Being present at the moment a life ends is a sacred experience. No matter how “prepared” you are, nothing can really prepare you for the final letting go. Yesterday it was time to let go of Bayley, our twelve year old dog.
We had known since November that she had a cancer growing in her neck and chest. Always an amiable creature, she was content to spend her days laying among the pecan trees, watching the crows eat her dog food and tolerating the affections of our two smaller and younger dogs, Buck and Zoe.
Bayley, named for St. Elizabeth Bayley Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity, was a colonia dog. She was left as a puppy out in the desert and found her way to La Clinica Guadalupana and into our hearts. We already had four other dogs but couldn’t say no to her saggy Rottweiler face. She blended right into the pack, neither alpha nor omega, and was never a bother. Bayley’s one behavior that entertained our visitors was her habit of carrying a mouthful of dog kibble into the living room where she would lay down in the center of the carpet, empty her mouth onto the carpet, and then enjoy each little morsel, one by one. “She’s a social eater,” we explained.
This will be my memory of Bayley.
We have a very compassionate vet and I do not want this blog to be a “Marley & Me” story. My reflections on this experience common to all animal lovers go in the direction of mystery. We encounter moments of life and death every day without paying attention until events like this. Staying with a beloved pet to the end or keeping vigil with a dear one in hospice is a sacred trust. It is, to me, like attending a birth. There is the waiting, the wondering “when”, the fear, the wanting it to be over, the surrender…and then the relief, the quiet, the sense of loss of one way of knowing followed by another way of knowing even more profound.
“Life is changed, not ended” is a statement we believers cling to. To be there at the moment of change is something incredible to witness. It is a moment of being faith-full. Each of us will make that transition one day. Hopefully we will have dear ones accompanying us to that threshold we must cross alone.
Yesterday, when the sun went down and the full moon rose, it occurred to me that we can practice for that moment at the rising of the sun and its setting. Waiting and wondering, breathing in and out, and then at just the moment of the transition from morning to night we can hold our breath and acknowledge the gift of life and the Giver of Life.
These are mysteries to ponder. They grow my faith if I give them time. I am grateful to God and grateful to Bayley for giving me cause to reflect on the beautiful gift of life.