Thursday, August 31, 2006

Grieving: Past, Present, and Future

It's a quiet evening at home. We've both taken off from work tomorrow in order to spend our old dog's last day on earth with him, sniffing flowers, eating grass, wandering in the neighborhood, eating ice cream. I've mentioned Sparkey and his blog several times recently, and the anticipatory grieving has now begun as we prepare for the vet's visit to our home on Saturday morning. As much as it's painful to be actively planning our dog's death, it seems the most humane thing to do, taking into consideration his increasing inability to walk, worsening renal failure, and now a wet cough that signals to me the development of early congestive heart failure. The vet feels he is also suffering some cognitive deficits, though we just can't see that that is truly the case. Nonetheless, it is now painfully clear that he's ready to go, and it would only be selfish to keep him with us now.

In 2001, our dear friend was killed by the police in the most tragic and unfortunate of ways, and we have been reverberating from his death for almost five years. Sparkey's imminent demise is retraumatizing for me to a certain extent, and many of those feelings of loss are now surfacing again. Our friend Woody was very close with Sparkey, and in years past they went on many adventures together, running through the woods, returning to our house bloody, limping and ecstatic. Losing Sparkey is like losing another piece of Woody, and I know that this grieving process will be long and multifaceted.

Death surrounds us. Working in healthcare, I have come to know and subsequently say goodbye to more people than I could ever count. Some have died peacefully, some have suffered interminably, others have succumbed quickly to illness and passed before their bodies had time to begin to deteriorate. My great-aunt lived to be 112 or so, her body eventually losing its ability to sustain her keen personality. My maternal grandmother died in a nursing home, confused and lonely following an illness, an infection, and an unexpected and sudden amputation. Most recently, one of my patients of whom I wrote a fair amount died at home 21 days after nutrition and fluids were withdrawn. He hung on with the tenacity of one clinging to life, even when that life lacked all discernible quality.

I have never had the honor of being present for a death, but have been at the bedside of the dying, performed healing touch on the dying, and pronounced patients dead in my former role as a visiting nurse. It is a solemn moment when one signs one's first death certificate, affixing one's name and professional license number to a legal document certifying the passing of a soul from this world to the next. Such a pragmatic moment of legalese in the midst of mystery and human drama.

In the past week since we realized that Sparley's time had come, I have watched myself pass through many of the stages of grieving multiple times in a single day. Bargaining has come easily, although denial must be the stage I have most often favored. Depression has certainly visited, and anger has manifested in annoyance and impatience with the people around me. Acceptance, of course, is most slow to dawn, especially on days like today when my fits of weeping have been exquisitely intense. So afraid was I of bawling as soon as she answered the phone, I have refrained from calling my mother and instead asked my brother to call her and ask her to contact me instead. Thank Goddess for email.

This trauma of loss, death and grief is a tiring aspect of human existence. Living in the physical realm, we must accept the breakdown of the body, the denouement of the human or animal existence, the losses incurred in such a process, and the feelings of bereavement that accompany such intense emotional experiences. Sometimes I have found myself longing for that release myself---not a death wish, simply an acknowledgement of the heaviness and burdensomeness of corporeal existence.

For those who believe that there is nothing beyond this third-dimensional realm, perhaps the utter cessation of beingness brought about by death of the body is a frightening thought at best. For me, I have no uncertainty that there is something beyond that which we can see, so I have no personal fear that my existence will end when my body dies, thus I have no fear that, for instance, Sparkey's physical absence will signal the end of his essence.

This being human---a corporeal presence replete with a soul, a spirit, a mind and a heart---is such a multidimensional existence of which I believe we experience precious little. Sparkey will leave us on Saturday, his body will be placed in a hole in the earth, and he will live in our hearts in a way that is both precious, sad, and ultimately joyful. I will picture him in a heaven that only a dog could fully love, and I hope to one day join him on that bridge where humans and their deceased pets are said to meet. My grieving process will be both public and private, and this is one venue where I will air some of those feelings with you, my readers and friends.

May all beings be free of suffering, and may all beings be at peace. I leave you in sadness tinged with sweetness, a sweetness worth every moment of tears. My eyes are now heavy, and we will all escape to the dream world for a respite from this soulful heaviness that we feel.

Good night, and sweet dreams.
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