•Trigger Warning: story about death and dying.•
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountaintop,then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shal claim your limbs,then shall you truly dance.”
3 months ago our pug Baba developed type 1 diabetes. We had to take him off his anti-inflammatory steroids that had been keeping his spinal stenosis at bay, without it he rapidly lost mobility from the waist down. Within days he was our little paraplegic pug. Yet even so, he was still eager to wake up every day, interested in eating anything we’d offer him (except cottage cheese) and when we’d check in with him to let him know if he wanted to go we were okay with that, but the answer we kept getting rather clearly was “I’m not dead yet”. Last Sunday April 19th was a lovely day, we walked around the yard and enjoyed the newly blooming crocuses, got stuff done and then enjoyed dinner and Sunday evening programs with Baba snuggled in happily against my left thigh as usual. I carried him up to bed and settled him in on his blankets. Everything was ordinary and like any other Sunday night with our family.
At 7:30 I was awakened by Baba making some sounds of distress. Whether this was him actually crying out to me or some kind of telepathy I will never really know. Ordinarily I am SOUND asleep at 7:30 but I was awake. I checked on him and could tell he was not quite right, he was flopped on his side and when I tried to right him on his belly he couldn’t hold the position. I quickly took a moment to use the bathroom and came back and picked him up. At that moment I clearly got a message in my mind from him: “It’s time, I’m dying, I am ready now.”
We had been anticipating that this day would come, but we had no inclination that it would be that day. Death is like that. It is never exactly like you imagine it will be and rarely if ever is the date marked on the calendar so you know when to prepare for it. If there is anything that death has taught me is that it is better to treat every single day like it could be the last and make sure that each encounter you have with every one dear will suffice if it ends up being the final one.
We’ve lost two other pugs over the years as well as our cat Rumi and as a result of these emotionally intense experiences I have come to recognize what it looks and feels like when your beloved companion is dying. I am so grateful I knew it immediatedly this time. I had a conversation earlier today and I observed that when it comes to being around Death, resistance is futile, we can either accept what is happening and allow the process to unfold using all of our energy and focus on what needs to be done to facilitate the easiest passing for our dear ones, or we can fight it and miss the opportunity to experience the depth of those last precious moments and behold the sacredness of crossing over.
As I held Baba I felt was the deep connection between us, I sang Calling All Angels to him and he made sweet, sighs of relief as I rocked and cradled his little body while we waited for my husband to get dressed and ready. As soon as I considered a question, I KNEW the answer as if he was communicating directly with me about exactly what he wanted and needed. It took five minutes to run a comb through my hair and throw on my clothes. We called the vet and told them we were coming in shortly and as miracles are known to happen at the most opportune moments, we got a call that Baba’s favorite veterinarian Dr Carol had a cancelation and we could bring him in that morning. I brought Baba outside and tried to help him to take one last pee, but the moment I tried to put him down his heart started to pound wildly with fear and he let me know he did not want to leave my arms even for a second. So I held him as my husband, our other pug Bob, Baba and I went for one last walk around the yard. We stopped in the little grove of trees where all of our pets are buried and we could all see exactly where Baba would be laid to rest a few hours later.
The four of us got in the car and Baba experienced his last ride in a car alive in his little pug body. Baba’s vet was ready for us as soon as we arrived and she confirmed what I intuitively knew, he had crossed the point of no return. It was likely he had had a stroke shortly before and it was indeed time to let go. He had lively joyfully and filled with love every single moment of his life and thankfully went from fine to gone in less than 2 hours.
It was such a gift to hold him as he died. I was so connected with him through the whole process that I could feel how he was feeling, so when Dr Carol gave him the first sedative cocktail I could feel the waves of relief flooding his little body and his deepening degrees of letting go. His breath relaxed from labored to calmer and he would periodically release the sweetest sighs of relief. When it was time for the second injection which stops the heart, he was ready. I held his body against my heart. I closed my eyes and tuned into Baba’s soul. In my experience dying is both very subtle and very profound at the same time. One one hand it is as if nothing happens and then on the other it is as if EVERYTHING is happening. What I experienced was a warm seeping of his glorious war ruby soul spread through me as he passed out of his own body. For the last few months I have been noting that it has felt like every time Baba would lie against my chest as I held him in my arms it was as if he was a Love Battery that was charging up to get ready for his passing. I imagined that if any pet of mine was going to stay and be my little ghost dog, it would be him. At this point it feels as if he has melted into everything. He has become part of me, part of our home, part of the universe. Free of his body there is now enough space to contain his infinite love.
Bringing him home we laid him on the living room floor so everyone could sniff and say goodbye to him. We have always done this whenever a pet dies in our household. Subsequently we have never had pets looking for the deceased one with confusion. They still grieve, and they still miss their friend, but they do not call or search the way I have heard some animals do when a pet just leaves and never comes back.
My husband, Bob and I went out to our pet cemetery with our garden tools and proceeded to dig a big hole. Like everything else with Baba’s death, while it certainly took effort, it was not a struggle. The ground broke willingly and even once we hit clay it still yielded to our shovels. Perhaps the most amazing thing was that as we dug a Red Tail Hawk circled directly over us calling to us for nearly the entire time it took us to dig the hole. Rain was expected, it was as if the Hawk was warding off the rain until we could finish. Once Baba’s grave was adequately dug, we went to get him and the things we would bury with him. Bob joined us and sat beside us as we gently lowered Baba with his towel shroud into his womb of earth. Paulo Santo & Sweetgrass were burned and smoke was offered. Offerings of stones, crystal, and personal objects were given to keep him company and rose petals were scattered. For a while the hawk had flown further away, but as soon as we started to lay Baba to rest the hawk came back and called to us as we made offerings, prayers and expressions of our gratitude. After replacing the layers of dirt over our dear boy stones were placed as a cairn to secure his grave with a buddha in the center. At the moment all garden tools were put away the first drops of rain began to fall and it continued to rain steadily for the rest of the day and night.
While I am sad, I am also deeply appreciative and grateful for the gift of such a peaceful and beautiful passing. I am grateful that he lived 1 week beyond his 14th birthday. I am grateful that the snow has finally melted and the ground was clear. I am grateful that the soil was moist and yielding. I am grateful that our vet had a last minute cancelation and could see us exactly when we needed to see her and that she could also say goodbye to him. I am grateful that he did not suffer and that we were both home to be present for these final moments. I am grateful that he woke me and I did not just roll over and go back to sleep. I am grateful to have experienced such profound love and devotion and to have known this dear dear wee angel.