Today I am grateful for community, above all. I’m also grateful for flexibility and strength, my own and others’. I didn’t expect to have to euthanize Stellar, and hoped not to; but that was ultimately the right choice. After toodling along at his own pace, with occasional expressions of discomfort and frustration, but plenty of seeming ease and happy interaction, eager to remain engaged with life, there was a sudden change about ten p.m. Thursday night. Thus ensued a night of horrible suffering for him, and utter helplessness for me. There’s a great disparity between what’s available for hospice care for a person v. what’s available for hospice care for a dog. The meds in my arsenal simply couldn’t touch his pain for several hours. My knowledge of what to do was also lacking. By around 4 a.m. I was finally able to get him drugged enough to relax. We drifted in and out of sleep together on the floor.
A wee-hour email to a friend resulted in an informal vet consult and kind advice at sunup (thank you, K&D). A text to Dr. Tam at 5 led to a short whispered phone call at six, and by the time offices opened at 8, I was making calls trying to find a vet to come here, without success. Several of Stellar’s and my friends rallied around, and converged here at 9:15. Four of us carried him on his blanket out to the van, and settled him on a soft bed. I crawled in and lay curled around him. He never opened his eyes or raised his head. Garden Buddy and Uncle Bill drove me to Houseweart Vet in magnanimous silence. Deb and Rosie set to deepening and lengthening the grave Stellar had been working on for years, under his favorite tree.
When we crossed the river, Stellar raised his head. He knew exactly where we were. There’s a pullover where we used to park and let him run down along the river any time we drove that way. Even though it’s been a year since we’ve done that, wow, those dogs never forget. From then on, he occasionally raised his head and laid it on the console, as he would for any other car ride, any other journey. It was a beautiful thing to see, his calm, his interest, his acceptance, ok, we’re going for a ride! The rest of the time he laid his sweet head down beside mine, peaceful.
At the vet, it couldn’t have gone better. He lifted his head for one last pet from GB, then turned and pressed his forehead against mine in a profoundly moving gesture of connection. Then he settled back into our spoon where he remained calmly through the procedure. Dr. H said, “He’s going to need a BIG hole!” I said, “There are a couple of girls back home digging one now.” He said, “I mean a backhoe hole!”
I cried all the way home. When I paused from crying over Stellar, I looked into the front seats and wept again at the enormous kindness of my staunch, wise, compassionate friends, who took this time out of their day to help us. And they didn’t say a word all the way home; they simply let me grieve in peace within the comforting support of their noble silence, as if knowing that I couldn’t stand to hear a word of condolence.
I pulled myself together when we got home. My gravediggers suggested I take a look to be sure it was right before we carried him down there. I walked to the favorite tree and was staggered by the size of the hole my two lady friends of a certain age had managed to dig, and the enormous mound of dirt beside it. I burst into tears again. I was not alone in that. Rosie said it best: “He was a very good boy.”
There are millions of acts of kindness and compassion every day around the world, which we tend to forget because we never hear about them in the ‘news.’ Yesterday I was overwhelmed with keen awareness of the kindness of others. And the texts, voice messages, emails, and gifts dropped off since yesterday noon have kept my heart buoyed in a sea of love. Stellar loved everyone. He was the epitome of loving-kindness: he brought a sincere intention of friendliness to everyone he met. Many people loved Stellar in their own ways, and his life and death touched them deeply. I’m grateful that I got to be steward of a dog with such a big heart and extensive loving influence.
I’m grateful that a new, unknown friend in Australia shared an excerpt from this poem for me, after I told the story of Stellar’s demise in our monthly zoom meeting; an excerpt in which his mother had switched pronouns and sent him in a card a couple of weeks ago after his own dear dog Oscar had been run over and killed.
by Mary Oliver
She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile—–
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
perfect arch of her neck.
It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.
Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.
My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her
wild, slightly mossy tongue.
Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
He is wiser than that, I think.
A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky.
Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?
A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.
Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?
A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace
of his own making?
She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.
Now she is buried under the pines.
Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not to be angry.
Through the trees is the sound of the wind, palavering
The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?
How strong was her dark body!
How apt is her grave place.
How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.
the slick mountains of love break
After a twelve hour sleep last night, I am strong and stable in my grief today. There is emptiness everywhere I turn; and also, there is his presence in the space around me, and in the space within. I woke feeling skinless and raw. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow into a new skin of unknown qualities. I hope to bring Stellar’s boundless heart into the person I become without him.