Death of my pets, and what I learned.


My first pet was a shepherd mongrel named Towser. He was 6 months old, when he came home with us, and I was also 6 months old. I do not remember ever having him come there. For what I remembered, he was always there with us. My parents told me that when I was still crawling around, that when there was thunder and lightning, Towser and I would both crawl under my bed, which then was a crib in the dark corner of the room, away from the windows. They believed I was afraid, and the dog was comforting me. We both seemed OK that way. When my younger brother was born, he inherited the crib, and at 21 months of age, I was sleeping in a big bed across the room. I do not remember this, but as a storm started, Mother told me that she tried to comfort me by holding me, but the dog kept running around in a panic. I started to struggle to get down, and then went under my new bed with my dog, who was OK then. She asked me then, was I afraid of the thunder and lightning, and with whatever language I had by then, I told her no. Towser was afraid.

I had to go with him so he would feel safe. They inquired later from where he had been given to them, and were told that yes, he had been shot, and was gun-shy after that. He apparently did get over it, I do not remember him being afraid, or of us hiding under my bed together, But, it feels true. He and I had a relationship, he was my own dog. He also was a farm dog, would go get the cows from the pasture in the morning and the early evening, and he was part of our family.

Later on, when we all were old enough to go swimming in the creek without supervision, he would stay near us. My youngest brother was the last one to learn to swim, and Towser would swim circles around him, and if he grabbed his tail, would pull him in to shore. We all made a sport of this, really, and he would pull any of us in to shore if we acted or sounded as if we needed rescue. My parents had seen him with us when we were finally allowed to swim without supervision.

I do remember that he would catch woodchucks, eat part of the meat, and bury it, only to dig it up later when, to us it smelled and looked rotten. But, I knew that it did not smell rotten to him, it smelled more like a hamburger. So, it did not concern me that he ate rotten meat. But, it always smelled rotten to me, regardless. He would dig that same carcass up over and over, until it was all gone, and did not even hunt for another woodchuck until then. Sigh. We just shook our heads about it.

He died when he was 12, and I was 12, but I felt that he had told me it was time for him to go, and although my parents worried terribly about how I would feel about his death, and our burying him out by the woods, it shocked them that I was taking it in stride. He was not in that body, and that body was going to become rotten meat too, in the ground. He was not there. I did not have any sense of where he went, but he was OK. I had no question about that. But, later, I sort of followed up on where he had gone. But, not until my cat died.

Mother’s older brother and his wife once gave us a present which was not even for Christmas. We were 4 children, myself, my younger brother, and the twins, 4 years younger than I was. They gave us four kittens, all of the same litter. Mother was pretty angry about it, ” as if we don’t have enough cats around here”. But we loved it, a kitten of our very own. We as a family named them eenie meanie, miney and mo. It was the consensus among the 4 of us children, that the one that was mine had to be called Meanie, because as the oldest, I was so often the one left in charge, and bossy, if we were left on our own. My next younger brother, now bigger than I was, had to call his Miney, since he was sort of claiming Mine about things, and getting away with it. The girl twin was to call her kitten Eenie, she was tiny herself. Her twin, born 5 minutes later than she, had to call his Mo, as in no MO. But, I called my kitten Patches, as the calico coloring that made her unique. Everyone else may have called her Meanie, but more as if just to call her to dinner. She was personal to me, and I never knew if the other kittens were as personally belonging to my brothers or sisters. But mine was to me.

When she had her first litter of kittens, she had them on my bed, and I ran to get a towel for her. But, I did not tell mother that she was having her kittens, until they all had been born, she had the whole area cleaned up and I had the towel thrown away for no one to find. (It was never missed.) Mother was quite unhappy about this lesson about life for me, when she felt I was too young to know such things. But, heck, we lived on a farm. It was really not all that new, just more immediate and personal for me then.

Some years later, and soon after Towser had died, Patches disappeared. In fact, we never saw a dead cat on the farm. They all left and died somewhere on their own, in privacy, so she went off to die, even away from me. She is the cat I dreamed about.

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I am thinking of this as how the deaths of my pets after I was 12 had helped me in understanding death as a part of life. But, something else came to mind last night which happened when I was quite young, perhaps 4 years old.

In late summer it had rained heavily for several days, when the weather began to clear up. My Daddy and Granddad were taking the hay-rig out to the hay field, where the hay had been in cocks, round piles with layers over layers. Only the top layer would be wet, protecting the pile underneath. In the house, mother sent me to go with them, and to “get me out from underfoot” as she must have had babies or was extremely pregnant expecting the twins. It was cool, and she put an oversize old hand-me-down jacket on me, inherited from some other family’s children. In 1928 or 29, everyone handed down clothing that was outgrown. It was new to me, and I liked wearing it. I would ordinarily not have remembered all that, except for what happened that day.

My Daddy let me ride on the hay rig as they drove the team of horses. In the field, I got down to run around, and they began to use pitch-forks to take the top layers of wet hay and threw them around each pile, and left them spread out to dry. The hay underneath was dry, and they pitched it onto the wagon, in layers. Surely, I remember that detail from many other such times, but it still is etched in memory for me from that time. At the bottom of several of the Hay Cocks there were field mice running out in every direction, and the cats must have anticipated this, as they had followed the wagon to the field. The mice who were running were caught, and eaten. But, under where the Hay Cock had been, there were baby mice, tiny, just crawling around, without their eyes open yet, and with bare skin, hairless. I began to pick them up to rescue them from the cats, who were really only chasing the mice which ran. I put them in my pockets, and discovered that the bottom was out of both pockets, so they went down into the lining of the jacket. So, I could put more and more of them into my pockets, until I had all I could carry. My Daddy and Granddad did not seem to notice that I was doing this.

Back home, I went in to show my baby mice to Mother, asking if I could keep them. Guess what she told me. She told me to get those mice out of the house, they could not stay alive without their mothers, and NO I could not keep them. Go to the barn and feed them to the barn cats. This troubled me. I thought I had rescued them from the cats. But, I did as I was told. The barn cats were really excited about receiving this unexpected meal. But, I did learn that nature has its own way of doing things, and I had been trying to make some pets out of babies which could not be saved by me. You do not want to know how many of them I had in my pockets. I never knew, and maybe could not count that high yet. I wondered about the mice babies that I felt I had delivered to their death by the cats. But, it was as if they were all one kind of life, none different from another, and they had no thoughts about what had happened to them. But, they had not exactly died, it was as if some essence of them was going to live again as other mice, who might make out better next time. As if they had no mind of their own, exactly, but a mind was there, as if a mice kind of mind for all of them. It was puzzling to me, but it left me feeling that they were going to live again as other mice, and it might work out better for them then. But, I never forgot that day.

Today, the idea might be Reincarnation, but for me, it was that they were not just dead, but something about them would live on. I am sure that I did not retain that concept at age 4, but later on, when the concept came up again, I had a feeling about it, a sense of reality about it that was preconceived in a way, but it was my own idea. It was better than other ways people saw death to be the end of everything for something or for someone, when it was not.

On the farm, we grew almost all of our food, including the meat. I was somehow able to feel this was the natural way of life. If we were to have a chicken dinner, some chicken had to be caught, killed, stripped of feathers, and made ready for cooking. But, that was part of life. We just never killed a certain chicken if we had given her a name. At grandma’s house, only “Henrietta” lived beyond the time she laid eggs, and lived out a full life-span. At our house, Granddad owned the chickens, and shipped out eggs daily from the nearest train station. We drove a car, but he always went by horse and buggy. But, we had chicken for dinner, whenever. I felt it was the natural way of life for the chickens and for us. But it helped shape my feelings and ideas about death.

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I am still writing this as it comes up to be said. These impressions were surfacing slowly, and going into words for the first time in the sense that only by now have I re-experienced the event with the baby mice. With that, I was flooded by the emotions as I felt them at the time. Only then, sometime yesterday, did I recall that when I had unloaded the baby mice from my pockets, (the liner around the bottom of the jacket), the top ones were alive, still crawling around, but the ones underneath were still warm, but not moving, and were limp. I realized they were dead, and I was the cause of their death. But, I also had impressions at that time. It was not in words, and not understood. But, I felt that they just had no drive to go on living, and when the death of one happened right in my hand, I was in tears. But, it was the same thing when the cats were eating them. Suddenly, in an instant, they did not go on living. But, some life force was still there, not in the body, but still alive, that was how I sensed that there was just one sort of mind or memory for all the mice, and they would live again. They would have a perfectly good chance to live again, and not come to the end of living so soon. As a child I had no words for this at all, but it was very comforting, even forgiving to me. I only cried while the mice were being devoured by the cats, and until they were all gone. Then, I was OK about it. No one else saw me cry my heart out about it for all that time. Mother probably could see from my face and my eyes that I had cried about it, but she had no clue about the impressions it made on me, the sense of reality it had left with me.

I now see why I had to remember this before I tried to tell about when my cat died, because this about the mice had really left me with a sense about death, at that earlier age. I did certainly never want to cause the death of creatures, but when my considerations went on to the life span of chickens, I learned more as well about nature itself, and that for animals to be used for meat was different than killing in sport, or cruelty or malice. When I was about 13, and mother had to go take care of her mother for a period of time, it was up to me to kill a chicken for dinner. It was hard to do it, but I could tell the chicken I was sorry, but her time was up. I had not heard then of the way that our Native Americans had spoken to the Great Spirit, and to the animals, that one was needed for food. They reported that they felt that the animal would present itself to them, as if sometimes, it even walked up and stood still, and let the arrow hit it. I felt that way about the chickens though, as if the one that was so easy to catch was the one who did not struggle, and the one I could talk to. But, we had that chicken for dinner. I killed it and I cooked it, and it fed our whole family.

In things which come into us as deeply felt experiences, they may not go into words then or ever, and the memory does not have the emotional depth that the experience had. But, It is the experience we live through that teaches us what we learn. Not the record our minds may form about it. You can doubt your memory, or your conclusions. You cannot doubt the experience you lived through.

For me, all the spiritual impressions I have had came out of life, and living experiences. It is very easy to speak of it separately, as the lesson learned, but if we disconnect it from HOW it was learned, it has suffered in the way that language never can fully tell what an experience was.

I think there are only 3 more parts to this description of my impressions about death. These will be when my cat died, then, about my garden of all wild flowers that thrived for a season, but also had a life of its own, and lastly, when my Grandmother died when I was in the room, and was aware of it at the moment she died.

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When Patches, my very own cat died, sometime after I was 12, I had gone to sleep wondering where she had gone, wondering where her body must be. It seemed then that I imagined or dreamed about her sinking down into the ground somewhere out in the woods, as if she had turned into a flowing liquid, like water. I went with her, down into ground water, seeping along underground, into little trickles of water moving slowly. The dirt seemed to open up around us, as if there was space opening up for us. Soon, it was as if I felt that Towser was in the trickle of water too, distinct from her. Actually, his old long dead woodchuck seemed to still be alive in some way, in this stream of liquid of which I was a part. But, there were other things which had died which were trickling along in the water too. It was just a sense of presence, as if they were there, but not as they had been. In the trickle of water, I and we moved along toward the creek. In time, we were part of the creek, then part of the river.

We were still part of the ground too, as if there were spaces between the particles of dirt, and more and more space there. We even seemed to see little things that were alive crawling around, at home there, but then there were smaller particles of dirt that were not alive at all.
But, we went on from the river to the sea. We did not stay under the ground. But the spaces between things got larger and larger, as if there was much more space in the ground, and in the water, than there were particles of stuff there.

In the ocean, also full of spaces, we floated around a little while, but then evaporated into the air. The sunlight pulled us up. The ocean and the air were really about alike, as the water also had particles farther and farther apart, big and small things living in it, and the spaces between the particles of water and air all seemed to hold some kind of essence of things which had lived and died. But, we all evaporated into the air. We then moved as if we were floating as if with the breeze in the air. But, we were in the spaces which had opened up.

The space also had spots of light, like stars, which kept moving, and lots of space between them. It seemed to me that after the evaporation, the essence, or the aliveness of my pets, or in other things, were at home in the spaces there. I liked being there.

But, in the morning and remembering this, as if I had only dreamed about it, I wanted and tried to get back there again, but I could not. It only stayed in my mind as if I had been in the creek to the river, to the sea. Many other times I thought of it and tried to go back to where it was, but I could not do it. I learned the paths of the rivers in my state, and wondered if I might somehow learn to breathe underwater, but this memory was very vague for me.

It was as if it was an experience that I did not understand or comprehend, but I had learned something from it. I did not remember being in the ground, but I was left with the impression they went beyond the air, into an expanding space. I would try to imagine being in the creek, then the river, then the ocean, but the spaces I had seen between the particles of stuff did not come to mind no matter how I looked for it. But, this left me with an impression that I had seen something real, even if I had no idea what it was. It was comforting, I had been with my pets as I saw them go into spaces among the stars.

Yet, as I consider this now, they were in the air, then going beyond the air, into this expanding space that was all around me then.

It truly is only with a kind of recall of the emotions I had when Patches died, along with the way I felt when Towser died, that I seemed to have the original experience of that time come to the surface again. Not as a memory from then, which had not been at all clear, but as if I went back to what the experience itself had been at that time. It is difficult to put in words how different this is than memory. But, any memory I had of it, did not retain the ways that the space kept expanding around us.

In hindsight, possible now, there can be words for this. And, I can see that we, only as a life force, a living being, still existed, but WE were smaller and smaller, and the ground, water, air did not become just particles with lots of space between. We only saw it that way, which it is in terms of science and physics. We could spread out into that space. The lights seemed like moving stars, but were energy particles in motion. We were not in and part of the substance, the matter as our bodies were, but we were in the spaces between everything. And, the earlier impressions about the mice were added to this, as if a foundation I already had in me, to grasp that this was not just an end to life, it was into another way we existed, and from it, life could be ours again, if we wanted to come back again. I had seen it as going out among the stars, but in a way, we went in, to where we were eternal beings, even my pets, and all that could be alive. We and they were still in existence, alive, but not in bodies. They could not die, even if they did die as far as living a life in a body was concerned.

If I am making any point by trying to tell this now, it is that there are inner depths in all of us where we have learned things out of real experiences in our lives. We may not remember them, but we have learned things all along. If some of what we have learned is of eternal importance, about life and death, about an unseen reality, it is in us still. But, if we do happen to have it come to the surface so we know about it again, and so we can put it in words, it will come with all the feelings and emotions, confusion we had then, and without the understanding or comprehension we may bring to it now. If it never would have gone into words then, maybe it can now. We cannot share it until it will go into words, and even then, words never are enough to really express how we really experienced it originally.

It seems to me that unless we can connect HOW we learned things to WHAT we learned, we cannot communicate the whole of what it means to us now. Just to believe it is not the same at all as learning it out of our own experience. My putting it in words does not give this to someone else, but I can point to it as being real.

Until I was able to write this, I had not realized that there is an important chapter about plants, in my own garden of wild flowers that became deeply an emotional experience for me. They were alive too. They died too.

Then the last should be about when my grandmother died when I was in the room, and was aware of it as she died. I was 18 by then.

MY OWN GARDEN

I was about 14 when I asked Mother if I could plant a garden of my own. She said yes, and we decided on a corner by the back porch, where some plants were sometimes growing. I cleaned the area and dug it all up and got it ready for plants. Weeds came up before I could turn around. But I kept it weeded. I planned to get all wild flowers from the woods. I dug 2 or 3 favorites and planted them, and they died without even trying to live. I finally learned to not dig them, but to dig with all the soil and roots intact, wrapped and kept wet, and then plant them and keep them moist or watered daily, as was natural in the woods. They did take hold and live there, but it was too sunny for them, and I had to put up some shade for them too. Gradually, I got the whole garden planted and thriving. But, it was a lot of work, and they did not do anywhere near as well there as they did in the woods. Besides, where I had dug them up in the woods filled right back in, with no one planting them at all. They would never do that in my garden. My garden was nice, I loved it, but my arrangements for enough shade there made it pretty hard to even see my garden. But, I loved it.

I tried to put some straw for mulch over it, to help it live through the winter, like the wild strawberries had over the winter, but by spring, everything was dead, not a single thing lived through the winter there, and they always did in the woods. Besides, my brothers went back to parking their bikes in that corner, and I did not try again. I was ok with that, I had learned a lot.

People may grow where they are planted, but plants grow where they would plant themselves. Seeds grow and thrive in the vegetable garden, but my Dad knew what to plant. Some things needed too long to grow before they would bear fruit, and other things would not live if it got too hot or too cold, too sunny or too dark, too dry, or even if it got too wet. We grew the plants that wanted to grow where we planted them and my Dad knew what to plant. I felt that plants had a mind of their own, and I had to see what kind of places they wanted to live in, if I wanted to make my own garden of them. Later, I had other gardens, I even have a so called green thumb, and I love house plants and gardening. But, I had to admire plants and respect them for what they were and what they needed.

At a later time, when an undersea volcano erupted and a barren island was formed, I learned from the news that it did not stay barren for very long at all. Soil blew in, and washed in, and was eroded from the rocks by the weather. And, right away, someway, Nature took over, and the plant seeds blew in or washed from somewhere, and plants were growing in any nook or cranny. Birds came and built their nests, and the whole island came alive in so much less time than one might imagine. I knew that our planting a garden is nothing the plants need, after all. They will live as they always have and always will, anywhere they can get a foothold, a place to take root. I will bet a garden of all dandelions would be real easy to grow.

If there is a moral to this, it is maybe people need the right kind of a life they can live in and be at home, and thrive. My parents must have had a lot of common sense even if we sometimes drove them crazy, and they then would tell us to shut up and to do as we were told. I can relate to that.

My grandmother’s death

My grandmother was almost as important in my life as my Mother was. But Mother seemed to be afraid of her at times. Grandma took care of me until I was 6 months old, when my mother was in danger of losing her life from childbirth. I was born in 1924, my mother was born in 1892, and her mother, my grandmother, before the civil war, in 1855. I was as much at home in either household. I loved her, but in another way, I feared her too.

She held a Bible reading hour, with prayer every morning, I think it was 9 AM to 10, actually. We all learned to read from the Bible, and took our turns. She held the prayers, and it gave me the impression that she was God’s watch dog over all the people in her life. She prayed as if to confess any wrong doing, her own, but also anything she took as wrong doing by any of us. If she saw it or got wind of it that is. No one wanted Grandma to tell God on us. I honestly and truly felt that God was like that, ready to teach us our lesson, punishing, not forgiving, and watching us like a hawk for anything to find fault about. I never prayed, nor would others. My mother was often a target, as if there must be some kind of perfection she should have had, and never did have. Grandpa and my Dad refused to even stay in the house for her Bible reading and prayer hour. At least they did not have to hear her tattle on them.

Yet, I learned to cook, bake bread, and all sort of household stuff from grandma, not from mother. She would let us help when we must have been far more trouble than we were any actual help to her. I even got to help with a hand-hewn wood constructed loom to weave rugs on. I was allowed to touch anything I wanted, and could play with even nice things, if I would be careful. She never punished us or found fault as if for us to see it coming from her. It had been only told to God, but that was the end of it. It never even seemed strange to us as children. Prayer hour was an ordeal, though.

When I was older, 17 and 18, Grandma had fallen and broken her hip, and came to live with us. She had severe cataracts, and became very hard of hearing. She was in a wheel chair or bedridden. I used to volunteer to skip church to stay at home with her, and it was gratefully received by my mother. But, she began to tell me about her life, one part was about her first teaching position for a man who ran the light house who tried to treat her as if she was his wife, no one knew about that but me. She even cautioned for me never to tell my mother about it, and I am quite sure that I never did. She told me of another time she went skinny dipping with her clothes on her head, to avoid a 7 mile walk to town to go by the bridge. But she was spotted, and had to swim way downstream and come out of the river after dark. The men in town who had spotted her said it was the best thing that had happened all summer, while the women were furious with her about it. She told me many things she remembered. I only heard about the marriage trip in the covered wagon to another state, then. Mother had never known about any of it.

My grandmother was a tall woman, whom everyone seemed to look up to. She was born by a third wife after her father had been a widower twice. The home had 4 children by the first wife, born from 1842 to 1850. The second wife, a widow, brought 5 children, his brother’s children about the same ages to the second marriage, and they had one more child in 1852. and the second wife died.  The third wife was quite young to suddenly have all those children. My grandmother, her oldest, was born a twin, but only she survived, her brother the twin, and two more brothers died young, and then there was one more younger brother and sister by 1868 when her father died. Her mother, my great grandmother, died about 1880 or earlier. The only women who worked for pay back then were teachers.

I tell the dates for a reason. Back then, women did not own property, and yet it was inherited by the 3 living children jointly. My grandmother had become a teacher at an early age by finishing the 8th grade. She had taken a job as a tutor for the children of a widower running a light house on Lake Michigan who wanted a young wife. When she left that job, her reputation was tarnished for the people living in those times. She had been living in a situation where her morals were then questioned, even though she had refused the marriage. When her mother died she ran the farm and taught, and a man she had hired for the farm work had his brother there for a visit. When the brother proposed to her, she was an old maid, 27 years old in 1883. She left the farm in care of the man she had hired, and took her younger brother and sister, with whatever belongings, and left with her husband to another state, a long journey in a covered wagon..

Before long, her brother took payment for his portion of the inheritance from her, and moved West. The deed still had his name on it with hers. Her sister, only 16 then, took her payment for her portion of the inheritance from her when she married at age 20. Grandma continued to teach, and in due time traded the farm in Michigan straight across for the one that became their home for as long as they lived in NY State. It was traded to her husbands sister and her husband, who moved away.

Add to this, that when a cousin died out in the Kansas territory, she located the children with great difficulty, and had them sent by train to become like sisters to my mother and her brothers. Few women back then could have pulled all of this off. She was remarkable, but formidable too. No one crossed my grandmother.

When she died, I was in the room, and I literally had the sense of her rising out of her body in joy, and leaving by immediately and rapidly crossing the room above our heads. She was not visible, but her energy was vibrantly alive. I told my mother, “she is gone now”.

Over later years, I dreamed about her, and resolved many things that had seemed conflicting about her, but I have described them in other writings. Still I was left with the sense of her spirit living on, in renewed joy.

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