I’m grateful for cactus blossoms indoors. I’m grateful that Topaz is alive after a complicated tumble, though she may have suffered a concussion. If it’s not one thing, it’s another… so went the joke while I was ‘growing up.’ Now, grown up, it doesn’t seem so funny, yet sometimes you just have to chuckle.
Yesterday evening she took a complicated spill from the sunroom table in her felt nest bed, and she hasn’t been quite right since. First, hiding upstairs. Not coming for treats. Staying way too still. Then, this morning, slow-motion creeping down the stairs one at a time, tiptoeing, as if feeling her way. It occurred to me she couldn’t see. Her eyes didn’t track the vet’s fingers, nor blink as I thought they should, nor her pupils contract with his flashlight. Yet when he put her on the floor and nudged her to walk, she leapt with certainty to the high silver table, landing like a feather. This impressed him and seemed diagnostic: to do that she must be fine. I thought, Maybe she’s not dying, but she could do that blindfolded. Her carrier was up there, the smell of it, the hard edge of the table. She could be less than blind and very compromised, and still make that leap.
Anyway, he let her go with a steroid shot and an oral antibiotic and instructions for me to give her pills for 3 days. That’ll be a trial. Or, at least, that’s my expectation. She could surprise me and be docile. Then the car battery was dead. There was someone there to give me a jump. I was grateful. Then I left the clinic, after waiting in the claustrophobic exam room for 45 minutes, in a pandemic, in the county in the state with the worst infection rate, in a state with the most increasing cases in the nation. The wise thing to do for myself and my cat was walk out unattended.
Then the car battery was dead. There was someone to give me a jump. I was grateful. I hightailed it home, surrendered. Grateful for a live cat, a live battery, getting home, kindling already split, a hot shower, soft pants, a warm fire, a zoom meeting, a single ice-cold martini. Accepting what is. Get me to my bed on time! If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Or so it seemed in that moment, that refractory period where emotions cloud perspective. Remember yesterday, and the cosmos? Chill out.
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.
Her Grave 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 cunning elbows, 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 slowly.
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 almost nothing.
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.
Finally, the slick mountains of love break over us.
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.
Oh Topaz. I know right where she is, or where she was just after dark: east of the fence, lying in wait beside a scrap wood pile for some unsuspecting or terrified rodent. If she’s not in by bedtime, it’s another layer of surrender for me. It’s been one layer of surrender after another for the past few weeks, and less dramatically for months.
The last cat who was allowed to go where and when she pleased day or night was Dia, the Psycho Calico. Her name is short for Aradia, Daughter of the Queen of the Witches, but not many people ever knew that. It was my Wiccan phase. She made life so unbearable if she didn’t get what she wanted, including outside at night, that the house motto became Dia gets what Dia wants. I’m afraid it will end up thus for Topaz, especially if she survives lions, coyotes, owls, etc., tonight and lives to be an only pet.
Meanwhile, Stellar had a very exciting day, and I learned how to surrender another layer: of thinking there’s some fateful timeline, of clinging to some shred of a sense of control. I’m grateful today for resilience, Stellar’s too but especially mine. He keeps on surprising. It would be easier if his downward trajectory were more direct, however slow. This repeated rebounding, this resilience, aggravates my second-guessing habit, which is not a habit I wish to cultivate; I’d prefer it to atrophy.
Today was an online meditation retreat with my teachers’ teacher, B. Alan Wallace, “Shamatha in the Dzogchen Tradition.” Shamatha is the meditation style also referred to as Calm Abiding. The first session looked promising. Stellar slept through the night, I was reasonably well-rested, and I’d given him water, pills, and food. He went back to sleep. I listened raptly to the first talk, and settled in for the first 20-minute meditation. Stellar had woken and was alert, panting a little. I realized a few minutes into the meditation that he probably wanted more water. I figured he could wait another 18 minutes. Nope.
My eyes were closed. He stood up and stepped over me, walked a few feet before collapsing on the floor. Ok, I surrender. I slipped the sling under him and hefted his back end as he made his way out the front door, and around the south end of the house to his water bucket, where he drank copiously. What I got for not interrupting the meditation three minutes in for a minute was no meditation at all. Oh well. Nonattachment to outcome. He settled down for the next hour.
At the midday break, Rosie came by with more pain meds from the pharmacy for him–Dr. TLC didn’t anticipate him lasting this long, I think, and had to call in a special request refill. At her arrival he went bonkers barking from his bed, and she came in to visit him. He struggled to get up again, so we took him outside for an assisted wobble. Then again, right after the next session began, he got up on his own and wobbled to the door. By that time already drained for the day, I let him out unattended. He managed about ten minutes in the yarden before collapsing comfortably (appropriately) under the Contemplation Tree, where he rested another ten until I saw him trying to get up. I slung him in, and he’s been in bed since, though wide awake until just recently.
Topaz finally came in, and Stellar is asleep, so I am relaxing at last, after a long, full day. With Alan’s guidance, I sustained a meditative state throughout, and deepened my capacity for letting go, for surrender to the changing conditions of each moment. I’m grateful for calm abiding.