On August 17th at 5:45, I held my eldest dog, Angie, as she took her last breath. I rubbed her gently behind the ears and kissed her forehead, taking in as much of her as I could before I let the technicians take her away. In the 36 hours since I let them lift her out of my arms, I've been wandering around the house looking for things she might have left around...clumps of hair, a toy, a half-chewed bone, a hidden towel. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was the first time in my life I lamented my own neatness. She was really gone.
She was 15 and had been sick for a year. Homeopathy had kept her miraculously vital and calm throughout that time even though she both bilateral cardiomyopathy and metastasized carcinoma. She'd stayed vital for longer than anyone could have anticipated, but I knew it was coming. I thought I was prepared. After all, I'd had a fair amount of time to ready myself. In these last few weeks as I had to help lift her up to go outside so she could urinate, I tried to tell myself as so many others were telling me that when the time came I would be relieved. They promised that I would know it was the right time and it would be okay.
I know they meant well, truly. And I desperately wanted to believe them and wanted it to be true. That it would be okay. But I was not relieved. And it did not feel right.
When I got the diagnosis more than a year ago, I made a committment to myself and to her that I would see her through it all. I would minister to her while she was here and when it was time for her to die, I would be fully present. It was the least I could do. She had been my truly faithful companion for more than 11 years since I'd rescued her. She was my first dog, my mentor, and my trusted guardian. So when the time came I did what I promised I would do. I watched her die.
I had hoped that the people who talked to me about the "naturalness" of death were right. I had prayed for comfort in the way they had promised. But I didn't feel it at all. I know that when I let go of her body, limp and without any of the fight she had in life, the Angie I loved and trusted and trained and struggled with for all those years was simply not there anymore.
As I held her and felt her chin go limp against my thigh, the strangest though popped into my mind: I'd heard people speak of dead weight before, but she seemed terribly light, nearly weightless to me as if the greatest part of her, her ballast, had departed with her last heartbeat. She ...Angie... was not there anymore. Shehad beenthere. But then she wasn't. I do not understand it. And I find that no matter what I do I cannot understand that. Where is she? Where did she go? She was just here. I pace the house like a child whining a mantra, "I want my dog back."
It must sound awfully naive for a therapist and homeopath to be so surprised by death. I have seen death before, though luckily not very much. But I don't think the exposure has helped me understand or accept it much better any more than the platitudes about the cycle of life.
When I was a very youngpsychotherapist, not two weeks out of graduate school, I worked at a hospital in New Rochelle on the med/surg unit. There were 30 some-odd beds and all of them were filled all the time with very sick people. I was only there for two months, but I watched several people covered in sheets and rolled away by stretcher. It was a hospital. I was saddened by it, but I expected it.