"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. "
I never imagined, when I was growing up, the challenges that owning a pet would bring. The hill on my parents' property is dense with the skeletal remains of many dogs and cats and rodents. From Nugget, a brown poodle that came with us fromLife teaches us what we need to know. Our exposure to the animal kingdom is reflective. Their passing can instruct us about death and sickness and saying goodbye. When
Toronto to Strathroy, to , a domesticated rat I had to put down myself, there is always a cost when you love something. We tell ourselves that investing emotionally in such creatures is different than investing emotionally in people, but this is just not the case. It can be more difficult to lose a pet than some of the people in our lives. We place more time and care with Fluffy than we do with our Aunt Mabel. The death of a constant companion may not always linger as when we lose a spouse or family member, but the sting is as real as any hurt that may come from the death of a loved one. Pets are loved ones. In many cases they are just as important, if not more so, to our daily lives than the strongest blood tie. For many, they are family and friend. The demise of each animal is a constant reminder of the price we all pay for living. Sydney
The rat that survived the death of
"Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a
, green bay
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Watching someone die from AIDS is somewhat like the experience of cancer. Eventually, the disease eats away at the very being, physically, spiritually and psychologically. In fact, the term "wasting syndrome" pretty much defines what happens to a person at the end stage of these diseases. When my Aunt Joyce died from lung cancer, my Father didn't even recognize her laying helpless and lingering in her hospital bed. The weight lifted with her passing was little; she had been eaten alive from the inside out. Still, she did managed to rage against the dying of her light. She was cognitive almost right to the end. She suffered greatly. My maternal grandfather was bedridden for almost a year after the stroke. He was never the same again. He just laid there rotting, unaware of most of the world around him. Any sense of cognition was met with pain and discomfort and fear. You could see it in his eyes whenever he used them to reach out. Once a healthy and formidable man, he faded away slowly. He was but a shell on the day he died. This did not quicken the process. It was the end of him but my grandmother refused to listen. She called him back with every step he took towards peace. Eventually, morphine was used to help in the transition. He passed away having melted away. I am unsure how aware he was of his suffering.Long before chemical cocktails and protozoa inhibitors, death from HIV infection was a nasty way to go. By the time I was 30, I had at least 25 experiences watching friends die from this devastating virus. Mercifully, science and medicine have turned a once terminal infection into a chronic and manageable diagnosis. This is reliant, of course, on the ability to pay for the drugs. A wealthy gay lawyer from
My late friend Robert was one of the first men in
Despite the rapid onslaught brought on by the virus, Robert lingered for much more time than he had been allotted. We all gathered when the doctor said it would be soon. My friend Maurice and I sat watching his family as they begged for more time and some mercy. On the way out of the hospital, Maurice surprised me with his cavalier statement. "They should put a pillow over his head and just put him out of his misery," flowed from his cakehole like a broken sewer pipe would. The funeral was small, private and seemed to carry great shame for his family. It was a different time, I suppose. A year later, I sat looking at Maurice's charred remains in a hospital bed not unlike Robert's. Falling asleep while smoking on a plastic-covered couch is never a good idea. For months, we all waited for him to wake up. No one talked about taking him off life support until his nose fell off. At least, unlike our friend Robert, he wasn't conscious through his destruction. He died surrounded by family and friends as they turned off the machines and he slipped away from us. It was mercy and I was grateful he did not have to suffer, not to any visible degree.
"Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night."
In February of 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a law which made it illegal to help a person end their life. It was a unanimous ruling.The court, in fact, declared that "desperately suffering patients have a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide." They noted that such restrictions "had the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so [later]." They concluded that the Canadian "Criminal Code’s absolute ban on assisted suicide goes too far." The Code may attempt to protect the "vulnerable" from abuse but it also interferes with people "making core decisions about how they live and die, and so breaches three of the most basic rights: to life, liberty and security of the person, all enshrined in Sec. 7 of the Charter, and is not justified in a free democratic society." The judges found that the previous "prohibition on physician assisted dying" conflicted "with the principles of fundamental justice.''
's highest legal authority concluded that such "People with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die." The 9-0 judgement amended the law allowing doctors to assist in "specific situations." While some fear the ruling will open season on assisted suicide, the finding applies only to those "competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives." This decision was like a slap in the face to the conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a sharp advocate of the right to life. The federal and all provincial parties have 12 months to draft legislation in response to the court's decision. Canada
"Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. "
I think that life uses softer pain to teach us fortitude for greater pain. The smaller and lesser our toil, the more we are able to deal with a later occurrence, when things might well go from bad to worse. I firmly believe that these experiences we have throughout our lives hold a dual purpose. They not only build us stronger but they instruct us. They teach us and condition us so that we might be able to handle the most extreme events that everyone, at one time or another, is fated to know. The relationships that we have with our pets and other animals may not always overwhelm us with grief but they prepare us, in little doses, for experiences far more grave in their nature. These small interactions with doom train us, in a sense, to understand and be aware. This, of course, demands one pay attention. The little things that happen accumulate and can help us to be wise.I've watched an awful lot of animals die in my day. I have seen just as many mortal men and women fall to sleep forever. Some raged against their dying while others seemed to embrace a peace no one living can possibly know. I am not convinced that this constant exposure to death is only meant for me, although I would argue that only a few really pay attention. Death is my constant unwanted companion so I have spent much time pondering euthanasia and the right to die. With an aging father, it is only natural to consider what just might come. It is through my life experiences with death that I am sure of my position. The road has shown me much to think about. I am not a praying man but I ask that the same mercy I have given is one day given to my father and eventually to me. I am thankful that the ability to make these harsh decisions is no longer a criminal offence in
"And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
(Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas c. 1951)