When we are born, we are unaware of the concept of god. We are unaware of life, or of its opposite, death. We cannot remember without becoming fanciful or inventive what our first months of life on earth were like. Although we mark the day we were born every year, we are not recollectively conscious of ourselves until much later than the day we arrived on Earth as a living being.
Try to recall your earliest memory - is it vague and dream-like? Is it less about how you were feeling and more about the actual event, similar to recalling watching something on television? It is tempting to wonder if our consciousness does not 'kick in' until we reach a certain age of cognitive development, which seems to occur sometime between the ages of two and five, depending on each individual. So, where are we until our awakening? Do we simply exist? Or are we actually conscious of ourselves but unable to retain any of that information? These questions haunt me, because I have recently begun pondering the possibility that while we are infants we may carry with us a concept of the place we came from, beyond the womb; the possibility we could be aware of what lies on the other side of the here and now, but that knowing is consumed by the 'awakening' of our consciousness into this place we call reality. Materialist scientists believe we are nothing more than the workings of our brains, and our consciousness nothing more than the complicated electrical firings of neurons. When our brain dies, we die, our consciousness dies, and then there is nothing. For many this is comforting, it is uncomplicated, sterile, nullifying all potentialities (both horrifying and fantastical) created by religious thinkers.
But the truth is, no one knows. Since I last posted in Paradigm's Bend, I lost two beloved pets over the course of eleven days. On April 24,  which was a beautiful sunny day, we said goodbye to our little two-year-old dog. When he was three months of age he had his first seizure. Over the course of his short life he had numerous blood tests and continual medical treatment. I researched constantly about his condition to understand what was happening to him and how to take care of him in the best way. I learned the processes used to create the pellets in commercial dog food could trigger seizures in epileptic dogs. Our vet told us raw dog food wouldn't make a difference to his illness, but we needed to try. It took some investigation to source a supplier, and then a two hour return trip to pick up the box of frozen meat, but we would have driven across the country if necessary. For awhile it looked like our vet might have been wrong and we had done the right thing. For a while. But in the end nothing we did helped. Our little dog relentlessly progressed into his illness, his behaviour changed. He had to be retrained to do his business outside. He slept a lot. He was like a little old man. He got tired walking.
In Feb 2012 when his condition worsened substantially we took him to a hospital six hours away where he had an MRI on his brain, lumbar puncture, ultrasound, and blood tests. By March, the vets were certain he had primary epilepsy and treated him accordingly. In April, he continued to get worse and did not respond to the highest doses of medicine his liver could safely process. During his last days he showed symptoms of his brain necrotising, having multiple localised spasms daily that made him cry out in agony. The last seizure he had, he was conscious during the first half of his episode and although nothing was blocking his airway, he was suffocating - horrified, I realised that his ability to breathe had stopped. I talked to him reassuringly, and held his neck straight in an attempt to open his airway, although I knew I wasn't really helping much. His eyes were bulging and he was panicking with the effort to breathe while at the same time he had to endure severe cramps from head to tail. I thought he would die but after what seemed like an eternity, he finally began to gasp for air, wheezing and gulping before he lost awareness and descended into a seizure of such violence that if I had been a passing observer and did not know he had epilepsy I would have sworn he was being electrocuted. When he came out of it and I had cleaned him up and reassured him, I called his neurologist at the vet hospital. She told me we had done everything we could and it would be wrong for her to continue to treat him. According to her, he would likely die very soon from the illness since it had progressed to this stage. She wanted to euthanise him immediately in case he seized again and died from it, she made it clear he would experience the full horror of it, and since I had seen it for myself, I believed her. With no alternative, we agreed to book the time and take him in.
April 24 arrived, we were taken to a room with a big window facing out onto the beautiful nature of Sweden. The sun shone on him while the vet injected him with the initial sedative which would make him fall asleep in advance of the final injection. After he was sedated our little dog focussed on looking out the window at the trees, and watching the flowers bending in the breeze. He continued to watch intently out the window for almost the whole time, as though he could see something we could not. Just before he fell asleep from the sedative, he turned his nose to mine and touched it, holding it there for perhaps ten seconds while he struggled to stay on his feet, then he slowly turned his head and did the same to my husband who was on the other side of him. Then he laid down and lost consciousness. We knew he knew, we knew he was saying goodbye. What we didn't know was what he was going to face, if anything, once his life here with us ended. At that time I had a few thoughts on the matter, but they were mine to mull over. I was quite sure however, that once he died, that my dog, as I knew him would be permanently gone.
It comforted me to rationally accept the laws of nature, and not torment myself with what if's and the illusion of a doggie heaven. He had been alive on Earth since March 2010 and had endured a terrible illness that was going to end to his life, so we chose to save him the horror of a certain death by violence by humanely putting him down. We knew we had given him the maximum possible amount of time before he would have died on his own. Perhaps we cut his life short by a few days at most. But we knew we did the right thing, even if it broke our hearts. The vet came back in and placed the needle in his vein and gave him the final injection. Silently, we watched him die. Then when she said he was gone, we wept. When we finally left, by a door just outside the room, I did the strangest thing. I looked back at that patch of grass he had been looking at so intently before he said his goodbyes...and I waved. I felt he was there. Rationally, I cannot explain it. But it felt right to wave. It gave me peace.
In April 2011, I found a little cat barely surviving in the wild. After six painstaking months of taming him and gaining his trust, he chose to be my friend and moved in with us on Oct 5, 2011. He was the most wonderful, affectionate, compassionate, sentient companion I have ever had. It saddens me so much to accept we were only able to give him five months (out of the five years our vet assumed he had lived) in a loving home before a reaction to a routine cortisone injection by our vet set the wheels in motion for his tragic end. On March 30 this year, when I took him to the vet because he was not eating, they told me he had developed DKA, most likely because of the cortisone injection. They said that even with intensive care at the hospital his chance for survival was 30%. Euthanisia was suggested as a solution. I refused to give up on him. We rushed him to the hospital and there he remained for 5 days on a drip, everyday we drove the two hour return trip to visit him and keep his spirits up.
The vets were impressed with his recovery and when we brought him home he needed insulin injections and careful monitoring, but we were optimistic. Then, before we were able to get him stable on the insulin, he developed an infection in his cornea, and even though I took him in as soon as I could get an appointment, when the vet examined him, it was already so severe she thought our cat might lose his eye. He must have been in agony. I was given a complicated treatment regime of five medications that had to be given to him on rotation every two hours, two of which gave him such severe reactions that a blood vessel burst in his eye and he had to be taken back to the hospital. We were on a knife-edge to keep him eating enough so we could continue to give him insulin. Then he lost his best friend, our little dog. hey were very close and we knew he would notice his absence. He cried for him the first day, and we supported him all we could.
A fews days after we lost our dog, our cat seemed to be improving. We felt tentatively optimistic. The treatments continued round the clock, but then out of the blue, he refused to eat, and when I coaxed a little into him, he threw it back up again. He went away and curled up in a little ball. We went back to the hospital, if he didn't eat, he couldn't have insulin. Our worst nightmare had begun. The vet felt that our cat now had too much insulin in him since it might be that the cortisone had finally worn off. We cut back the insulin, had fluids injected into him and brought him home. Every day was a battle, to get him to eat, to keep him interested in life, but we were losing. In desperation we stopped the insulin completely, and he began to improve by the next day. But the day after that, he stopped eating again and started to curl up tight beside the empty dog basket and wouldn't leave it. He had never slept there before, so we knew something was wrong.
On May 5, we went back to the hospital believing he had become well enough to pine for his friend and all he needed was an injection to boost his appetite. They tested his urine and found that he had a high level of ketones in his body. The DKA was back. If he wasn't hospitalised again, he would go into a coma and die within two to three days. Five weeks later, we were right back where we started from. I looked at our cat, bony and thin, his eyes tight from all his suffering, his coat in poor condition, a third of his fur shaved away and asked myself if I could put him through any more treatment. He hated the blood tests and needles, and to put him back in the hospital would mean an IV and blood tests from his vein every hour and his jugular every few hours, for at least three days, but more likely five. We knew he had suffered enough, we also knew that no matter what we did with the insulin he was not getting better. Even the lowest possible dose of insulin made him so ill he would go into hiding. We couldn't see an end to it. Just more suffering for an innocent animal. We were taken to the same room we had been in only 11 days before, grief overwhelming us. The sun was shining and we laid him down in the sunshine on the window ledge while the vet got things ready. Once she gave him the sedative, I gathered him up in my arms, making sure he never lost sight of the world we had shared until he closed his eyes. I wept very hard once the final injections were done. hen we finally left by the door near the room, I looked back but this time I did not wave, I didn't feel him there.
We drove the hour-long drive back home in silence, both of us numb with loss. Once inside our silent house, we made some tea and sat down at the dining table. I looked at my husband, shrouded in sadness, and in my grief I had no words to comfort him. Quietly I suggested perhaps we should do something once we finished our tea instead of just sitting. He decided he would cut the lawn since it was a fine day and I decided to clean the house. When he went outside, I went to all my cat's favorite spots and wept over them, one by one. Desperately I tried to feel anything of him, how could I not, when only hours before he had been right there, in that very spot? But try as I might, I felt nothing. He was gone as surely as though he had never even been.
26 hours later, still numb with loss, I felt something shift. Like a very significant change from one thing to another but I had no idea what either of those things were. I had been reading a book when it occurred, and it was so clear that it pulled me away from the story. I sat quietly for a few minutes trying to understand the meaning of it. Was I moving on in my grief? Had I just experienced closure? It was nothing I could quantify. Just a...shift.
Without being able to rationalise much more out of it, I went back to my book, but I felt...peaceful. Later on that evening, as I was getting ready for bed, I went to check on the back door to be certain it was locked. As I was doing so, I passed our cat's most favorite sleeping spot, and felt a tug towards it. Startled, and feeling a little foolish, I stopped and went back and reached towards it. I didn't want to believe it, but I felt real energy there, I cannot describe it as anything other than 'flow' or 'movement' but it was vibrant whatever it was. I could easily visualise him as he used to be and I felt a tremendous sense of peace. I couldn't understand what was happening, but I felt completely peaceful, and after the emotional agonies I had gone through over the last weeks, it was not a feeling I was used to. I went to bed and that night dreamed of my cat, healthy and whole again.
So where does this leave me, the person who speaks of rationality in all things? I thought long and hard before deciding to write this post, since I could have said nothing of all of this and remained firmly represented in the camp of rational thinkers. But I felt that would be dishonest, somehow. I do not know what happens after we die, but I do know there is still much we have to learn. To assume we know everything is wrong and arrogant. I have chosen to try and dovetail my thinking into this experience. I believe compassion and honoring the sacredness of life is central to being a healthy and wise human being. I also believe rationality is an important tool to understanding the world and universe we live in, and that control and fear are the enemy of all these things.
Not once in all these weeks of uncertainty did I pray to any unseen being. I do not believe in ghosts, or souls. I do not believe in the concept of any god. I do not follow any religion, nor do I accept there is such a thing as a heaven or hell, simply because these are the constructs of human minds playing at guesswork. As elegant as some philosophies are, no one knows for certain what happens when a life ends. Nor do we yet know what incredible things could be happening just outside the lines of the world we live in. But we must be courageous in confronting and exploring the possibilities these unknowns present to us.
My cat is gone now; he is not here. My dog is also gone. Even when I felt 'them' tugging at me, it was not them, at least not literally, it was something else, some sort of energy which linked me to something unknown yet familiar. I believe one day, maybe hundreds of years from now these inexplicable experiences will be adequately explained - perhaps by some advanced school of physics. I believe what I experienced was important for me to go through, to challenge me and to take me out of my comfort zone of materialist thinking. It has not changed me, but it has enhanced my appreciation for how much we still do not know. And whatever those things are, they are beautiful.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend May 10 2012