A large metallic blue-green dragonfly buzzed back and forth again and again. I followed it with my eyes, like watching a tennis match. It was unusual, so I took it as a good sign. Everything was going to be okay.
It had been a beautiful Sunday in mid-August and I was sitting in the faded green Adirondack chair in our backyard, in Santa Cruz, CA my head tilted back, soaking up the sun. Relieved to relax for a few minutes, I took several deep breaths. Rennie, my ailing Shepard-mix dog, lay panting heavily next to me. I had helped her outside to go to the bathroom. I stroked the soft fur on her back gently as my fingers glided over her protruding spine. I was attuned to her every breath and movement.
Earlier that morning, John had said to me, “It’s time.” We had asked for a sign, something to tell us Rennie was ready to die, something to make our unbearable decision easier. Rennie’s health had declined rapidly in recent weeks. First, she was hospitalized with acute pancreatitis. She bounced back, but then became lethargic. A trip to the vet revealed she had an auto-immune condition which affected her jaws and her ability to open her mouth and eat. On top of that, she had terrible arthritis in her spine and hips. Rennie was in a lot of pain. Within days she became unable to walk and she began to urinate in her bed. When John helped her outside to pee earlier that morning, blood pooled on the ground underneath her. I tried feeding her and she refused to eat. We saw misery in her eyes and knew she needed to be euthanized that day.
Since it was Sunday, we decided to take her to the emergency veterinary hospital. Before we left, I lay down next to Rennie on our living room floor and listened to “Returning to the Mother”, a healing chant by Jennifer Berezan. John sat on the couch near us. I told Rennie how much I loved her and that it was okay for her to go. Crying, I caressed her and kissed her soft ears and forehead over and over. I also brushed her and gathered tufts of her fur for my altar. I wondered if my tears were upsetting her, but she seemed peaceful and calm. It was as if she knew what was happening.
Then, it was time to help her into the car and drive to the vet. I sat next to Rennie in the back seat and wondered if there was anywhere she wanted to go…to the beach or to the mountains one last time? As we waited at the stop light before turning into the vet parking lot, I yearned for John to keep driving. But, I didn’t say anything because I knew in my heart Rennie was done. Her next grand adventure awaited her – one she would have to take on her own.
The vet tech met us in the parking lot where she had us sign papers, as we requested that Rennie be euthanized outdoors. She said, “I’m so sorry.” Then, the nurse came out to meet us. She escorted us to the side entrance of the hospital, so Rennie wouldn’t have to walk far. She shaved Rennie’s hind leg and inserted a catheter. John then helped Rennie to the grassy courtyard in back. Someone had thoughtfully placed a blanket on the grass where she could lie down.
John and I sat on either side of Rennie and pet her while the nurse gave her a sedative to help her relax. Rennie did not resist the catheter or the injection. With just half a dose, her eyes closed and her head rested gently on the ground. She fell into a deep and peaceful sleep. She was obviously ready to let go. Shortly after, the vet came out to meet us and administered the final shot. Rennie stopped breathing. He said, “Take as much time as you need,” and left.
I stared at Rennie’s chest and waited for it to rise and fall. It didn’t move. No! This can’t be happening! I sobbed uncontrollably, my body shaking. I couldn’t believe she was actually dead. Why did she have to die? It just isn’t fair. I wanted to take it all back, to rewind the clock. I wanted her to live with us forever. John was equally upset. We both sat next to her and waited for her to magically come back to life.
At the time of Rennie’s death, it was so painful I couldn’t fully grieve her loss. I loved her so much. She had been my constant daily companion while I worked at home, and the daughter I never had. More than anyone else in my life, she had witnessed all of my sadness over the years related to the death of my brother and father, and my failed attempts at having a baby. I consciously filed my grief away, and thought I’ll get to it later. From past experience, I knew that grief could be postponed, but not avoided forever.
Now, after some time, I can be more fully present with my pain. As I type these words, I taste the salt from my tears as they run down my face. It feels like they will never stop. I take Rennie’s fur from my altar and gently rub it between my fingers and hold it up to my cheek. It feels soft and smells like dog shampoo. Deep sobs rise up from my belly. My precious baby is gone.
Glancing out my window, I see a large metallic blue-green dragonfly perched on a twig several feet away, facing me. It looks exactly like the one I saw the day Rennie died! I take a deep breath and sigh. I know Rennie’s loving Spirit is still with me.
“…love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” – Kabil Gibran