Someone told me they had to put their beloved eight-year-old cat to sleep quite unexpectedly. One day she was there, the next she left. My friend is in agony. We discussed a woman of our acquaintance named Moya, whose adored dog died. Moya dug a grave for her dog and then crawled into it for a time, so great was her sorrow. I understand that. My friend also told me how conflicted she was about animal euthanasia.
I am as well.
As many of you know, my own sweet Bailey, a rescue pup who’s been with me since 2010 will, I’ve been told, not be with me much longer. He has a tumor on his lung, and one on his liver. He is terrified of all vets for reasons that have to do with something that happened to him before he found my husband and me. Therefore, we have decided not to submit him to the horrors of surgeries and chemo, etc. I don’t want his final weeks to be a whirl of terror and pain. We consent to being with him until the end, in whatever way that comes. We have already had several months longer with him than we anticipated, and hope there may be a few more months. But we don’t know.
There is no human I have loved more than I love this dog. He is, as Edith Wharton said of her pup, the heartbeat at my heels. I suffer from depression, and he has saved me. I haven’t been medicated in years. I honestly don’t know how I’ll survive his passing. I pray he will go gently, just stop breathing one night when he’s curled up behind my knees, but there is no way of knowing.
Like my friend, I am conflicted about euthanasia. In Buddhist teaching dogs, like humans, do a dance with death. Approach, step back, approach a little closer, step back, approach even closer, until there is no stepping back. It is believed this transition procedure is important for all beings.
On the other hand, how can a peaceful transition be managed when the dying person/animal is in pain and/or filled with fear? And so we provide relief, the end of pain and fear… that is a gift, I think, although a profoundly difficult one.
It is heartbreak, and unavoidable heartbreak, either way. What an awesome (in the weighty sense of the word) responsibility we agree to when we enter into deep relationship with an animal, knowing we will probably outlive them.
I admire the liminal space Moya (who crawls into the graves of dogs) lives in. I aspire to live there myself. When I think of her stepping into her dog’s grave, I feel myself doing the same thing, lying my bones over those of Bailey.
A reminder that to fully feel grief is to be part of life and in that agony of grieving we are not alone.
Both my brothers died from suicide (as many of you also know)… and there are many other deaths as well, as there are for all people. No one escapes it, do they? And now, at this period of my life, I am entering a season of many more losses, including eventually the loss of my own life. I am struggling not to struggle, if that makes sense.
Someone wise told me that grief never, ever, grows smaller and that we have two choices: 1) ossify around the stone of grief and be defined by it forever, or 2) allow our hearts and souls to grow larger, wider, more open, so that there is more space around the stone, more space for love, for movement, perhaps even for joy. The stone remains, and perhaps, in fact, because of its eternal, piercing stab of pain, the contrast between that heavy grey thing and the light-filled space around it makes both holy, sacred, and filled with grace.
I hope that’s true. I will try.
I send love to all who grieve. I grieve with you.