Word count: 771

Sociology: Death and Dying

Only twice in my life have I been in the presence of a creature which was clearly dying a relatively slow death. The first instance was of watching my younger sister's English Smooth Coat guinea pig (unaccountably named "Misty"), which was suffering from the flu or similar illness, gasp its last few ragged breaths. Even though I had no strong love for the brown, black, and white splotched rodent, I could not bring myself to watch TV or surf the internet or do anything resembling the ordinary as the little critter suffered. Therefore, I sat uneasily on the floor next to the small cage, which was normally the "guinea pig transport cage" for when we wished to take the guinea pigs on trips with us, in which Misty was housed, her normally bright eyes, clouded over and inattentive. If Misty were a healthy guinea pig, I'd be horrified that she was kept in such undersized confines (while my own guinea pig, Skunky (named for his colors, not his smell), lounged in a large ferret cage in the next room), fit only for a hamster or a much smaller rodent as permanent residence, but seeing as Misty was rather inert except for her agonized breathing (which seemed, in a way, to resemble her happy "I'm being fed" whistling of the past, except for that now it was clearly not a joyful noise), she probably was not going to be scurrying around anytime soon (or, more accurately, if perhaps more insensitively, ever again), the small habitat did not strike me as particularly cruel. I waited there, occasionally saying what I thought were comforting things (at least for a guinea pig; that is, "Squeak, squeak" and "Do you want some lettuce?") until my mother returned from work around four.

While my sister was still at school, (she wasn't fully aware of the seriousness of Misty's condition; Misty had worsened considerably in the last few hours) my mother proceeded to take Misty to the local vet where the poor guinea pig was put into an oxygen-rich box in attempts to revive her; despite these measures, Misty died the next morning. There was no ceremony, as with past pets, as both the body and the little blanket my sister had lovingly bestowed upon Misty both remained with the veterinarian for disposal.

Another, slightly more recent incident, perhaps in my senior year of high school, was when I was invited over to my friend's house where her grandmother had been put into hospice care. The object of my sleeping over was to console my friend, Stephanie, who went to a local college, but she seemed as cheerful as ever, which is not uncharacteristic of her, but, in my mind, was somewhat unbecoming of the situation, as she opened the door for me. I entered the modest living room to half-hearted "Hi"s of Stephanie's relatives and my friend announced, while motioning over to the bed on which her grandma lay in the very same room, "Oh, she's in a coma right now, but she can still hear you—if you want, you can say 'hi'. Hi, Grandma!" I offered my greeting as well, though not quite as enthusiastically as Stephanie had: "Hi, um, how are you?" Immediately after uttering this, I realized the inanity of asking such a question in such a situation. Fortunately, since the living did not seem to hear me, I doubt the dying did either.

I had only met Stephanie's grandmother once before and this situation was much the same as it was the first time we met, except a few of the roles were switched. I had come to spend the night with Stephanie to comfort her the night her grandfather died and Stephanie and Stephanie's mother in turn, with me in tow, went over to the grandmother's house to comfort her.

After a few awkward minutes of small talk with the relatives, Stephanie offered an idea: "Hey, I think we should play some poker!" In a way, I admired her bravery (If that is what her jollity can be called). Two aunts willingly obliged, so the four of us sat down to the card table about three feet away from Stephanie's grandmother's bed. Throughout the whole game I could not help but ponder over the almost obscenity of playing cards while someone less than a yard away was clearly dying. Or maybe it was not in fact irreverence, but rather a way of keeping a sense of normalcy in the face of imminent death. That night I got my only royal flush ever and that morning Stephanie's grandmother died (rest her soul).