On the way back from errands, I again passed the huddled body of a skunk on th side of the road. I felt sad for that huddle, for the suffering that preceded its death. I once hit a cat, hard, and its last minutes are embedded like a thorn in my memory. It was a terrible death.
And then I started thinking about something I know utterly nothing about.
Most critter deaths, I would guess, are neither swift nor without a great deal of suffering. Prey and preyed upon, illness in the wild…none of that is likely to fit inside what Americans consider a “good death.”
What if what separates humans from animals is the manner of our deaths?
Not our tool-making: research in the last few decades indicate the lines that define “tool” and “making” are a lot blurrier than we’d believed even in the 80s.
Not our communication, either: research blurring those demarcations goes back to the 60s.
But dying quietly at home after a full span of years: what if that’s the mark, the difference that makes us human? Not that everyone achieves such a death, but that we can contemplate it at all.
I wonder whether anyone’s studying that?