How to Experience Life and Death without Running from Either – The Story of My Dog Josie
My dog, Josie (beagle), the star of many of my youtube videos, died on Thursday, February 26, 2015. We mercifully put her to sleep after her long battle with cancer and other diseases, which were greatly affecting her heart and liver.
Early that morning, my husband called me with distress in his voice, “Josie collapsed, you need to come home.” She was doing her usual stubborn refusal to come inside when my husband called her name. As he walked towards the desert sand outside our backyard, he watched her collapse. I’m sure it scared him. I could hear the fear in his voice. I came home quickly and we both took her to the vet. Almost immediately the vet suggested putting her down. He said she might have a week left but it would be a tough week for her. Before we put her down, we wanted to give her a great last meal, the kind she loved but couldn’t have most of her life – a greasy cheeseburger and fries. After walking her to a nearby fast food place, we watched her gulp it down as best she could with her energy so low. She seemed to love it!
Back at the Vet’s office after her last supper, they took her into the back to give her a strong sedative. As they brought her back, she was completely limp and in a dazed state of what probably felt to her like total relaxation. As the doctor shot her full of the drugs that would end her life, tears were rolling down our eyes. We watched her take her few last, very short breaths and then she was gone.
Having gone through so much death in this last few years (with the passing of my mother, grandmother and then, before that, several good friends), I felt open to the grief. I knew that just jumping back into work would have been a way to push it back down. But I’ve worked with many people who suppressed grief for decades, only to suffer long term effects. Instead of going back to work, I drove to a quiet place and cried and kept attention in my body and throat, resting with the waves of sadness, which seemed to fill up the entire universe, and then dissipate back into the calm, peaceful space of the moment.
As the waves began to subside and I returned to work, I saw ghost images flashing everywhere. I would see Josie everywhere I went – at work, at home. In these moments, you could say that it was mindfulness, as I watched each image come and go. But the experience of it was not a practice. It was just seeing my girl Josie flash in my awareness in the same way she used to do when she was alive. Maybe it’s the brains way of discharging grief or even celebrating her memory. Every time a wave of sadness would come up, I would bring attention directly into it, riding each wave out until it fell back into the ocean of peace. The waves continued for the next day, with long stretches of a deep, inner/outer peace between them. This was the same way I experienced the grief of my mother’s passing last October. It’s like the waves are just like these precious family members or pets. They come, they are welcomed and loved, and then they go, leaving no trace – only a deep peace, acceptance and love that cannot truly be put into words.
There is something powerfully freeing and healthy about grieving consciously and openly and not running from it in any way. It would have been so easy to medicate or cover up those waves of grief by distracting myself with work or even food or some addictive substance. But none of that made sense. Feeling the grief fully was the only thing that made any sense at all.
Grief is really just love, disguised as sadness and loss. It is showing us that the universe and our interconnected lives within it are held together by love. Love is the very foundation of human life and our relationships with each other and our beloved animals, and even with all sentient beings if our heart is open enough to love that deeply.
Once again, I have seen that the line between life and death is really no line at all. The moment of breath and the moment of no breath have no real separation between them. This is why today I celebrate the passing of my good friends, my mother, my grandmother and now my baby girl “Josie.” I’m glad for them to have found the deepest peace in death. Our loved ones never really leave. We know them through our thoughts, emotions and sensations while they are living. And upon their deaths, we still know them in this same way. In that way, they never truly die.
Death is nothing to be afraid of. Grief is nothing that needs to be avoided. It is merely showing us how much we are capable of love – big, big love – big enough to fill the universe. Big enough to include the life and death of all forms. Big enough to include all the thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise with each of those forms. Big enough to include the death of our own selves, without fear.
Dear Friends – Live today as if you will never die. You won’t. Just ask Josie! She is probably running all around earth now sniffing everything she didn’t get to sniff while she here on earth with us and loving it all! And even if she is not doing that, my thoughts tell me that this is what she is doing. And that’s the only way I can experience Josie in death, just as it was the only way I could experience her in life.
May you rest in peace, during life and death, with a love so big that your heart can’t handle it, so big that it breaks when you face the death of those you love, so big that you grieve fully and consciously when they die, and then move onto experiencing your own life and death fully and consciously.