Hero did not make it. While she showed plenty of will to survive her stroke – moving about the cage to feed herself and interact even though it was clearly difficult – she had a second and, finally, a third on Friday. She lost the ability to move her limbs or chew food around 5 PM, at which point we quit trying to sustain her. We petted her, thanked her for being a part of our lives, and tried to make her comfortable. At 11:00 I laid down, put her on my chest and petted her until she had one final stroke and stopped breathing. As far as ways to go, I think that is a pretty good one.

I don't understand death. No one does, which is why the great bulk of collective intellectual energy in human history has been devoted to constructing explanations for it. Yet that's all such "knowledge" is – an attempt to rationalize something we can't rationalize. Tell yourself whatever story you need to in order to accept life and death. Each is as good as any other. Resurrection, reincarnation, purgatory, eternal life in heaven, becoming part of the spirit world, haunting houses as a ghost, complete nothingness….it's all the same.

None of it, in my opinion, addresses the mystery of how putting food and water in something makes blood flow to organs which plug away and generate, after all that, what we call an individual. A person, or an animal, or whatever. The idea that I was holding Hero the Rat one minute – Hero, who loved dried lychee and tightrope-walking the top bar of her pen and running up my arm to spy the world from my shoulder – and then an empty, limp shell the next moment is something I can't understand. That biological processes cease and then consciousness, the greater-than-sum-of-parts end result of all that biology and chemistry, just disappears is justifiably described as a mystery.

I'm just glad we did not have to take her to the vet on Saturday to be euthanized. Nothing should have to die in a hospital.

RIP, Hero.