“You gave him a wonderful life,” kind people say to me when I speak of Pasu or hint at my profound sadness about his death, his not being here anymore. Comforting words, to be sure, and I’m grateful for others knowing and holding that truth for me when I sometimes can’t hold it for myself. Oh, I know I took loving, good care of Pasu for his 14 years on this side of the Rainbow Bridge. I know that. But wicked Doubt creeps in sometimes. I wrote this poem in March when I felt plagued by remorse, doubt, and guilt:
Out, damned Doubt —Be gone, wicked Thief —Murderer, maimer, usurper —Master of Deceit.You corrupt Contentment —Trespassing where you please,Invading home and heart,And plundering Peace.Your free flight is my free fallCleaving my thinking of Clarity —Oh cruel mind that breeds Doubt —I need some motherly Charity.
I capitalized the word because it had that much power. It has much less power now; it’s not overwhelming.
I realize that I’ve had trouble with the language around Pasu’s death. I had Pasu euthanized. Prior to today, the most I could say was, “I let Pasu go.” Euphemisms like “put down” and “put to sleep” mean the same thing. I’ve had trouble with this language because I’ve had trouble coming to terms with my decision. Eight months ago, I hired a mobile veterinarian service to come to my home and administer injections to my beloved dog Pasu to end his life because he was suffering and there was no alternative to ending his suffering.
The veterinarian spent more than an hour with us on that afternoon of Tuesday, February 21. She was kind, gentle, caring, empathetic, respectful, skillful, patient, and everything Pasu and I needed her to be. I told stories, I cried, I sat silently, I talked to Pasu, I held him in our familiar way, and I smiled through my tears as he looked up at me one last time with his knowing acceptance and sweet face. Pasu was calm and peaceful. I tried to project confidence to him, along with all my love. I held him in my arms on my lap as he took his last breath and his heart stopped beating and his little body did what dying bodies do. It was a completely personal experience. I don’t know that any other veterinarian or any other process could have better eased him from this life and eased me into this separation from him.
Every once in a while I need to remember why, why I made that decision at that particular time. I return to the list of reasons I wrote down months ago to save myself the torment of doing the painful remembering work. So, I read the list, recognize the truth of it, and breathe easier. To prolong his life would have prolonged and compounded his suffering. It was a sincere decision, made after honest, clear consultation with Pasu’s primary care veterinarian, his veterinary specialist, and his emergency care provider. That’s the truth, and I’m ready to accept it so as not to prolong and compound my own suffering. I believe I’m finally ready to stop bouncing back and forth in that process. I hope so.
That’s the thing about grief — it’s not a linear process. It doesn’t go through predictable, consecutive, finite phases. It’s circular and at times haphazard, like bouncing around in a pinball machine. It’s lonely, private, deep, and unpredictable. I’m doing my best with it and am mostly at peace with it. I feel better, not so lost and lonely these days.
I feel deep gratitude. Pasu gave me a wonderful life. We had grand adventures in the outdoors and beautiful, simple joys at home. I miss the person I was with him and the life I had with him. I miss the person I was who cared for him and paused to consider him as I made my way through the day and made my way through our home. I miss the instinctive behaviors of listening for him, looking for him, reaching for him, and waiting for him to communicate a need I hadn’t anticipated. I never took more than a few steps in my home without awareness of him, his presence and his movement. I never took more than a few steps without consideration of his safety, his security, his wellness, his needs, his wishes, his feelings, his happiness. Okay, “never” might be an exaggeration, but the point is that my awareness and consideration of Pasu was how I lived each day and moved within the walls of home. I was happy caring for him.
Integrating the loss of Pasu into my life has meant accepting the thousand ways my life has changed since he died and making many conscious changes to create a new life for myself. It’s meant changing my routine from the moment I get up in the morning to the moment I go to sleep at night. It’s meant allowing myself the comfort of a stuffed animal to hold onto — something I haven’t done since I was a young girl. It’s meant talking myself out of working extra late on a weeknight not because I need to get home to Pasu but because I deserve my evening free from work. It’s meant making an effort not to be invisible on my neighborhood walks, where people either don’t recognize me without Pasu or don’t know what to say to me without him. It’s meant changing my relationship to my house so that I can reclaim it as “home” without Pasu. It’s meant giving myself permission to take a day trip and pack an overnight bag, knowing I don’t have to rush home. It’s meant giving more time and attention to other people I love and activities I enjoy. It’s meant joining myself to the living by rejoining the Portland Lesbian Choir and assuming a volunteer position on the Music Committee. It’s meant all those things and so much more.
A home electrical emergency this summer that could have hurt someone or caused a catastrophic fire made me realize that my home needed my attention and care. After having my whole house rewired to replace almost 100 years of wiring and rewiring not to code, I then spent most of my free time in August and September making home improvements all by myself. I repaired wood window seals, spackled and repainted walls, caulked windows, sawed and installed floorboard moulding, deep-cleaned cupboards, hung new curtains, installed new faucets inside and outside, repainted the backyard deck, cleaned out the garage, and patched and painted the basement floor, walls and steps. I felt free, confident, and capable. I then took down the shrine of sorts that I had created in memory of Pasu — a corner in the living room where I had placed his doggy pad, favorite toys, adventure bag, harness, leash, shirts, brush, and towel — and I selected several favorite photos to place around the house. I didn’t mop the floors, so Pasu’s footprints are still faintly visible. I’m not ready, and I’m okay with that.
I have found creative, healthy ways to comfort myself, and I’ve accepted the comforting words and gifts from family and friends. The gift of a garden stone from my sister and sister-in-law with an engraved message that reads, Wherever a beautiful soul has been there is a trail of beautiful memories, inspired me to plant flowers on Mother’s Day in memory of Pasu. Along with several perennials that I hope will return next spring, I planted my favorite daisies and pansies. The name “daisy” is derived from the Old English words dæġes ēaġe and the Middle English word dayesye, both of which mean “day’s eye.” The name “pansy” is derived from the French word pensée, meaning “thought.” My mother loved daisies and pansies, too, and she liked my assigned meanings to each — “day’s ease” and “pain’s ease.”
When Pasu died, a friend gifted me with the term “mutualistic” to define my relationship with Pasu. It eased the day. I like the concept and agree with it. Mutualism is the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits from the activity of the other. Pasu’s thriving was my thriving and vice versa, I think. We were two beings in service to each other. Caring for Pasu was the most gracious service of my life. And he was perfect goodness and love to me. Quite extraordinary, a dog is, and the depth of feeling we can have for one.
Pasu will forever be a part of my memories, my life story, my life meaning. Even though I miss him, I have found a loving space within myself for my memories without letting his loss take over my whole life. Two sets of colorful Pet Prayer Flags, gifted to me from colleagues, hang in the front window of my music room. Tibetans believe the prayers of these flags become a permanent part of the Universe as the images and colors fade from the fabric. Healing happens, hearts mend, grief turns to gratitude, and we find renewed meaning in life.
Composed on October 21, 2017 – eight months after the death of my beloved dog Pasu