miso soup and smoothies but it soon became clear he had other ideas. After undergoing hideous chemo three years before, my father had decided he was done with treatment and ready to die at the age of 64. I tried to accept this but it was confusing and heartbreaking and enraging.


Next door, some people had moved in with a bunch of cats they had neglected to neuter. The vast number of mostly-feral kittens would crawl under the fence to do their business in my mother's garden, a source of great frustration for both my parents over the previous couple of years. They had repeatedly set traps and ferried many of them to the pound, but all that was over now. It was a feline free-for-all.


Once day, I looked out the upstairs window and saw something in the gutter at the end of our driveway. I ran out and discovered a tiny kitten on the verge of death, a trickle of blood oozing from its mouth. I was afraid to touch it. I got a towel from the house and gingerly swaddled it. Then I collapsed on the curb with the kitten in my arms and sobbed helplessly. It died as we sat there. I took the little bundle and, in a blind rage, left it on the neighbor's front doorstep. My father died a couple of months after the kitten. Eventually, I learned to forgive him for not fighting for his life and to forgive myself for not being able to save him (or the kitten). 


Fourteen years later, I returned to my childhood home for the last time. It was November 2003. My mother had died in August, after more than a decade spent paralyzed and trapped in an agony of neural pain. A few months earlier, in April, my husband had died of an insidious cancer that had spread to his brain. I was exhausted, truly tapped out, but needed to help my sister clean out my parent's house so we could sell it. We spent a few days going through their possessions and the contents of the garage, which included our family photographs, my grade school drawings, crafts projects and all the accumulated detritus of my younger days. In a place somewhere between despair and resignation, I threw everything out, reasoning that nothing mattered anyway.


The morning that we were to leave—headed to San Francisco for a Thanksgiving celebration—I found a shoebox on our doorstep. Inside was a small mouse-like creature with big black eyes, a twitching pink nose and long whiskers. On one side of its head was a misshapen pink protuberance that looked like a big tumor. It seemed somehow inevitable to me that this moribund soul would be my responsibility. I put the shoebox in the car with my suitcase and drove up the coast with my sister.


Over the next few days, I struggled with what to do. At a bonfire gathering with friends, I met a man who was a veterinarian. After taking a look at my charge, he told me it was a Chinese hamster with a cancerous tumor that would prove fatal. I considered taking the hamster back to New York with me and paying for the tumor to be removed. I thought about asking the vet to put it down. But on Thanksgiving, I finally formulated my plan. We were going on a long hike in the redwoods that afternoon, and I decided I would bring the hamster and let it go in the wild. As I watched it totter off through the tall grass, I shed tears from my seemingly inexhaustible supply. Finally, a sense of peace descended over me. I realized that I had also freed myself. Some time later, I was able to make the decision not to be a caretaker any longer.

Larry snow 790 xxx
we took Larry to a special resting place and left him outside, returning him to the natural cycle

These events helped me gain greater compassion—for others, yes, but also, and perhaps most importantly, for myself.


In the wake of Larry David's death, I have looked for the lesson. In this dark night of the soul that I am inhabiting, suspended in limbo as I struggle to understand who I am now and how to move forward, I long for any sign. If the pattern is consistent, then the death of the creature should echo and shed light on another death. I have begun to think that it is I who have died, a symbolic death in which I have left behind what was in order to be reborn into what will be. 


Tagged — rebirth, memory, death


Brave and beautiful, Laura. I recognize a similar drive to pull the thread, find the pattern, solve for x in my own ponderings. I'm a big one for symbolic meanings but I've mostly stopped thinking things happen 'for a reason.' Seems more plausible that shit just happens--to you and to me and to Larry and then there's the myriad ways all those lives intersect. But if we don't get educated by what we experience and observe, we're just marking time. Lately I'm trying to live and breathe into the questions more than ferret for answers (still doing more than my share of grousing). I really welcome how freely and generously you've tipped your hand for us here. Sending love. And company.
janet on January 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm —
Thank you, my friend. xoxo
laura on January 17, 2017 at 10:55 pm —
thank you for sharing your beautiful truth.... circles/cycles.... wishing you peace
kristina on January 17, 2017 at 12:45 pm —
laura on January 17, 2017 at 10:55 pm —
Laura, always a pleasure to read your posts. You are such a solid writer. I appreciate you writing about death, too. There are few who are willing to discuss and explore, it makes them too uncomfortable. But nothing can save us from death so why not talk about it. As for the symbolism in Larry the grouse's death ... the first thing that came to mind was the death of complaining and grumbling, despite the present political climate.
suzanne on January 17, 2017 at 1:26 pm —
Like its close cousin, venting, grousing serves a valuable purpose and will never die! :-)
laura on January 17, 2017 at 10:57 pm —
Your writing unsentimentally, but no less poignantly, dignifies the lives of creatures great and small by seeing all clearly enrolled in the great cycle. Such a simple reflection ennobles any creature considered as sustenance - a hamster to a hawk, a brace of grouse to me when I'm camping, or Larry to the soil biome. Like the chill ground upon which he was committed, the vitality enmeshed with Larry extends now in unfathomable ways, even to the thoughts anyone reading your words has about him, his death, their own, or the vast flow of being, becoming and transfiguration. The courage to really live emerges from intimate engagement with the bittersweet and final wisdom of death.
Mac on January 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm —
Indeed. Thank you for your well-chosen words. xo
laura on January 17, 2017 at 10:58 pm —
These are the things in life to savor. These events. Passings. Not all the other clutter that rattles us. Not political winds. Not people who failed us or our own continued failings. Not the lies and deceptions so prevalent in commerce and work and relationships. No, it is savoring the loves and losses of the authentic people and creatures that wander into our lives. Thank you for telling your stories.
Chris on January 17, 2017 at 6:19 pm —
Thank you for reading them xo
laura on January 17, 2017 at 10:58 pm —
Laura, I am so sorry that you've lost Larry from your life. I remember reading your first post about him and thinking that he must have brought a lot of joy and color to your heart. Your post today has hit me hard, even if it is from a slightly different angle of the heart. At 35 (and after accepting the fact that I may not have children as I have been single for many years), I am getting married and hoping to have a child. I have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager, and I am back at a very unhealthy weight today. I have been grappling with how to finally move forward and treat my body better, in order to try first to conceive, and then to have as much time on this earth as possible with that longed-for baby. I can deeply connect with your pain, and the breathless, seizing panic of loss when you speak about your parents and your spouse passing away (and at a relatively young age, when we all hope to be spared from such heartbreak). Your post both frightens me and helps give meaning to what I’m feeling. Someone very wise once told me that love and fear are constant partners. The fear of loss and impermanence and powerlessness to hold on to what you love most can feel unbearable. I suppose that is why some people let go of life earlier than we think they should; perhaps it’s an attempt to feel like it is a choice they can make. But it is also a reminder to me, to let go of the things I cannot control, and to focus on the things that I can. Thank you so much for writing today and opening your heart to all of us. I’m certain that Larry felt your loving and generous spirit as he spent his last days with you, as did all of your lost loved ones. I imagine he was warmed by that even more than by your heating vent :) Sending you lots of strength and grace as you move through this challenging time. -Jenna
Jenna on January 17, 2017 at 7:01 pm —
Thank you so much, Jenna. Wishing you the courage and good fortune to see your dream come true. xo
laura on January 17, 2017 at 11:00 pm —
Maybe the death means the death of the old year and all its content. Maybe you are depressed by the season as I am or maybe you care a lot also for little things like Larry the Grouse. I do believe that you made the life of Larry more comfortable and his little grouse life was made happier by you. But thank you for writing and sharing the story.
Rita on January 18, 2017 at 4:10 am —
Yes to all of that xo
laura on January 18, 2017 at 2:06 pm —
Thinking of you Laura. Stay vulnerable and caring. It is a good quality to have. x
Janet on January 18, 2017 at 4:59 am —
Thank you so much, Janet xo
laura on January 18, 2017 at 2:06 pm —
wow. Thank you for this honest and beautiful writing. I too have been the caretaker of many, my father, my sister, my best friend and some who I didn't know as well. But I am the person people call on, the last one got me...I had no joy left and felt uninspired. In my despair and with fears of a lackluster future or a future of illness a path formed in which I let go of the pain and sadness and felt as you did - perhaps of being reborn. I found my sparkle once again and my heart is filled with love, joy and a compassion for all living beings but most of all myself. I am sorry to hear about Larry David. His light and spirit seemed to have lived on. Thanks again. xx
Pamela on January 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm —
I love hearing about your journey - it fills me with hope xo
laura on January 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm —
Dear Laura: I deeply appreciate the sincerity in your posts. I can only imagine the pain you have experience by all the loved ones that have left. I lost my dad when I was 9 and I still miss him terribly. Now when in the face of those situations, my mantra is I can be sad and bitter because they left or I can be happy because I had them in my life. The memories that we shared are what carry me in those moments when calm and comfort seem so elusive. Another source of comfort is my faith. I am also aware that because of these experiences we are able to enjoy every moment, find the joy in all we do. Thanks for sharing and allowing us to see your gracefulness and honesty that keeps us coming back for more, Lots of Hugs
Teresa on January 20, 2017 at 8:54 pm —
Thank you so much for your words of inspiration, Teresa! xo
laura on January 22, 2017 at 10:37 am —
If I had caught all the tears I've shed for you this afternoon Laura, I could have cooked pasta in them tonight for supper. Thank you for your fierce honesty, you are a pure light in these seriously shady times. Two things for you: The Cloud of Unknowing, a medieval text on living in the question, and the story about the demons of Mara tempting Gautama Siddhartha - do you know it? - the Earth herself bears witness for him, as she does for you. Much love, David
David on February 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm —
I don't know either one, David, but will seek them out. Thank you for the recommendations and for your compassion. xoxo
laura on February 17, 2017 at 7:05 am —
Thank you Laura! So beautifully you offer a glimpse into the poignancy of loss and the pain of life lived. A yoga teacher of mine said once that Life is made up of fleeting joy and I have found that to be true. Having seen my own mother go through her prolonged battles with her failing health, with little willingness to change anything in order to prolong it, I found it in myself to accept and forgive more, to be less hard on myself and others. We are blessed with the capacity to love and challenged by our own limitations of loving ourselves enough. I've also been feeling this dark night of the soul and wondering at how it is possible for those who go about life so lightly and easily yet so thankful for the journey nevertheless and for all the lessons and unfolding and for the light that is always shed even in the darkest of moments. Bless us all and thank you again. Leanne
Leanne on February 16, 2017 at 9:05 am —
You shine so brightly, Leanne! Such a wise healer, a true curandera xo
laura on February 17, 2017 at 7:06 am —