I looked over and saw Dixie Peach napping peacefully tonight and then I watched with awe at the way she was integrating dying into her day. It took me a while to decide how to describe that. The words were hard to find for something I have never encountered before.
I’m generally not one to take photos of dying or dead animals. I would rather see and think of them as they always were but what I saw about Dixie tonight was that she was exactly as she has always been. She was not different except a little fainter, as if she were becoming transparent and would just move to invisibility. Which is probably exactly what happens ethereally. She responded to my talking to her. She’s eaten some watery food, a couple of spoonfulls every little while. I don’t want her to be thirsty. She enjoys the soupy food just as she has always enjoyed food. I could feel her enjoyment, just fainter. The fact that lifting her head and guiding it to the bowl and spoon takes immense effort is not something she seems to notice, she is just glad to lick the spoon and take a couple of delicious slurps from the bowl. And then she is exhausted and reminds me of how I feel after eating a Sonic Blast and needing a nap.
Her life has changed a lot over the last couple of days but within the range she is able to, she spends the day much the same way. She is not afraid. She is not frustrated. She is not in distress. I do not pretend to know my animals thoughts. I try not to anthropomorphise them. But I do know Dixie Peach and her energy. I can feel her. And of course, animals don’t know what death is or that they are on their way, but they certainly know something is different than it was. This does not upset Dixie Peach.
I wonder if she knows about death the way she knew about having puppies. Can you even begin to imagine what it would be like to not know what babies were, or where they came from, or that some would come, to have your body begin acting in a whole new way, not a comfortable one, to put you through labor and then when the puppies appear… even without having known what they were, you begin to take care of them and you know how. I can’t begin to imagine having that much instinctive/intuitive knowledge. I cannot understand that kind of knowledge but I hugely honor it. And that kind of acceptance is beyond reference. So, perhaps there is some instinctive preparation for death. Or perhaps that is not necessary, since acceptance will get her through any transition.
I sit and watch and alternately hold her on my lap. She is having an enjoyable day, my Dixie Peach. I marvel at her.
I don’t have her instincts. Or acceptance. I am saddled with knowledge of a past and a future. I think about the years she has spent with me. And all of the things that have happened in that time. I am more full of joy than she is and more full of sadness. I am flummoxed with my human perspective of time. Years past, years ahead. The way it speeds up so much. My paradoxical understanding of the idea that time is just a mental construct. And a ruler that measures the passage of experiences and that reigns supreme over our knowledge that while it is unlimited, our span here is not and that its units move ever faster and faster at a staggering increase that no one can imagine it until they experience it and at that point no one can skip the experience of it.
Death has always intrigued me as much as time does. I think I was raised in a family with an unusual attachment or concern for death. It’s a hard thing to judge because people don’t talk much about their family’s views on death. As I aged I got the impression that other families did not dwell on death the way ours did. I couldn’t even tell you how ours did. It was just waiting in the shadows there. All the time. And dreaded. A near death experience at 19 was life-changing. Now I am older. I guess I’m old. I’m not quite sure when that starts (seems like it starts with those older than you are). I have started to collect Social Security so I guess that’s officially old. I have also started to lose a lot of friends with longer lifespans than my dogs’. And you never know who is next or how they will leave. I have listened to Leonard Cohen sing about it – probably far too many times in my life. I am always transfixed by it.
Who By Fire
And who by fire, who by water,
who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
who in your merry merry month of may,
who by very slow decay,
and who shall I say is calling?
And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
and who by avalanche, who by powder,
who for his greed, who for his hunger,
and who shall I say is calling?And who by brave assent, who by accident,
who in solitude, who in this mirror,
who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
who in mortal chains, who in power,
and who shall I say is calling?
Sitting all night awaiting a visit from death is like sitting by an open window with a fog outside. The veil is so thin here that both sides become one. The small/narrow clarity of earth thinking gets engulfed in the fog but that window is still open and there is so much to see in a ponder of the idea of sides and states of existence.
I suddenly laugh when a scene from Sesame Street fills my mind. Here … and there. We teach the little ones about the difference between here and there … which they need if they will ever get home from school alone… near and far… now and later. And it seems so real. But tonight, looking through this veil Grover does not run to “far”. Here and there are one place, both near and far.
“Anyplace you are Grover, is here. And any place you are not, is there.” – Kermit
Death never travels alone. It brings all your friends for a visit.
This is one of the reasons we need to keep all of our relationships clear. They are not all as easy as those with dogs and when they come to visit they will bring all the wish-you-hads and might-have-beens with them. The visits can be lovely and poignant if they are not overshadowed by those. My friends don’t need a visit from death to stop by, but to all stop by at once they do.
I’ve noticed now on the occasions I have awaited death that every person and every animal I’ve known, traipses through my mind. It’s like a wake in reverse, all those passed come by for a visit… or as an escort. The shocking ones, the overdue ones, the tragic ones, the ones who fought as long and hard as they could, the old and young ones… and how I dealt with each… but over the years they soften into each other. Like any trip, it’s the destination you remember more than the last lay over. They fill my heart with loss and with love and with the knowledge that the love is far far bigger than the losses are but the bigger loves make for bigger losses. My heart has been laid open so many times that it’s hinge has un-sprung. It will not close again. Now the the human pain and the soul knowledge and love sit together in the open, entwined in symbiosis that is not quite as excruciating as it is holy and I give gratitude for that state even while it exhausts me. Then I’ll go to sleep and visit with more of the dead, living.
I tucked Dixie into a box around 4 AM, I didn’t want her to fall off the chair and she wasn’t comfortable anymore on my lap. Her breathing changed. There’s a name for that kind of breathing, I don’t remember what it is. But she was clearly leaving. I got in bed covered with all the other poodles. Around 5 AM that sound stopped. I waited a good while before I got up and looked at her. I didn’t need to look. But I had to look. Dixie had left. Death was gone from the house but it left the same message it always does… “Keep your vision clear and your priorities straight because… I’ll be back”.
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance”. – Kahlil Gibran