Farewell, My Beloved
On Monday the 6th of July 2020 I awoke at 5am after a restless night. As soon as I opened my eyes and came to my senses I felt a heavy feeling of dread seep through my body and an immeasurable sadness take hold of my heart.
This was no ordinary Monday. This was the Monday when my family and I were to make a decision about our beloved 4 legged, family member. A decision we didn’t want to make. One which had been lurking in the corner for the past few days, willing us to look up and give it attention. We knew we couldn’t ignore it any more. Our deep and unconditional love for our beautiful, sweet, fur baby required us to be strong and suspend our need for her to stay with us and to rather choose the kind and compassionate yet extremely difficult path. As American Rock Bank, The Fray sing: "Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same."
"Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same."
And so this is my story of loss in the time of Covid-19. While this may be my story, I don’t stand her alone. We are all experiencing tremendous loss during this time. Whether it's the loss of a loved one, the loss of a way of life, freedom of movement & social interactions, loss of a job or a business, we are all trying to come to terms with this new terrain. We are digging deep, exercising our resilience muscle and trying to make this new landscape a hospitable one. I've decided to share my story because through the loss, a new understanding and a shift was birthed. This may have resonance for you.
Sox, our beloved rescue, was diagnosed with Lymphoma on the 15 of May 2020 and we were told we only had 4-6 weeks left with her. We were completely floored by this diagnosis because she was only 7 years old, lively, energetic and gave us nothing but pure joy. In our home our pets are like our children and hold a place of great importance in our lives and hearts. I have to smile when I think of comedian Jerry Seinfeld's sentiments: "Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?"
“Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them’s making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?”
Don't you just love that...
I live near a beautiful park I call my “soul place”. I knew I had to go for a walk and connect with nature to try and find my centre in what felt like a brewing storm. As I walked along the path amongst the tall trees, with tears streaming down my face, I looked up at the bare branches silhouetted against the crisp blue sky and I noticed how perfect everything was. Winter had stripped the leaves and left the grass dry and pale but soon the season would change and life would once again return to the trees in the form of buds, then leaves, then greenery, then growth. I witnessed the remarkable flow of life before me, the eternal cycle of endings and beginnings. Each ending was simply making way for a new beginning and no matter how much I wanted to resist this ending, how much my inner voice was screaming "no!", I knew I had absolutely no control over it. This was life unfolding as life does. As I stood under the trees I became aware of these questions arising, "Are there lessons to be learnt from this? Is it possible that this is happening "for" rather than "to" us?"
Once these questions were given space to grow in my mind and heart I felt a shift take place because it was at this moment that meaning, acceptance and faith became a part of the journey. A complete surrendering to something far greater than myself. It didn't ease my pain, but it changed my experience of it.
I had moved from being a victim to becoming a student.
Knowing that we had limited time meant that the moments became full embodied, heart opening ones. I practice and teach Mindfulness and so this became a very real lesson in the art of consciously being in the present moment. I could embody the feelings of love and calm when I was fully immersed in the moment with Sox - stroking her ears, nuzzling her neck or taking her for a walk. I also noticed how in an instant, without me realising it, a thought about her dying or suffering would slip into my conscious awareness and hijack the moment. I would become inconsolable. Yet, as soon as I became aware that the pain and tears were as a result of being lost in past and future thinking, I would gently bring myself back to the now. It wasn't about dismissing or suppressing my emotions. On the contrary, I wanted to feel them and allow them to flow but I was also very clear that they were coming from a thought and a story in my mind.
The walks in the park stopped and Sox spent most of the day sleeping. She could no longer jump onto the bed for an early morning cuddle so we would lovingly carry her to the bed and put her under the covers. One day she just stopped eating. I found this so difficult to deal with yet I couldn't turn away. I paused, relaxed, opened my heart and surrendered to the next stage. Food represents life and so seeing her reject her food was the realisation that she was beginning to retract from life and that the end was near.
We had 7 weeks and 3 days with Sox from the time of diagnosis and they were filled with so much love, gratitude, kindness, understanding as well as pain and tears. Most importantly there was an honouring of what was happening and absolutely no regrets.
We buried our beloved Sox in our garden and had a special ceremony of picked flowers, words and many tears. I never tried to hide my sorrow from my sons or pretend that I was ok, because I wanted them to see that this was part of the process. Feeling sadness and pain is not a weakness or something to be ashamed of. When I brought my awareness to the emotion and allowed it to move through my heart I realised that the sadness was just an intense and beautiful feeling of love.
One day, whilst paging through "The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer, I came across a chapter called “Contemplating Death”. He writes “It is truly a great cosmic paradox that one of the best teachers in all of life turns out to be death.”
“It is truly a great cosmic paradox that one of the best teachers in all of life turns out to be death.”
He writes that when you are aware any moment could be your last, you begin to live a deeper and more meaningful life.
“Look how callous we get with our loved ones. We take it for granted that they’re there and that they’ll continue to be there for us. What if they died? What if you died? What if you knew that this evening would be the last time you’d get to see them? How would you feel? How would you interact with them? Would you even bother with the little grudges and complaints you’ve been carrying around? How much love could you give the ones you love knowing it would be the last time you’d get to be with them? Think about what it would be like if you lived like that every moment with everyone. Your life would be really different. You should contemplate this. Death is not a morbid thought. Death is the greatest teacher in all of life.”
Life is uncertain, unpredictable and ever changing. This has become so very clear to all of us since Covid-19 barged through the doors of our lives. An uninvited guest causing havoc, fear, distress. Yet at the same time gifting us with an opportunity to reflect and introspect, just like the loss of Sox has done.
It’s just a few weeks since she left this world and the wound is still raw, the loss is still huge AND the lessons she left us with are still making their way into the deeper parts of my heart and soul. They pop up throughout the day, a blessing, a reminder.
And so I’d like to leave you with this challenging contemplation.
If you knew that you had one week or one month to live, how would you live it?
What would you change in your life?
Would your thoughts and priorities shift? If so, how?
How would you treat and experience the people in your life?
If this makes you feel sad or panicked, try and push beyond the emotion because there are great realisations that can come from this consideration.
You see, no one has a free pass, our lifetime on this earth is finite and that is why it is so precious. Spend valuable time sifting through what is important and what is not because the question that death asks of you is “What are you doing with life?”
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