(Part 1 is here.)
I'm not going to try to talk around it- I'm suffering right now. Yesterday we put our sweet 16 year old apricot poodle, Fritz, to sleep after many months of deterioration. I know it was the right decision- he was in terrible pain and we could not bear to watch him get worse. And having gone through this last August with our Maltese, Lila, also 16- I knew what it would be like and that I could get through it, just like I did last year. But I'm suffering all the same, and yet there's something else going on.
It's a profound thing to be with a beloved animal when it dies, be it canine or human or otherwise. Next to birth, I can't imagine anything more impactful to experience. We had our hands on him as he relaxed under anesthesia, then as his heart slowed and stopped. As tears rolled down we told him over and over again, I love you. I love you. I love you. Good boy.
And he was a good boy. As a younger dog (we rescued him at age 5) he was always feisty. He wore a doggie diaper because his previous owner never house-trained him. He was definitely not a crate dog: Once while crated in the early days, he managed to wiggle the crate to the top of the stairs at our then- condo and then stair-surfed in the crate to the ground floor! We never figured out how he pulled that off as a 12 pound dog. At times Fritz got very territorial with toys and bones and was known to snap when provoked.
But he was such a lover boy too. He was steadfastly loyal to me and followed me around the house. In his old age he became more and more into snuggling- getting into bed with me every night and staying in bed until I got up in the morning (though recently, he'd stay in bed until 1 pm or later). And in the past year he could no longer navigate stairs- mostly blind and also deaf- so we had to carry him outside and back in.
We've been lucky to have some great dogs into their old age- Lillie, Barkley, Lila, Fritz, and now Olive (who is still with us, as is 4-year-old Carly)- and I can't say the loss gets easier. Every dog is unique.
Our dogs are the closest thing we'll ever know to having kids- and I know it's not the same thing, not nearly- and yet the loss feels less like something we had and no longer have and more like an end to a great privilege: to care for these sweet creatures and show kindness and devotion to something that can only love you in return. What a gift to have an animal in our lives and to know that love. And we get to do it over and over again.
I've been writing and thinking a lot about discomfort- the kind of discomfort that comes with facing painful and difficult times as a part of who I am- not despite who I am. This is something I had to be taught- it doesn't come naturally. I'd really rather avoid pain, like most people, probably. The thing I can't avoid coming back to, though, is that how I choose to regard pain- to open to it, to work with it, to talk about it, to allow it to move, transforms the pain into something else entirely: a gift, a treasure, an opportunity for connection with myself, with compassion for self and other, and with reverence for that which is divine and allows that shift to happen in the first place. To move from the pain of discomfort as the "small wave, who has forgotten it's part of the ocean" to the ocean itself.
Thy will, not mine.