Stellar’s Last Days: Letting Go

In some moments, he seems just fine. He ambles through the woods as he always has, led by his nose. I’m grateful that his nose still knows what’s where: I can rely on his nose to indicate something of interest, something that might necessitate my attention. I can no longer rely upon his ears, for his hearing is routinely 180º off: I call him from one side, and his ears perk and he turns the exact opposite direction of where I am, looking. It’s okay. It just means I have to keep him close to me on walks that I can chase him down, and not lose sight of him. I can no longer rely on his eyesight: unless I’m moving, he can lift his nose from the ground and scan for me and not see me, even when I’m directly in front of him. It’s okay. It just means I need to remain always in his sight, and adapt to his new normal.

We all three enjoyed a nice walk this morning, rambling through the south woods and sagebrush; and we took another walk this evening. While Stellar ambled in the woods, Topaz rolled in the dirt closer to me, then threw her ears back, before zipping off ahead of us both. And then, Stellar was no longer fine.

He was sniffing, and turning, and his feet got tangled up, as they do more and more often. Down he went. Usually, he can get himself back up, but not this time. He waited patiently for me to make my way to him. I’ve taken to walking always with a scarf on, so I can sling him up with it if necessary, but this evening, I had just showered, and changed into a loose dress, and it was so mild I forgot to put anything else on. Often, if I can reposition his feet, he can get up on his own, which fortunately was the case this time, though it took a couple of tries and a little extra lift from me.

I love you so much, without attachment.

I have to say it like this, because I see him slipping away more and more clearly. I realize that recently I’ve been resisting something that may not happen. I’ve been fretting about when it might be time to put him down. I’ve been experiencing sorrow, with resistance rather than with acceptance. I keep thinking I’m accepting it, and then there’s another layer. Each time we reach a new level of his infirmity, I resist for awhile before surrendering, and adapting my mind to his increased needs. When I finally do that, I’m still sad, but I suffer less and can enjoy him more. I may never have to make that painful decision for him. He may live comfortably until he just up and dies in his sleep, or in my arms like his sister did. Like my mother did, for that matter.

I’m grateful for a buddhist friend’s words of wisdom this afternoon. She shared advice from a visiting tulku, who essentially gave permission for contemporary buddhists to euthanize a pet when one could be clear that it was the animal who was suffering the most, and not oneself. And she said, “Your whole life right now is about his dying.” It’s true. I’m grateful for that understanding. And I can’t get impatient about it. This is my life right now, and it’s a worthy, meaningful process. One day he’ll be gone, and my life will be about something else. For now, I’m grateful for a daily practice of moment-to-moment letting go.

4 thoughts on “Stellar’s Last Days: Letting Go

  1. Hi Rita, He is a lucky dog to have you at his side as he has been at your side all his life. Dogs seem so Buddhist in their being completely in the now, not fretting about yesterday or tomorrow.

    Peace dear friend,

    Sean

  2. Rita… layers, yes … heartbreak like waves. I admire your love for this guy. I frequently miss my dog friends. do take care!

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