Saying goodbye to our dog taught me something about how I want to bid farewell to every loved one in my life.
This time of year in San Francisco is especially beautiful. The pink skies in the evening are filled with all sorts of clouds, while the mornings have a slight damp chill as the marine layer slowly pulls back its cover off of the city. Frequently, I find myself rising before dawn so that I can watch the city wake up. The quietude allows my thoughts to roam, most recently toward thoughts of loved ones and death.
My beloved Shepherd-Husky, Cleo, died a year ago, and it was tough on us to witness her decline in health. She was a big dog, robust and full of personality, until she wasn't. I saw her, again, and again, meet each new physical challenge, and win. She faced allergic reactions to foods, diabetes, seizures, blindness and dementia. It was a huge blow to suddenly realize that she was fading, that the grim reaper had his grip on her and wasn't letting go.
I had to let go, before she did.
A year before Cleo passed away, our vet told us we would know when it was time to say goodbye to her. He was right.
Watching her closely, getting down on the floor to see what life looked like from her eyes, and just spending quiet time together, I saw her decline. Her body was steadily deteriorating no matter how much I loved her.
Cleo loved exploring the sights and smells of the city. She was the mayor of our neighborhood. From shopkeepers to school children, everyone knew her. She was larger than life!
The look of joy on her face after she had pooped was priceless. Her posture erect, she'd proudly kick dirt back over her deposit, daring the next dog to top it. No wonder people thought she was a boy. More than a few times I took a few handfuls of dirt in the face while I bent to scoop her poop. She would look back at me grinning. I'm sure my laughter fueled her zealous display.
It was heartbreaking when Cleo began losing control over when she pooped. I saw her face when it just rolled out of her and onto the sidewalk. She stopped caring about an activity that had been her signature for years. Now her wobbly stance and loss of control, produced a dispirited expression.
I learned so much about myself and what "quality of life" means from this dog. As she came to the end of her life, I appreciated why we should not dwell on the past, or only focus on the future. She showed me how to be present, and to quietly embrace our time with loved ones.
When the time came to say goodbye to Cleo, I felt that I had done everything I could to be ready. I would only find out if this was true later.
A year has passed and I have the chance to lean on those experiences, to see how they stand up with the recent death of my father.