Lessons of Love
One of the great privileges of my work is being with animals and people through the end-of-life process and transition to Spirit. While not easy, this part of my work is holy…and I consider it an honor and a blessing to work with families during these times. It’s a special joy to communicate with animals at the different stages of their journey, and to experience their unique perspectives on the challenges and blessings of dying, death, and the afterlife.
Maggie and her person Gretchen are some of these clients who have inspired and touched me with the depth of their love for each other and the beauty and tenderness of their process of transition. With their permission, I share their story.
A Big Light in a Little White Body
Maggie’s small body was a perfect match for her big, exuberant spirit. Maggie was adopted as a 10-month-old puppy from a county animal shelter, and lived a long and full life with her person, Gretchen, and her “grandma,” Susan. When Maggie was 13 years old, she lost a leg to cancer. As Gretchen put it, “she hardly skipped a beat.” When she was no longer able to function well with her three legs, she graduated to a two-wheeled cart, and then a four-wheeled cart, and finally a stroller toward the end of her life. Maggie was 18 years old when she died, and her spark and spunk was evident until very close to the end of her physical life.
I met Maggie after my dear friend and colleague, Joanie Fox, who had known and worked with Maggie and Gretchen for many years, suggested that we work with them as a team as Maggie neared the end of her life. I met Maggie in her last year, and together we talked about her perspective on her body, her wishes about her care, and the spiritual perspective and wisdom she had to share with her people.
Each time I communicated with Maggie, I was so delighted (and often surprised) by her perspective. Although she had many limitations and physical challenges, she continued to say, “Yes, I still want to be here! I love my ‘walks’ in my stroller, I love my people. I love the smells in the air and the feeling of the sunshine on my body. Life is good.”
When it finally was time for Maggie to release her body, she was clear. The light went out of her eyes, her spirit was more on the other side than on this one, and she was ready to finally let go. Gretchen wrote, “Like she did with everything else in her life, she passed on with grace and ease, which was such a blessing for all of us.”
When Gretchen sent me her holiday greeting, it contained a beautiful photo card of Maggie and a touching summary of the things that Maggie had taught her. I felt that Maggie’s wisdom needed to be shared beyond Gretchen’s circle of friends and family, and that their perspective could touch and help others. Maggie had often talked in her last months of her work with Gretchen impacting more and more people in the world, and so I asked Gretchen’s permission to share Maggie’s wisdom here on my blog. I hope it inspires you as it did me.
What Maggie Has Taught Me (So Far)
by Gretchen Roberts
Maggie napping in the sun
Just because you’re disabled doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t want to live or that your life is over. We don’t jump to euthanasia when it’s a human! Maggie had lots of enjoyment of life after she lost her leg. Dogs just adjust to a new situation without judgment or self-pity. Maggie’s attitude was “Okay, this is what we’re doing now.”
Dogs don’t expect us to be perfect, only for us to do our best for them. It’s all about our intention. They know if you are coming from a place of love or malice, and as long as it’s the former, they’re happy.
I can’t fix everything, and that’s okay. For me, one of the hardest lessons has been to be okay with not always being in control and not always being able to make things better. Sometimes offering loving support is all we can do, and that is just as important.
There are times when it’s more important to just BE with someone, rather than DOING something with them or for them. Words may not even be necessary. Just be completely present in the moment.
Don’t think you have to handle something stressful by yourself. Everyone benefits if you ask for help. Before we found our wonderful pet sitters, I got so stressed out and exhausted, which Maggie picked up on, so NEITHER of us was in good shape until I let go of the guilt and took time to take care of myself too.
Trust yourself. When I allowed myself to go with my gut feeling, even if it flew in the face of logic, it usually worked out better. Whether it was because of my decision itself, or just the fact that I committed to it and quit hand-wringing about it, Maggie seemed calmer and happier.
It’s okay to change course. Even if something has worked well for a long time – be it a medication, treatment, or a relationship – that doesn’t necessarily mean it always will, and it’s okay to let go of it with gratitude and try something else.
Less is more. At one point, Maggie was on so many medications yet she seemed to be more uncomfortable than ever. When I finally decided to take her off of most of those medications, she clearly felt SO much better.
Be in gratitude for everything that comes your way. It is either a joy or a lesson, and in both cases, it’s valuable.
Letting go takes more strength than holding on. Once I finally surrendered to acceptance of Maggie’s ever-nearing transition, and switched to a mindset of palliative care, rather than doing all we can no matter what, the whole energy shifted. I calmed down, her quality of life improved, and we were able to enjoy true quality time together. Helping her cross over was the ultimate letting go, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I know she feels much better now.
We are almost always stronger than we think we are. Most of us can look at an experience in retrospect and realize that if someone had told us beforehand that we would have to deal with it, we probably would have thought there’s no way we could handle it. Giving hospice care to my beloved Maggie was one of those cases for me. Though challenging, that experience has helped me grow as a person in so many ways, including realizing my own strength.
If you’d like more perspective on animal death, dying, and the afterlife, you may be interested in the recorded teleclass, Animals’ Experiences in Spirit and the Afterlife.