I woke up dreaming that I was feeding my old dog, Sancho, shiny new pennies as his treat.
After getting out of bed, I realized the significance of my dream: I was wishing him good luck. He was going home later that afternoon. Not to our house or to a new home to be someone else’s pet, but back to the origin of all things. I was taking him to the vet to end his suffering.
My heart was heavy. I had been struggling with the idea of losing him for the past month. He was starting to lose his dignity and his bladder. He had blood in his urine at times and to stand up and walk outside was becoming a chore. Yet, he did it everyday as much as he could, for me. His best friend. He was 106 years old in dog years. 16 years my pet. 16 years my companion and soul mate in the truest sense of the phrase. 16 years being the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. Now, I was having to make the hard decision to let him go. I was sick to my stomach.
How do you say goodbye to a loving animal that let you dress him up in Santa hats or as a vampire for Halloween? How do you end your time together when he was the one that laid next to you night after night as you cried yourself to sleep when your boyfriend broke up with you? How do you let go of the joy that comes into your heart when he gets excited every single time you walk into a room? How do you trust that you are releasing him into a peaceful universe when you don’t always fully believe in a higher power?
Loss is a difficult process to endure. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 years old and your security blanket was taken away from you or if you are 55 and you lost your husband of 30 years. Or if you miscarried 3 weeks into your pregnancy. When all you have known is gone from your life or something that you’re anticipating fails to materialize, you rarely know how you’re going to cope.
For me, humor eased my anxiety. To one friend who sent me a heartfelt text message the night I made the call to the vet, I sent him a virtual hug and told him that it was better than a real one right now because I had the ugly cries going on. I ended my text by quoting Tina Fey: “Blergh.” I’m sure he was a little confused (and possibly got a chuckle) from the awkwardness that facing death creates in people. The next morning, my mom posted on Facebook her feelings about losing Sancho. Hours before we were scheduled to go to the vet, mutual friends of ours sent me private messages expressing their sympathy and love. My sister texted me almost every hour asking how I was doing and to give Sancho kisses for her. My phone and inbox were bombarded with well wishes as Sancho sat by my side while I was at the computer or eating lunch at the dining room table. I appreciated their sincere words but all I could think about was the silly line from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail spoken by a sickly peasant in a wheelbarrow to the guards who are calling the townspeople to bring out those dead from the plague. “I’m not dead yet!”
Marking the significance of his transition was important for me, too. When he gave me a look that Wednesday evening that highlighted both his pain and his loyalty, I knew he was asking me to let him go. The look lasted only a second, but it was a deep, heartfelt communication. I took him outside, felt the breeze on my skin and watched a butterfly take off from one of my flowers and float away. Something deep inside of me realized Sancho’s soul leaving this world would be as easy and as graceful as the butterfly’s quick and soft motions. I mustered up all my courage and took him inside and made the fateful phone call I once had been dreading.
Later that night, after having snuggled with him and letting him eat whatever he damn well wanted, I took him outside and sat on the front porch with him. I lit the citronella candle and held him on my lap. I needed to let him know I was not just okay with him leaving, but that he would be going on to his next journey having fulfilled his life’s mission here on this earth. Typically, I tend to be able to rationalize that there is a God or a Higher Divine Spirit in this Universe, but overall my scientific mind craves proof. I constantly doubt that there is a higher power in my life and worry that I am left to do everything alone and struggle to achieve anything or worry that I’m never going to feel fully at peace. Anxiety jumps out at me at almost every turn in my life. But holding my dog in my arms, feeling his labored breathing and looking into his soulful brown eyes, the veil of doubt lifted that night and I knew that there was something greater in this world than just my sheer will to live a life I felt I was left to control and design all by myself. Here was a beautiful soul, in the form of a dog, proving to me beyond a doubt that we were meant to be together 16 years ago and live a rich and full life comforting, supporting, loving and trusting each other through thick and thin.
To mark his passing, I talked to him and told him he was going back to his mother and that he would finally get to figure out what this whole God-thing was. I sang to him two ancient Sanskrit mantras I was taught in my yoga classes. The first was one to let us both know that an act of compassion was being done to complete his happiness and freedom. The words are: “Lokah Samistah Sukhino Bhavantu” meaning “May all creatures everywhere be happy and free / and may my words, thoughts and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom.” The last one is the mother of all mantras, The Gayatri mantra. In essence, it honors the circle of life and honors the divine spirit within us and supporting us all. As I sang those repeatedly, I began to feel their power. In the past, I recited them or simply listened to them in classes, rarely feeling their full effects. But, my essence materialized that night on my front porch and a surge of strength and overwhelming sense to nurture came into me as I felt a release. Surrender to the Divine. Letting go then changed in that moment from the anxiety-filled belief that I was losing something forever to a dark, scary, dangerous void and shifted into a softness of being carried in a gentle, warm stream of pure love that would carry me to the next journey and phase of my life which would fill me up with new experiences that would teach me even more about the power of love. If I felt that, I would love to believe that Sancho did too.
I won’t go into detail of the clinical procedure. I will tell you that we looked into each other’s eyes and I saw the gratitude and love in his. I’m so happy that I was the last thing he saw before he went into a deep and eternal sleep. Our journey together came full circle and he has visited me in my dreams, running up to me with floppy ears and happiness filling his face. One morning, in the dewy haze of my dreams, I even saw him drop a penny at my feet. Wishing me good luck on this new phase of my journey.
“And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.” -Walt Whitman