Saturday, March 11, 2006

A death in the family
Yesterday was supposed to be a busy day for me. I had three projects I needed to complete at work, so I went in a little early, well caffeined and sugared, and threw myself into it.

By noon I had finished project one, had put a good dent into project two, and a symbolic start on project three. I microwaved my little lunch and, while I ate it, I checked out the news. I immediately found a couple of good blogging topics. I pasted some URLs and quotable lines into a text file and began banging out some opening sentences. I wouldn't have enough time to write posts at work; I planned to just capture enough of my thoughts to be able to pick it back up at home. I would e-mail the notes home.

Meanwhile, three electricians were nosing around in the hall near the door to my workspace. We're planning on adding some extra equipment to my space, so they will need change the wiring to give me enough power and network connections. The electricians were looking at the walls to decide where to punch certain conduits.

After ten minutes, I was wistfully looking at the remains of my lunch wishing that there had been more and thinking that I had better get back to work. And then one of the electricians had a heart attack and dropped dead outside my door. At first, the other electricians thought he had just fallen, but in seconds they realized that something was seriously wrong. They both knew CPR and began working to keep him going till the paramedics would arrive. Their boss rushed over and people began to overflow into my office.

The paramedics arrived and more people moved into my space. The two stunned electricians stood by my desk repeating their story to the paramedics, a policeman, and various people higher on the corporate foodchain than us. I gave my desk over to the interviews and tried to find something to keep me busy and out of the way in the back of the room. I opened the window to let some air in. I showed people the beverage stash. Some of us--the middle-aged guys--nervously noted that he was only fifty-three. Mostly, I just stood by and watched.

The paramedics worked for over an hour, but they never had a chance. He was gone before anyone knew what had happened. Poof. Just like that.

Eventually, the crowd got so thick that they asked me to leave. I stepped outside and sat on a bench. It was supposed to be a nasty day, but it wasn't. The sun was out and I watched a hummingbird go about it's business on a flowering shrub. Some time passed. They took my co-worker away. One by one, the emergency vehicles packed up their gear and left. The company people made sure that the other electricians had rides home and talked about counseling. Then they left.

I returned to my office and straightened up a bit. I finished project number two and decided project three could wait a few days. I called my clever wife and asked to come pick me up. On the way home, I told her the story. I didn't really know him, I told her, he was just someone I nodded to in the hall. I don't even know his last name. I'm not broken up over any great personal loss, I went on, it's just the unexpected intrusion of mortality. There's this new piece of information stuck in my mind and I don't know what to do with it. I really do talk that way.

She said, let's go home and take a nap. And we did. Sometimes, the best treatment for a busy brain is to turn it off for a while.

When I woke up, a small thunderstorm was rolling by. When that happens, our big cat, Miss Parker, goes into hiding, but the little cat, Mehitabel, waits to see what we do. I told her everything was okay and that I was going to the store dinner supplies. That seemed to be all she needed to hear. She went to sleep.

I made spaghetti for dinner. The three main requirements for comfort food are warm, starchy, and cheesy. If you prepare your spaghetti right, it easily covers all three. We had fettuccini with roasted garlic marinara and handfuls of fresh grated parmesan. Comfort food.

After dinner Miss Parker came out of hiding. I want to the computer and thought about writing. Miss Parker offered to help by sitting in front of the monitor. I didn't have enough attention span for blogging. She helped me play a few games of video solitaire and then wandered off.

Sitting alone at the computer, I suddenly felt very guilty that I hadn't written to Carl Buell to express my condolences over the death of his great dog, Tito. That probably sounds creepy to some people. A human being dropped dead in front of me and my strongest reaction was to worry about the death of an old dog on the other side of the continent. But it's not any kind of equivalence in the deaths that affected me.

When someone dies, one of the clich├ęd reaction that you will inevitably hear is that it is supposed to remind us of what is important in life. And it does. To some people that means pay attention to your family or slow down and watch the hummingbirds. To me, it means don't be a jerk; be human and be humane. When I went to the store, I found myself taking time to smile at the clerks and thank them. During the drive, I slowed to let people change lanes and make turns. I barely know Carl. We've read each other's blogs and exchanged a few e-mails. But that's enough of a link that I care about his pain. He didn't just lose an animal, a piece of property that is somehow limited in value by not being human. He lost a long-time companion, a warm living thing that had shared a large portion of his history. That hurts. I suddenly felt guilty for not saying I'm sorry for his hurt.

I thought all of this out last night, but still couldn't organize my mind to write. I played a few more games of video solitaire and washed dishes. I drifted back and forth between the office and the kitchen as the evening turned into night.

At about eleven, I was headed back to the kitchen when I heard a thump and some scratching. I figured Miss Parker had knocked something over and went to see if it needed cleaning up. She was lying on her side making a few spastic twitches with her legs. I dropped to the floor and picked her up. She was completely limp and the twitches stopped even as I held her. I pulled her tongue of her mouth and blew a little air into her. She didn't respond. I tried again and then ran to my wife holding Miss Parker. She took one look and announced that we had to get her to the hospital. She grabbed her keys and I ran barefoot into the night with my cat in my arms.

The all-night pet emergency room is a couple miles from our house. I alternated shouting directions and trying to make Miss Parker breathe. My wife dropped me in front of the door and went to park. I rang the buzzer and was met by a young vet who grabbed the cat and ran into the back of the hospital with her. The receptionist gave me a form to fill out and I went to the door to let my wife in. I started to fill out the entry form and the vet returned. It was too late. She had some kind of massive heart attack.

He tried to revive her, but he never had a chance. She was gone before anyone knew what had happened. Poof. Just like that.

This morning I got up and sat with Mehitabel for a while. She's not sure what's going on. I made coffee for my wife after she got up. We each had a cup and then took Miss Parker out to the same place where my two old Alaskan cats are buried. We buried her with her dinner bowl and talked about planting a nice shrub there for all three of the cats.

Later, I went to the store and smiled at the clerks.

Miss Parker, January 1998 - March 2006

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