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Aug 02

Grieving While Spiritual

My dog died four weeks ago.
Shelby 2011-03-03 at 15.09 #2

To be honest, four weeks ago my husband and I made the decision to euthanize our dog.

There wasn’t much of a ‘decision’ to make; she could no longer walk, and she was refusing both food and water. I came home from a working-vacation in Maine in order to be with her and my husband at the vet appointment. We knew what the vet would say, and we knew it wasn’t fair to try to keep her alive. She would have died naturally within a week, possibly less, and she would have suffered even more.

Shelby was an amazing dog. She was 15 years old; we adopted her as a rescue 8.5 years ago. She was a German Shepherd / Husky mix, incredibly bright and sweet. She was incredibly even-tempered, even when our two-year-old nephew followed her around and then gave her a lot of attention when she laid down, even when his twin sister asked to be near Puppy, then shrieked if Shelby shifted or looked at her. (To be fair, when Shelby stood up, they were eye-to-eye. That would be daunting for anyone.) When Shelby was younger, she loved playing with her orange ball in our backyard. She wouldn’t play Fetch, but she loved Keep Away.

My husband and I don’t have kids, so Shelby was our baby. We still look for her when we come home. We still think about who might come to the house to give her lunch, if I’m going to be out. We hesitate before agreeing to overnight plans, until we realize that she won’t be home either.

As a minister and as a survivor of a pretty-close-to-death illness, I’m in a position to be more comfortable with death than the average person. I don’t shy away from discussions of end-of-life care; I’m (understandably) an advocate for organ transplantation. My Buddhist meditation practice encourages recognition of and reflection on impermanence, which includes death.

I have watched myself pass through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, eventually acceptance. They don’t happen in order, and I’m not necessarily done with one when I pass into another. I might circle back again. I watch my husband do the same, and we don’t grieve in the same way or on the same timetable.

We will likely adopt another rescue sometime in the future, but – to answer those who insist on asking – no, we aren’t ready to adopt again just yet.

I don’t necessarily believe in a physical version of Heaven, but I do believe that some aspect of our selves continues on after this lifetime. I believe that our souls (that might not be the right word) are here in physical bodies to learn lessons, which means that there must be multiple lifetimes in which to learn. I don’t necessarily believe in the physical reality of the Rainbow Bridge for our pets, but the idea of it is a blessing and comfort to me.

My personal experience blesses me with the visceral knowledge that Shelby’s body was done. My training and reading give me the tools to understand the stages of grief. My spirituality allows me to be with my emotions, to allow myself to cry and grieve, to be kind to myself.

None of those make saying goodbye to my baby any easier.

 

 

 

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