Grief and the loss of a beloved pet. There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief…Aeschylus

On Sunday we lost our beautiful gentle little dog, Sage.  Sage had been diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome some few months ago. After optimistically searching Google, we rested assured she would have the life expectancy that was predicted of 2 to 3 years.  

I got Sage, a long-haired miniature dachshund 12 years ago after leaving a relationship of 17 years that had run its course.  She was warm chocolate brown with cinnamon tipped ears and hauntingly golden eyes.  Eyes that had a sense of wisdom and knowledge.  I was on my own with two adolescent children and had found myself feeling scorched, feeling like a failure.  I hadn’t envisioned myself taking on the role of a divorced woman.  For me, there was a certain stigma attached to being divorced, which why I believe many people remain in relationships that do not allow them to hear the song of their soul. We, humans, love the familiar even if it isn’t working for us.  I couldn’t fathom after 17 years that I lost my partner to the seductive mistress of alcohol.  I thought love conquers all.  I found out that there are times when you need to walk away from what no longer serves you with dignity and grace. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The fear of facing such a loss and making such a big change in your life can be crippling.  I would like to tell you I did it with dignity and grace but I would be lying. So it began, I took the first step into the proverbial “valley of death” because making such a huge change in your life feels like you are going to die.

I now was a single parent with two teen-aged daughters, not a lot of money, no home, and was feeling very broken. For those of you that have survived the transition of adolescence, you can understand the significance of walking through the shadow of the valley of adolescence coupled with making that journey on your own. 

Once I had Sage I felt like there was a little being that could sit by me at night when I felt alone, overwhelmed or scared.  When the teens were not answering their phones that they had insisted on having for pure safety reasons or had missed curfew and I felt helpless and panicked, Sage would look at up at me with deep golden eyes. In my mind, I would hear her telepathically communicate “everything is going to be ok”. It calmed my heart, body-mind, and soul.  After getting Sage, as upsetting as things ever got, it was always ok.  I was never challenged with anything more than I could handle.  I felt like this wise little being had been sent to me by the universal helping spirits and they would make sure someone always “had my back”.

After having Sage for some time, I had been on my own now for two years, I met a special person.  His life was so incredibly different from mine. I found myself wondering how we could ever bridge our vast differences and carve out a life together. Sage seemed to really bond with him and she was always extremely discerning, so I took a chance and we began a union that delighted my soul and nurtured my heart.  When I was challenged with the issues that come up in taking another chance at love, Sage would look up at me with her golden eyes and intuitively communicate that this was a good, person. He was a person that could sit with me and hold space in my life.  Compassion healing and forgiveness of all the wrongs began to heal deep-rooted wounds of the suffering that comes with life. I was not looking for this person to save me, it was quite the contrary. This relationship provided me with space and support I needed to heal some deep-seated wounds. We all carry shrapnel from our lives and even back into our ancestral lines.  My capacity for understanding, hope, and faith began to blossom.  I felt connected and knew that everything was going to be ok, and it was.

A few years passed and all was well and then my daughter was diagnosed with a chronic insidious illness that terrified me. As we were trying to figure out how she was going to have an enriched pain free life.  I spent hours fretting and worrying.  My daughter held Sage, at times writhing in such pain her only solace was a beautiful brown golden eyed dog. Sage laid at my daughter’s side and emitted warm presence and sat in a space of companionship that even the best-trained humans were unable to. Again there were many dark nights of the soul, going deeper into myself, trying to understand how to live a beautiful joyous life. Suffering provides the opportunity and hidden gift of contrast. We can feel our deep-rooted emotions fearlessly so we can truly experience and value what it is to feel deep love and joy.  The feelings will eventually cascade over you like a strong ocean wave if you allow them. 

The suffering provides a type of alchemy or a right of passage for humans to live in deeper spaces.

You might wonder why would anyone want to go to those depths of such misery? Believe me, I asked myself that question and the answer is not simple. That gift was developing a practice or a help manual of how I could seek the answers to my baffling life questions.  The practice is learning how to tap into the collective consciousness. 

This is adopting a spiritual practice which is part of a holistic way of life.

When we commit to the spiritual process of awakening our hearts, we develop a capacity for deep meaningful life experiences. We can understand and process our feelings while relating to our wounded nature.  Our hurts, instead of hardening our hearts, can open, soften and make our hearts malleable. Having a malleable heart gives one the potential to live compassionately.  Compassionate living can help open space to heal our earth and the other beings we share consciousness with. 

I wonder did Sage hold the pathway of compassionate living for me?  My experience would generate a resounding yes! I came to this conclusion because I also witnessed her hold the space for others in the family. Anyone that has held the joy of being transcended by the love of a dog, cat, horse, bird or any other sentient being could relate to this experience.  What is it?  Why do we get so attached to these animals? I have come to believe it is because, for some of us, this is our first experience with unconditional love. In a world that can be so incredibly disconnected and separated, the unconditional love of an animal fills our hearts and souls to capacity.

Twelve years have passed since I brought home this beautiful conscious doggie. I love this man she approved of deeply, the teenagers became beautiful young women who I am so proud of as they are now trying to figure out the complexities of life.  I have a grandson and a new one due to arrive in a month

This spry conscious sentinel being who provided our family with constant deeply soulful love, presence, and balancing that rarely barked always energetically made her presence know.  

Sage could always seek out those with aching hearts and distressed dispositions as if to say “I know you are hurting but I love you unconditionally”.

Sadly the disease was not curable, we took a palliative approach to her care.  She developed a large pendulous belly and was incontinent of large amounts of urine daily.  I bought old towels from the second-hand store and cleaned up after her failing body daily. As time progressed she began to snore, cough and choke on her water.  She was constantly underfoot, scanning and perusing for bits of food that may have hit the kitchen floor. Weekly we re-visited the many web-sights providing information on when to make the difficult decision to euthanize your pet.  Although her mobility was beginning to deteriorate she was still wagging her tail and eager when the treat bag came out.  A selfish part of me knew that although her time was coming I could not make the drive up to the vet and hold her as she drew her last breath.  We wanted every hour, second or minute with her.  

On Saturday something changed.  She intuitively communicated with me she was ready to go.  We bathed her and rubbed her face in coconut oil. She didn’t resist like she normally would have, running around like a maniac dragging her face on any scrap of the mat to dry her ears and face. I wrapped in a towel and sat with her. I told her if she was hurting she could go and I said goodbye to her.  She passed in the wee hours of the morning. Our hearts cracked open and flooded with raw grief. We cried and sobbed and remembered everything that brought us to this moment. My husband gently wrapped her in a towel, and we took her remains to a couple that would keep them until it was time for her to be cremated.  We drove home to our empty quiet house and allowed ourselves to be fully immersed in our sadness. The tears were like healing waters and the kind words and gestures from friends and family over the weeks dressed our sad wounds like soft clean bandages. The most healing gestures came from those that had experienced the loss of a dearly loved pet. They held the wisdom of compassion and empathy, which in its capacity is so healing.

As I finish this entry the weeks have passed and there has been time, space and healing. Thank you, Sage, for all that you gave us and all that you taught us with your never-ending unconditional love.

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