I feel like I haven’t been blogging long enough to write about the BIG topic. The heavy one. The death and dying stuff. Everyone has a story about losing the great animal love(s) they have known. It makes a permanent impression on your being.
Can a blog really even make a meaningful scratch on the surface in the time between sips of coffee in which I hope even a handful of people may read this?
Then I realize even asking myself those questions—the self doubt, concern what others may think, nagging voice of perfectionism—reveals just how much I should write about it. A dog would. It’s how I feel in this moment, and that’s more than reason enough to share.
Caring for a dying pet sucks. Grieving is brutal. Opening your heart to the full experience of saying goodbye is more painful than words can capture.
But I feel compelled to linger just a minute to try and shed some light on a common human blind spot. The idea that the pain of a companion animal dying is too great to bear—so it’s better not to expose yourself to the experience at all. Spare the kids the tears. Never go through that again.
I am profoundly intrigued by what animals are here to teach us about dying. Their demonstration of interconnectedness and acceptance of their journey is a rich space that I hope I can learn, and write more about some time.
But long before our companions get around to showing us the art of dying, they consistently (despite the fact we are usually not paying attention) show us the dance of how to live. Choreographed more eloquently and intentionally than all but the rarest of humans among us.
There is no shortage of beautiful writing about the depth and complexity of a woman’s connection with her canine friends. It’s in the simplest, most ordinary moments that there is such wisdom. Eating every single meal with the same voracity and enjoyment. Chasing the 478th tennis ball with the focus and determination of the very first. Performing the sacred tail-wag and greeting ritual of their humans after 10 minutes, or 10 hours, expressing total happiness. The soulful way that they know just what we need. After a hard day. And then another one. Forgiveness. Unconditional love. It goes on and on.
If we’re lucky, we will live more earth years that our canine friends. But we can never really “outlive” them. They know way more about living than we do.
It’s no wonder they pack in a complete soul’s journey in 5…10….maybe 15 years. And the love we can feel for these creatures is only matched by the love and caretaking responsibility they feel for us. They know we have so much to learn. They do their best while they’re here. And when their physical bodies are worn out, they want to make sure we’re going to be okay. Thanking them for choosing us to share this most extraordinary bond, can be a meaningful way to affirm they have succeeded in their mission to make us just a bit wiser than we were when they met us.
If you’re privileged enough to love an animal through this life and share the experience of them moving on to their next one, let yourself feel the hurt. Don’t dismiss the pain. Catch yourself if you start to say “I know it’s just a dog, rabbit, fish, cat, hamster.. but…” Plummet down into it far enough, be patient with yourself, and look for the joy that is there waiting. Find a piece of the pure love and selflessness your animal companion has left for you. Allow it to permeate and take up permanent residence in your heart. What a gift we have been given. Although our human condition handicaps us from being able to really outlive our animal teachers — we can honor them by giving it our best shot.
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