I lost my best friend.
I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to come up with a way to sugarcoat that, but I can’t find one. Aria’s cancer got better, then worse, then better, and then lots worse, and finally her human friends had to kindly help her go, so that she wouldn’t suffer more.
I’ve told you many times that all dogs hate war. Well we’re not too fond of cancer either, let me tell you!
You all know about how much I loved her (and still do), and how much her life was dominated by fear and pain from things she suffered in her early years. If there’s one blessing to her not being here, it’s that I do believe she’s free of those completely at last, and living in pure fearless joy. Just what I’m always wishing for you.
So I don’t know that I have a lot else to tell you. I’ve told you about her life story – and anyone who wants to know more can always check out the book A Dog of Many Names which tells about those first years, before she was named Aria. And anyone who’s ever lost anyone they loved knows the pain of grief. Nothing for me to teach you there.
But I do want to share something her human friend Ugmo wrote to me. It’s not something he’s proud of, but he’s okay with me sharing it as he thinks it’s pretty universal, and might help somebody get through a tough time in a better way.
So I’m going to go do what I’ve been doing a lot lately – and just lie in my yard and feel the ground, and miss my friend horribly. It’s the only way I know to truly get through sadness like this – to feel it fully and connect as deeply as I can with the earth that gives and takes all her beings.
And let Ugmo talk with you about what he learned, in this most painful time of his life.
Hi Shirelle –
I know you miss Aria like blazes. So do I. It’s hard to wake in the morning and expect her lying on the bedroom floor, or to open the front door and look to see where she’s hiding from the squirrels – and in each case, to be reminded that she’s not there, and never will be again. It’s just been a couple of weeks, but my eyes are already tired of crying.
But I have a strange confession to make to you. It’s not as bad for me now as it was before.
Grief is pure. Missing is awful but simple. Crying is searing but relieving to my whole body.
What I’m not experiencing now is stress. Stress that was mixed with grief and terror, so much that I almost couldn’t take it.
As you know, Aria got diagnosed with her cancer about five months ago. And no one has ever found a cure for this specific one, Hemangiosarcoma. Other cancers might be eradicated by operations or chemotherapy, or even improving a diet and exercise. But not this. Medication and good energy work can slow it down, but it shows back up eventually. And once it gets to an essential organ, it’s just a matter of time.
That’s what happened with Aria. She made it about four months, but then, on one awful day, she got very tired and lost her appetite, and I took her to a veterinarian who found that her liver was bleeding, and told me it was hopeless, that we needed to let her go that night.
You hear about the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Well I guess I’d had all my denial and anger and bargaining already, so I went straight into depression and acceptance. I sat in the lobby weeping, waiting for her friend Fifi to show up, as she’d want to be there for the end. She arrived, and we took Aria into a small room and covered her in kisses and hugs and telling her all the lovely things we could.
And she… got better!
Seriously, she improved. Her strength came back a little, she seemed happier, and when the veterinarian came in to get her, she looked down and said “That is not the same dog!”
So after seven hours in the Emergency Room, which I’d expected to include putting her down, we took her home. It was hard to sleep, because anytime her breathing shifted, I’d wake to see if she was okay. At one point that night, I was sure she was going down again and ready to take her back to the doctors, but again, she recovered.
In the next few days, this all continues, including my sleeplessness. She’d seem better, but then refuse to eat, so she got weaker and weaker. I’d annoy or anger her by trying to get pills down her throat or putting food in front of her nose that she used to love but now found disgusting. I got to where I was more scared that she’d starve herself to death than that the cancer would get her. And I could feel that she was feeling my frustration, and afraid of it.
And so I found myself wishing she’d just be done.
Shirelle, this is why I’m writing you. Because I couldn’t believe that that thought was able to come into my mind. I loved – and love – Aria more than anything on this earth. And I wanted every second I could get with my pup. Nothing in me wanted her gone. Except that something in me… did! I could feel it.
What in the world was that?
It was the voice of my stress, screaming so loud inside me that it overshouted my heart. For moments, I’d forget what I wanted most – to keep Aria around as long as I could, and give her as much love as I could, and help her get through this as much as I could – and feel, instead, only how much I hated feeling all this worry, this helplessness, this confusion, this stress.
Now, once I realized this, I was fine. I still had all those awful feelings, but I never once again experienced wishing for it all to end. In fact, I realized that I only had one full wish – I wished she had never gotten this cancer! But since she already had it, I had to live with just partial wishes – that she’d get through the next day without pain, that she’d get a burst of puppy energy, that she’d eat, that she’d be happy a little bit more.
And those smaller wishes came true, many times.
I’ve found, since realizing this about myself, so many others experiencing the same things. Sure, everyone hates stress, but I mean people doing stupid, self-destructive things just to avoid feeling it. Getting so uptight in a close game they make mistakes and make themselves lose. Worrying about their teeth being bad so skipping going to the dentist for years. Fearing they’re not attractive enough to compete with the best-looking person at school, so overeating and quitting exercise.
The only reason stress has all this power is because we let it. The moment we see it for what it is, it becomes much weaker. And when it does, we can begin again to live our full lives, with our full hearts.
Aria died, but I’m so glad I’m not looking back on my soul dying on her first. Our last weeks were beautiful and joyous and sad and very close. Stress had tried to take that away from me, but I’m so glad it failed.
And today? Well I’m the sad mess I described to you, but I know I’ll get stronger over time. And Aria is… do you remember a song I played you once, Shirelle, called “Beyond the Horizon?” That’s her now, I have no doubt. Loving, feeling love, fearless, and knowing more than you and me put together! And absolutely free from all the stupid stresses we suffer down here!
I’ll see her there again, and I know you will too. Wagging her tail in that circular way, lunging at us with those quick side-shot kisses of hers, and cuddling up for hours on end.
But here, for better and for worse, are just memories. As Shakespeare wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow. And that sweet sorrowful dog left so much sweetness and sorrow in my heart, and yours, and those of all who loved her.
We’re the lucky ones, Shirelle. We’re the ones with the beautiful pain. I hope it never goes away.