Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

What My Dog’s Death Taught Me.

November 22, 2013

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By Amy Roost.

Last week, my husband and I took our 13-year old yellow lab, Tiki, to the veterinarian…for the last time.

Ever since she’d been diagnosed with bladder cancer a few months ago, I’d been bargaining with God (I’m not religious, mind you). First, I asked God to allow Tiki to survive until I got back from a trip to Toronto. She survived. Then I asked God to allow her to survive until my oldest son came home from college for fall break. She survived. Most recently, I asked that she be allowed to survive until Christmas when my younger son was due to return home. But as her steady decline quickened its pace it was clear I’d bargained all my chips away and there would be no Christmas miracle. So I changed tactics and selfishly began praying that she would die peacefully in her sleep so that I wouldn’t have to put her down. But she didn’t die in her sleep. Why would she?   Even if her body was was no longer working for her, she loved life too much to give up. But signs that the inevitable was near were there no matter: The click, click, click of her nails as she paced across the the slate tiles in our home woke me night after night; and the fur around her eyes turned dewy as if she was suffering from a fever. And then, despite all my magical thinking and best attempts at praying, she let us know with one large pool of blood-filled urine that there was precious little life left to wring from her body.

My husband and I spread sheets in the back the car and lifted her onto the seat. We drove to her favorite bridle path where we thought we’d take her for a short walk before heading to the vet’s office. However, as soon as she picked up the scent of that old familiar trail, her nostrils flared and she caught her last second wind. We walked nearly a mile, further than she’d walked since 2010 when she blew out her knee chasing a raccoon across our deck. We passed by a corral where we used to stop every day and feed the horses carrots. I clicked my tongue and a black and white mare left her feeding trough to come greet us. I had nothing to offer her and thought as soon as she realized I was empty handed she’d go back to her supper. Instead, perhaps sensing something, she raised her muzzle over the fence and placed it on my shoulder. Leaning the side of her head against my face she breathed a warm, soft exhale onto my cheek and neck. I surrendered into this beast’s tender embrace of my sorrow.

The mare then did something even more unexpected. She raised her head back over to her side of the fence and bent down to where Tiki’s own muzzle was poking through the chain links. She touched her nose to Tiki’s through the fence. Just like God’s finger reaching out for Adam’s, she seemed to communicate, one animal to another, “take this moment, this beauty with you to the other side so that you may remember how good life was.”

Several dog-loving friends advised me to arrange for a home euthanasia but unlike other dogs, Tiki never seemed to mind doctor’s visits. Besides, I’ve been taking my pets to see Dr. Singh since 1997, and he and and his staff were extended family to me.  We were greeted with a sad smile from the receptionist, and Tiki was escorted to her usual examining room. She stood patiently while the doctor felt her bladder. He confirmed we were doing the right thing. As he and his assistant led Tiki out the  exam room to go place the catheter in her leg, my husband silently reached over and took my hand. I sat still, attempting a breathing technique I’d learned from years of practicing yoga, hoping it would help me through what was about to go down.

The assistant returned with Tiki and spread a fleece blanket on the floor. She and I knelt down and Tiki obediently followed my guide to lie down. The doctor came back into the room with two needles, the first containing a general anesthetic, the second a large dose of phenobarbytal which would stop Tiki’s heart. He placed the first needle into the catheter and began squeezing the pink fluid into Tiki’s vein. I thought to myself, “it’s not too late, I can still change my mind!”. Instead I simply cradled Tiki’s head as it slowly descended to the floor. Just as the assistant had warned me, her eyes did not close. I couldn’t bare to watch as Dr. Singh inserted the second needle but I knew he had because Tiki’s amber-speckled, soulful brown eyes began to cloud over. I said aloud to no one in particular, “the eyes are the window to the soul”. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the doctor place his stethescope on Tiki’s chest and listen.

Some time later, a few seconds, an hour–who knows?–I heard the doctor whisper, “That’s it”. With his words, I exhaled, realizing I too had stopped breathing (not exactly the breathing technique I’d been angling for). The room then fell silent and Tiki’s spirit–as evidenced by her fully occluded eyes-left the auditorium.

For the rest of this story, you’ll have to scoot over here a little closer.

Closer still. As if I’m your mother on her deathbed about to whisper my parting words of wisdom. Yes, it’s that important.

Okay. That’s good. Now, listen up:

No one ever waited for an envelope to arrive in the mail. No long-distance lover. No warrior’s child. No one.

What we wait for is the letter. Not the envelope.

As I looked upon Tiki’s motionless blonde fur; her barrel-chested body that once bounded through high chaparral in search of rabbits; as I looked at her sweet face that never growled at the hi-jinks of our two-year-old grandson or winced at the pain I know she’d suffered most recently–what I understood, and internalized for the first time, was that our bodies are the envelope, not the letter.  What made Tiki who she was, a sweet-natured, strong-willed, immensely loving, loyal and constant companion was NOT her body, the envelope, but rather what was inside the envelope. Her spirit…the letter.

You. Yes, YOU. The person sitting right next to me. You are not your Louis Vitton purse, your Brooks Brothers suit, your BMW, your tinted mascara, your low lights, your perfectly sculpted abs or your bulging pecs. That’s all envelope. Okay, so maybe your envelope is velum, or embossed or made of artisan handmade paper. Or maybe it got lost in the mail and your envelope is crumpled and stained around the edges. I don’t know and I don’t care. What the people who know you love, what they enjoy, what they crave, what they will miss when you are gone is the letter. The contents. The meaning. The spirit. The YOU.

 1328_1023322255733_9486_nHer multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors. Click here to connect with Amy.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

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37 Comments

  • Reply He&SheAnonymous November 22, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I had a lab named Lucky :/ They are amazing dogs

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Sounds like you were the “lucky” one. I’m convinced that he lab is part human. The good part 😉

  • Reply barbarapotter November 22, 2013 at 9:30 am

    HI Amy Jen’s mom here. This is so beautiful and touched my heart so much. One of our beloved family dogs belonging to our kids Jeff and Jenn and grandson Brent had to be put down yesterday due to cancer and it is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply Kulbir Ghai November 22, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Death, is the harshest Reality.The one which Teaches us Life. It is the the one that bring Finality to your Action, end the postponement, makes us more Spiritual,(since you do not like the word Religious.) makes us more Human .

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      I’m so sorry Barbara. It’s so tough to lose anything we’ve love, but with dogs the grief is so uncomplicated by mixed emotions we may have about a person who passes. I think that is what makes it a somehow “purer” grief.

  • Reply Jean November 22, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Amy,

    Thank you for your beautiful story. When my husband left me and I felt I could not get out of bed, my dog Sarah ran up the stairs to my bedroom, placed her face against my cheek and softly exhaled. She walked the perimeter of my room, went to the door, and then stopped and looked back at me. I got up and started over because somebody (dear wonderful Sarah) showed me that she cared about me.

    I think your Tiki, Sarah and the horse in your story are kindred spirits.

    Bless you.

    Sincerely,

    Jean

  • Reply Jean November 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Amy,

    Tiki’s eyes are so beautiful and kind. I set her image as my computer desktop background.

    Tiki will live on in your heart and in your writing.

    Jean

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Thank you for sharing Jean. When I got divorced and the first time the boys went to be with their dad for a weekend, I didn’t think I would make it those three days. But my Tiki never left my side and somehow we got through it together. Thank you for posting her picture on you desktop. I’m a bit biased, but she was an incredibly soulful dog, and it really shows thru in that picture.

  • Reply Liz November 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing…we laid our beloved Thor to rest 7-29 of this year. I so want to write an end to his story but still can’t get past the tears.

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      I’m so sorry Liz. I have crying fits, daily. And in the most inappropriate places and inopportune times…middle of yoga class, Costco frozen food aisle…

      Somehow the tears also feel good. My son said he wished he were home so he could be more “steeped” in his grief. I thought this was interesting and made me feel grateful that I’m not somewhere else but right here where she was and where i can fully experience the grief, and longing.

  • Reply Susie November 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

    You are a very wise woman with a gift for eloquent writing. Thank you for sharing. I have many “letters” that I miss very much and yet, I sense that at times, they are still around me.

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      Thank you Susie. Tho maybe I’m not so wise given it took me 51 years to “get” that who we are is not defined by what we own, wear, drive, etc. As the Buddha said, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, and in this case the teacher was a four-legged best friend.

  • Reply Teju November 23, 2013 at 2:20 am

    So moving & heart breaking!

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      Thank you Teju. I also enjoy your writing!

  • Reply Eleni November 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!!YES ,TIKI WILL BE IN YOU HEARD FOREVER!!!

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Thank you Eleni. She will for sure!!

  • Reply Lucille November 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    We let our lovely Sheltie go just 24 hours ago. I was reading your post and just bust out crying (again….) at your description of the first needle “not too late”…. I was in that exact place and the eyes… I came home in a stupor, and today was the worst day ever. I miss Max’s spirit and his envelope. I keep expecting him to come around the corner… he used to follow me around all day long. He was my baby-who-never-grew-up, but unfortunately, he did grow old… Yesterday, his last day on earth, we loved him something fierce—let him sit outside in the sun, made him a steak on the grill, gave him treat after treat, let him lay with us on the bed… I hope those last memories of love stayed with him on his next journey. I miss him so much.
    Thank you for sharing your story…

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Lucille, I’m so glad this piece found you when you needed it most. I’m sorry for your loss. Sheltie’s are so sweet! I know what you mean about expecting him to come around the corner. The hardest part(s) of the day for me are when I come home and she’s not there to greet me. Even when she was too sick to get up the last few days, she had a look on her face and her tail went thump thump thump of the tail when *I* came around the corner, and she saw me. I don’t know how it’s possible to forget she’s not here any longer every time I walk thru the door, but somehow it is.

  • Reply Susan M. November 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    A beautiful touching story. My heart goes out to you.

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Thank you so much, Susan.

  • Reply Carolyn November 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    My life is marked by the number of animal friends I have had to let go and yet, every day I remember the uniqueness of each as if they have never left me at all.

    • Reply Amy Roost November 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      I know what you mean. I feel that way about my pets and also my books 🙂

  • Reply Ariana Antonio November 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    I lost my dog to cancer last week and this article really hit home. My boy was 13 as well and died of cancer that was in his throat. My husband is a pilot and was gone for the weekend when things went bad. I kept praying (not religious either) that my sweet Biko would make it until his Daddy got home so he could say goodbye. He died 2 hours before my husband made it home. It tears my heart out every time I think about it.

    I also often forget he’s gone. It is hardest coming home without him here to show me how excited he is to see me. I still look at his empty food bowls and think I need to fill them. I’ll look at the time and think he’ll need his walk soon. When I roll over in bed I lift my legs to make sure I’m not going to kick him. Damn this is hard. But, I feel lucky to have had his love and had the chance to love him back.

  • Reply Jean November 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Ariana,

    Thoughts, prayers and hugs to you.

    Take care,

    Jean

  • Reply Grace January 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Amy… thank you for your beautiful words. They touched my soul.

    Gx

    • Reply Amy Roost January 27, 2014 at 11:55 pm

      That’s all I’ve even wanted my writing to do. Thank you Grace (which happens to be my favorite word in the English language).

  • Reply Fishink January 28, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Beautifully said. I hope you have wonderful memories of your time together. She was well loved and happy, the most we can offer any four legged soul in our care. Job well done mum : )

  • Reply Paula Erickson January 28, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Your story is so similar to ours. Apollo was 9 years old when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He was my husband’s constant companion. He loved life. We often joked that he was the neighborhood dog. All the neighbors know him and loved him. I had just come home from the hospital when it was time for Apollo to make his last trip to the vet. My husband brought him in to our bedroom where I was resting for me to say good-bye. Then my kids made their very tearful good-byes. My husband said Apollo was too weak to go for a walk or do anything fun, so he stopped at McDonald’s to give him one last treat. Apollo was never allowed people food because it made him sick, but that didn’t stop him from trying. So he ate part of a double cheeseburger with my husband. My husband described his leaving much like you did. But Apollo taught us something different. You see, his death helped us deal with the death of both of my husband’s parents. We had never had someone close to us die before. Apollo taught us how to deal with the death of a loved one. Thank you for your story.

  • Reply Jessica Taylor January 28, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    in love with this post. i can only imagine the grief you’ve experienced. sending you love!

  • Reply We Are Not Envelopes | DaveWorthams.com January 30, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    […] The nice thing about Facebook is that you can find a lot of good links to articles, blogs, pictures, and the like that make you think about life in new or different ways.  Recently a friend in Texas shared a blog she stumbled upon called “The Manifest-Station”.  One of their writers, Amy Roost, wrote a post titled “What My Dog’s Death Taught Me.“ […]

  • Reply Rose Power June 13, 2014 at 8:23 am

    My Piper’s death taught me this: Loneliness, sadness and heartache. I lost the best friend I ever had. I mourn him every day and it has been three very long very sad years…..

  • Reply Mae Whitten June 14, 2014 at 4:51 am

    Omg, I need to have my 17 year old Golden Retriever put down and I just can’t, I just can’t. As it is I am so alone, I just can’t loose my Daisy. I just can’t…

  • Reply Lucy8a February 5, 2015 at 6:51 am

    I MISS MY LETTER!

    This was a tough one to read. I’m bawling right now … on Christmas Eve morning, I let my little 11 year old shih tzu, Mitzi, go (she hhad cancer, too. It’s now early February and I still cry daily, and that’s okay. She was almost more than a child to me (don’t judge! I love my adult daughter!!) because we were together 24/7. I now have a little 1-2 year old mutt who has been abandoned 3 times. She was perfectly named Coconut (I’m a coconut oil fanatic) when we rescued each other two weeks ago after her last “humom” (my s.o.’s ex) died unexpectedly of a heart attack, but I call her CocoMutt cause I’m not sure which 2 or 3 breeds she is. She’s my new shadow, but I feel it may be too soon for me to bond with her as much as she’s bonded with me. And that’s okay, too. I’m sure Mitzi knows how much I’m hurting and had a paw

  • Reply Lucy8a February 5, 2015 at 6:51 am

    I MISS MY LETTER!

    This was a tough one to read. I’m bawling right now … on Christmas Eve morning, I let my little 11 year old shih tzu, Mitzi, go (she hhad cancer, too. It’s now early February and I still cry daily, and that’s okay. She was almost more than a child to me (don’t judge! I love my adult daughter!!) because we were together 24/7. I now have a little 1-2 year old mutt who has been abandoned 3 times. She was perfectly named Coconut (I’m a coconut oil fanatic) when we rescued each other two weeks ago after her last “humom” (my s.o.’s ex) died unexpectedly of a heart attack, but I call her CocoMutt cause I’m not sure which 2 or 3 breeds she is. She’s my new shadow, but I feel it may be too soon for me to bond with her as much as she’s bonded with me. And that’s okay, too. I’m sure Mitzi knows how much I’m hurting and had a paw

  • Reply Leila March 31, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    My lab, Mell, is almost 10 years old. I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough if this time come to us. I feel your pain. But thanks for sharing this important thing You discovered…

  • Reply Keri April 1, 2015 at 4:33 am

    I am so sorry for your loss of Tiki. Four weeks ago we had to put our Golden down. He never showed the pain he must have been suffering, not until the last few hours, and even then he would have good moments. Loosing him has been very hard on our family. We miss him terribly.
    Not that I was ever one to care about petty things, but after he passed, everything seemed so. I remember watching a show about house hunters & renovations & I thought, “none of this matters!! This doesn’t make us!”
    What my dog taught me is to love as much as you can, don’t take time & love for granted. I’ve always been a happy person & enjoy the little things, but reminded me of it every day.
    He makes me want to be better.
    I miss his loving eyes, his hot smelly breath, his nails clicking the floor & our hikes.

  • Reply Vicki April 1, 2015 at 7:27 am

    I knew that I was going to cry before the first word, but I was sobbing and trying to stop the tears, which was futile. What an absolute beautiful window into your journey with Tiki. You are so right and as a Breast Cancer survivor who often wonders who will remember me when I’m gone – I pray that someone ‘read’ the letter of me, not just looked at the envelope! God Bless you…now to reapply my makeup. 🙂

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