The essentialness of self care when your pet is dying and it’s the last thing on your mind.
Insert multitudes of expletives here. All of them. In capitals. It has hit me like a sledgehammer, just this week, that the title of my book Death Sucks: A Straight-Up Guide to Navigating Your Pet’s Final Transition is right on the money. I had my doubts when I first thought of it. Thought it was a little too edgy, a tad too raw and in your face. But in all reality death does sucks. And it’s beautiful and sacred and terrible. It is all these things and more, all at once. A wonderful awful paradoxical stewpot of emotions. This week, as my dog Kia is traversing the wild and wooly terrain of heart failure, I am reminded once again of the messy unpredictableness that is dying. One moment she’s collapsing and gurgling like a kettle almost boiling, the next she’s playing with a stuffed chicken and looking like she’s going to be here forever. I had an appointment with the vet next Monday (which I’ve now cancelled, because if she’s playing with her chicken she can’t be ready to kick it). Dear lord, this week I’ve been praying. Mainly for my sanity. And right after that for clarity. Throw my period in there and I am a hell of a mess. Hormones and death are a particularly interesting/terrifying combo.
I keep telling myself that I wrote a book on this stuff and I should be more sorted. Ironically though, in my book, I write about the importance letting yourself blubbery, snotty mess. About taking the time you need to let things move and sort and digest and release. I write a lot about self-care and about our own unique process (and how it looks different from everyone else’s). This week I took my own advice.
Let me tell you about it, this surreal week of mine. I feel like I’ve had about 16 baths (it was probably closer to 6 but they’ve been really really long, so long my hands and feet turn into raisins). I just want warmth. And Netflix. Both of those things. Kia and I have been doing some good cuddling. I have been hiking with Reilly. I have been dancing most mornings, in my kitchen, to my besties excellent Spotify playlists. I have been still and quiet. I crave manure to pick (come on ponies produce!). I have eaten my weight in chocolate and twist of lime tortilla chips (damn, they are good). I have been counting Kia’s breaths per minute several times a day and mildly obsessive about her breathing the remainder of the day. I have been dreaming up article titles like this one. Riding Diva bareback. Talking to girlfriends over hot chocolate. Crying. Planning where she will be buried and her ceremony, complete with which bulbs I need to plant (this redhead is very specific). Crying some more. Opening up space for people Kia and I haven’t seen in a while to come visit. I allowed myself to be whatever and wherever I needed to be, in preparation for all of it. In preparation for being the best steward for her that I possibly could be. As it turns out, and as I suspected, my self care is entwined with my ability to care for her – the paradoxical, beautiful truth.
Yesterday something shifted. Acceptance came over me. Peace. Full surrender to the outcome. And wouldn’t you know it, Kia looked at me as if to say “now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s travel a little further together.” She always did have an excellent sense of humour. So, it seems that we’ll walk a little ways longer. I’m in awe of my extra time with her, in gratitude for the generous gift her big, very hard working heart gives. And still, if she’s ready, if it’s time, I’m now ready to step into whatever role I need to for her. That’s the culmination of the time for integration and self-care that I offered up to myself this week – it means I am grounded in my knowing, it means I can take care of her on the deepest level. I feel nourished and in full acceptance of what she needs. It doesn’t mean I won’t waver, but it does mean that I have the tools to find strength again, because I’m going to need it, and so will she.
Love, as always,
If you need support on this walk, or for any part of your pet’s final transition, my book Death Sucks: A Straight-Up Guide to Navigating Your Pet’s Final Transition is available on Amazon here.