Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Final Walks. Death. Perspective. Choice.

Over the decades I have had to say goodbye to many beloved canine companions. My very first dog (Splat) was a black cocker spaniel who wiggled her way onto my lap as an 8 week old puppy in 1988. She is the reason I am sober today. In July, 2000 shortly after I had moved to Minnesota she was taken from me suddenly from what I don't know for sure, but believe was a hate crime. She was found lifeless under a tree with blood on her collar and neck from what appeared to be a bebe gun shot. My other dog Shen had blood on her chest ... she would often wake Splat up by getting down to her level and pushing her chest against her. I wasn't prepared. I didn't have time to say goodbye. My Papa died when I had just turned 4. I don't think I really understood or knew what death was at that time. I never learned as a child how to properly grieve; how to honor my emotions, my sadness, my pain .. to cry; how to move through loss.

On Papa's birthday (September 14, 2009) my beloved Shen was diagnosed with spleen cancer. It came on suddenly ... or maybe I just hadn't seen the signs. I wasn't ready to say goodbye. Despite the veterinarians at the University of Minnesota trying to tell me in as gentle a way as possible, that surgery wouldn't give her much time, that it was palliative, and not the best choice for Shen, I couldn't let go. I chose surgery. While Shen was in surgery they confirmed the cancer had spread. She needed a blood transfusion .. I told them to do the transfusion. The cancer had spread everywhere. She needed another transfusion. I wasn't ready but I knew I had to let go. Shen's death sent me down a spiral of pain and a dark hole. My other dog Shadow was lost without Shen. They were so bonded. The pain of losing Shen is what got me to search for a way to give back. I found my way into the world of animal welfare in Minnesota, and began volunteering and getting heavily involved.

In June, 2007 ... just 10 months after Shen died, Shadow started losing weight. We soon learned he had intestinal cancer. This time I made a different choice. I would honor and celebrate and keep Shadow as comfortable as possible for his final days. We had 3 weeks with our Shadow; we had 3 weeks to say goodbye, and then one morning, in early July, he laid by the stone in our backyard where Shen's ashes had been spread, and he let us know it was time. It was time for Shadow to go be with his sister Shen.

My volunteer work in animal welfare brought me amazing pups ... Missy in 2006, Mister in 2007, Ahnung in 2008 and Ishka in 2013 (well, Ahnung brought me Ishka!). Less than 3 years after my now spirit dog Ahnung came to me we learned she had mammary cancer. On August 25, 2013 (longer than her vets thought she would survive) she crossed over into the spirit world. My Final Walk with Ahnung taught me so much. We had almost 2 years to walk this final path; to become friends with Grief and Anticipatory Grief; to explore unchartered territory and to not be afraid to enter the darkest places of pain and loss ... and with Ahnung guiding me, I learned that there is way to walk and Be with a beloved in ways beyond the physical realm. Ahnung taught me to embrace life and love in a way I never knew how ... to open up my heart completely knowing it would be shattered into pieces, and that with every heart break, my heart would open up even more.
Mister getting acupuncture

And so now as we once again walk a Final Walk with my beloved Mister I find myself able to approach this journey in a way that feels different from my first encounter with Cancer when I lost Shen. I am able to Be here for Mister with my heart wide open. I am able to cry because I am sad and because I will miss my sweet boy. But I am able to also celebrate him and all his antics and goofy ways .. and I am able to really listen to him and see him. I have regretted the decision I made to put Shen through surgery in 2006. It wasn't about Shen; it was about my inability to deal with the pain of losing her. Today, I know Shen forgives me ... it has been part of my journey to learn. Through that loss, I was able to honor Shadow's final walk with the grace and dignity he wanted, and deserved.

Thank you Ahnung (and Shen) for the lessons you taught me about loss, grief, loving ... and Living, while we are here on earth, and also when one's spirit has transitioned.

Mister getting some love after acupuncture
I celebrate Mister. I celebrate his life, his joy, his antics, his anxiety, his ability to sleep and relax like no other dog!!! I find it amazing how much life and spirit this boy has when it is clear cancer has spread throughout his body. Dogs are truly amazing .... I have the honor of being his guardian for his time on earth. I cherish that role, And in this role, and with his guidance, we will live life fully and in whatever way he wants as we run for that finish line. Because sweet Mister, when you cross over that finish line you are crossing over to another world, and you will be free of any physical pain, and you will be with Ahnung and Shen and Shadow and Splat and Pipey, and all the other beautiful beings who have transitioned.

I learned how to be friends with Grief. To invite Grief into my home.

Today, I am learning to be friends with Cancer. To invite Cancer in; to sit with her; to offer her tea.

Dear Cancer, you have come many times before. I honor you and I see you. I know the time will come when you will take my beloved Mister with you. I thank you for the kindness you are showing to my boy right now. In the same way you showed kindness to Ahnung and she did not experience much pain, I ask you to please offer the same to Mister. And when it is time for him to go, please have him let me know with a clear sign.

I am grateful for another day with Mister. I am grateful he is still full of life and his spirit is high. I am grateful he still attempts to follow me around everywhere, begs for food, perks up for treats, and tries to carry shoes outside. I am grateful for the amazing support we have, and for his siblings watching over him.

Mister and Missy

Mister and Ishka

Splat and Shen

Ahnung's Celebration of Life

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