"What we once enjoyed, we can never lose; all that we have loved deeply becomes a part of us." ~Helen Keller
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~Anatole France
It seems I am running a doggy hospice. Our once bustling home, overflowing with barking and bounding, has settled into a peace-filled quiet. Pebbles, our sweet and hilarious bulldog, left us quite suddenly last fall. And now Baxter, our improbably ancient 16 year old labrador mix, is preparing to meet her in the Wherever. He mostly sleeps, interrupted by very brief periods of wagging and snuggling and playing just a bit with our baffled young Pomeranian. "What has happened to all my friends?" he seems to ask me. Eyes filled with concern, he sniffs and nudges and tries to understand.
Baxter has always been the dominant dog of our little pack. A natural curmudgeon, he suffers no fools and is sure to let you know it. But in many ways, he has been the heart of our family. Deeply loyal and fiercely loving,
Baxter is my dog. He's mine in the way that a beloved quote or a favorite book from childhood is mine. He's written on my heart in a million different ways. When I was mid-divorce, he slept in my bed in the place my husband used to lay so I wouldn't feel alone. He followed me around from room to room, always just underfoot in case he was needed. (You just never know when a human is going to need to pet you or feed you scraps of people food, you know, and it's essential to be vigilantly prepared for such duties). He went through a period of behavioral challenge severe enough that most people would have given him away or put him to sleep, but we persevered -- one shockingly expensive trainer and a few psychotropic meds later, Baxter was able to make a full recovery. We've enjoyed seven more healthy years with him, which makes it money and energy well spent.
As my friend slows down, I know what's coming. I'm doing my best to face this future with open eyes and a willing heart. I lay on the floor next to him and just cuddle him, the way he has cuddled me through so many tears and so much heartbreak. He has always, always been there for me and I can offer him no less. It may be days or it may be weeks, but my sweet boy's soul is ready for the next adventure. And so now I get to exercise my trust, yet again, that the soul is immortal and eternal. I get to lean into my beliefs and let the grace of God comfort me and strengthen me through the transition we face. I get to be the last face of God he sees on this side of the veil, before awakening on the other side to see the truest love in the Beyond.