Living With the Dying: a 'tail' of life and death.
In June 2014, my little dog, Maisie, died in my arms. She had been my faithful friend for 10 wonderful years, and when she was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer a few months previously, and given only a couple of weeks to live, I was totally devastated. For the next 24 hours, I cried almost continually and it felt as if my world had fallen apart.
In case you're wondering; I'm not a lonely woman with only my faithful 4-legged friends to support me. (And I mean no offence to anyone reading this piece who recognises themselves from that description. Rather, I would offer the suggestion that you are very fortunate to have discovered the completely unconditional love offered by your ‘furry companions'.) I have an understanding and supportive partner, two loving sons and several amazing grandchildren. I've been a dog ‘carer' for most of my life, but this little lady took the biscuit (sorry for the pun!) and became one of my dearest friends, as well as a much-loved accepted member of our family. My grandchildren used to jokingly call her ‘Auntie Maisie'.
A few days after the diagnosis, our wonderful homeopathic vet, Jane Keogh, gave me some advice that I hope I will never forget, because it totally changed my outlook on serious illness and approaching death.
"Niki", she said, "We live in a world where we are not encouraged to live with chronic or acute disease. Instead we either turn away from it ~ pretend it's not happening ~ or we spend lots of time and energy in looking for ways of medicating it to either attempt a cure or suppress the symptoms. Together we'll do our best for Maisie, and of course, miracles can and do occur, but if it's her time to leave us, then the best and kindest thing we can do for her is to support her intentionality.
Rather than grieve for the death which hasn't yet happened, why not live in the now and enjoy every precious moment of being with little Maisie?"
Every word Jane uttered resonated with me at a deep level. This was stuff I already knew ~ and often suggest to my clients ~ but it took someone else to bring it into sharp focus for me!
LIVING IN THE NOW
From that day, I celebrated every day that Maisie remained with us. I'm not going to pretend it was always easy, especially as she became increasingly uncomfortable and less active. Indeed, there were a couple of occasions when it looked like she was about to ‘check out', but then suddenly seemed better. It was rather like being on a roller coaster, but whenever I found myself getting sad about her leaving us, I would mentally pull myself back into the present ~ the ‘now' ~ and remind myself that she was still right there with me.
CELEBRATING WHAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW
I especially remember taking her for a stroll around a favourite meadow one day, before she found it hard to walk very far. It was a beautiful Spring day, and the meadow and surrounding hedgerows were full of bright flowers. The sun was shining and the sky was a soft blue and studded with tiny puffy clouds. I watched Maisie meandering along at her own pace, and found myself imagining walking through this meadow without her. My eyes filled with tears and my throat constricted painfully. Suddenly, a ‘voice' inside me said "You're doing it again! You're getting sad and anxious about the future. It's what you've always done, remember? Celebrate what you have right NOW!"
I used my well-practiced little mental ‘pull-back' and returned to the present. Suddenly, everything around me looked amazing ~ brighter, sharper and clearer ~ and even Maisie appeared to be perkier!
A RARE AND PRECIOUS LESSON
I came to recognise how much she was teaching me in those last few weeks. As her condition worsened, she required an increasing amount of love and care, which she was more than happy to accept. Despite her discomfort, she remained calm, whilst seemingly enjoying the attention we bestowed on her. In turn, I learned to appreciate her apparent acceptance of what was, and to enjoy every moment spent with her. I can only liken it to being given a gift of something rare and precious.
The end came quickly, and almost took me by surprise. She left us so peacefully, without any intervention, which is what we had hoped for (and what I had asked for when talking with my 'Higher Self'). Lying in my arms, while I was sitting on the kitchen sofa with a glass of wine to hand, listening to The Archers on the radio; she just drifted off, and it took me some minutes to realise she had gone. At my partner's suggestion, I remained on the sofa for another hour or two, cuddling her cooling body, laughing, crying and toasting her life with copious amounts of wine.
TODAY IS A GIFT
Yes, then I allowed myself to grieve, deeply and unashamedly. At the same time, I celebrated the 10 wonderful years we had together, and thanked her over and over for what she had taught me in those last few weeks.
Remember the saying?
The past is history
The future is a mystery
But today is a gift
That's why it's called ‘the present'
Blessings on you Maisie for your teaching; and on you too, Jane, for those few wise words that helped me to remember how to live in and to celebrate, the now!
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