It began with the quick and painless death of a wasp, and before that a gecko, each act filled with compassion tainted with the crimson stench of killing. Finally, as though inevitably, it carried me to that place I ignored these past many months: the death of Derek, the death of my grandmother, the death of too many.
Compassion is the most painful of all emotions. It requires of us that which we abhor, that which cleaves a heart asunder with what must be and what cannot be.
Mercy killing. Even the oxymoron of the term does little justice to the burdens we carry as we enact the very thing we hate the most: death.
I kill an insect and no one notices. I notice, yes, for I do that thing for only one of two reasons: Either I am imminently threatened or I am acting from a sense of profound humanity.
I kill a reptile and no one notices. I notice, yes, for I do that thing for a single reason: I feel responsible for a life I know encompasses nothing short of suffering and anguish.
I put a cat, Henry, to sleep and no one notices. I notice, yes, for I do that thing for one reason alone: I refuse to let a loved one suffer needlessly when a painful act of compassion can end his suffering, even if it prolongs my own.
I kill a man by withholding the treatment that would keep him alive while robbing him of peace and true living, and everyone notices. Why the difference?
Are we so entombed in our own sense of superiority as to see the taking of a life as something meaningful and worthy of serious consideration only when it touches the life of another human?
And in the taking of a human life, in the kindness spent from my heart’s till, I become the monster, the heartless fiend responsible for stealing away from others the time with someone they ignored for far too long.
But what of my pain?
When my father needed support for his decision not to be resuscitated should something go terribly wrong as doctors worked to remove aggressive tumors from inside his head, did I flinch? No. And did anyone question my support for that decision? No.
Yet the same cannot be said for allowing Derek’s life to find its own conclusion at a time when his body could no longer withstand the vehement onslaught of a cataclysmic disease bent on destroying him.
His finale, vivid and vibrant just as his life was, brought with it the painful realization I had long feared: those who claimed to cherish him found in that ending no reason to change their ways. All that was of him disappeared in a fury of selfishness, of taking, of demanding; all that he left behind vanished contrary to his will while life still ebbed within his flesh.
Shadows dark and vile fell upon his legacy. Those of us who truly loved him felt the pain most.