[This post was originally written October 1, 2016] My pit bull Ray Ray is probably one of the most gentle beings on this earth despite the awful stereotype that his breed has. He’s been dubbed the Buddha dog because of his calm nature. Kids often make fun of him on the street because his tongue sticks out of his snout. I would joke telling them that he got the wrong size at birth. But Ray Ray of course doesn’t care. People would either walk on the other side of the street, afraid of his big ol’ head and pit bull body or walk right up to him sensing his kind and gentle nature.
Anyone who says that the death of a pet is nothing like losing a human loved one has never had a pet. Ray Ray whom we rescued from a shelter in Manhattan as a 1 year old is about to approach 10 years now and has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. We started to notice the weight gain in his belly and the lethargy in his steps. But he never fails to wag his tail in delight the moment we step in the door. Witnessing Ray Ray’s decline has been emotionally difficult. I know he is going to die. I just don’t know when. But until that day happens I want to make sure that he is comfortable and happy. In some ways, I feel like dogs have it great because when that end is imminent and if it gets too uncomfortable or painful, we can release him from this world. But I am not ready for that, and I don’t think he is either.
I had an insightful conversation about death recently with a new friend, Daisy Sola (more on her later). She is a life completion or death doula. What is that you ask? Just like a birth doula, she is a helper…but she helps people with the end of his/her life, not the beginning. She said something that has stayed with me since our conversation. We spend so much time (and money) focusing on birth, the things that s/he will need (when in fact they don’t really need anything but a mother’s boob), all the celebrations, preparations to bring this being into this world when in fact that little being will have no memory of these celebrations. But because death is such an enigma, and hence frightening, to so many of us, we don’t want to discuss it or we only talk about it when death is imminent and even then, we are often reluctant to talk about how we want our ending to be. But like an amazing movie or broadway show why can’t we create a magnificent end, a glorious finale? One that will be remembered and cherished for all those we leave behind. Why does the last memory often have to be lying sick in a hospital bed or in a nursing home? We have so little control over how we will die that at least we can do what we can to make it amazing.
So, I want to make Ray Ray’s end magnificent. On our walks, he likes to people watch but I am always too busy to sit at his favorite corner pulling him along as he tries to sit. His big ol stubborn pitbull body is strong! So now, when he wants to sit at his corner and watch the neighbors walk by, we hang. I learn to breathe again and take in the fresh air. Ray Ray gets as many cookies as he wants (he always did get lots of cookies). He gets freshly cooked meals. And he gets gentle belly rubs, lots of them. At the end of the day, he just wants to be with us. We will take each day as it comes.
OCTOBER 8, 2016
Words do not describe how I am feeling right now. While just a few days ago, I thought Ray Ray still had a few weeks, perhaps months left, today my husband and I decided to put him to sleep as his heart no longer had the strength to keep up. He woke up yesterday with a cold and bluish tongue and was no longer really eating. My head knew that it was time, but my heart was not ready to let go just yet. He went very peacefully and I find solace in that but there will be forever an emptiness in my heart—an emptiness that hopefully will be filled by the next rescue animal that enters our lives. Ray Ray would insist on that. But until then, we honor Ray Ray and the magnificent life lessons he taught us. I am most grateful that I was able to give him a magnificent end. His last week was filled with slow walks under sunny skies, snacks, hugs, and cuddles. He still managed to wag his tail and take a slow and short walk this morning. I don’t want to focus on all that I have lost, but rather all that I have gained by having him in my life. We will all die some day and since we don’t know how that will happen, we might as well make every day magnificent.
How will you create a magnificent end for your life? Will it be filled with music, dancing and lots of fanfare or are you the more quiet type? How can we create a life where we can talk about the beginning, middle and end with equal comfort?