Last week we lost the companionship of our beautiful dog, Liivi. A Wheaton-mix who was a rescue from the Humane Society, she was a perfect companion. She was quiet, unless she spotted a leashed dog as she peered through the car window. She loved to run and play in the fields. She had eyes that spoke of animal wisdom that humans will never come to understand. Livii supported us through dark nights and into bright mornings. While she did bite and injure the tiny, but evil, Yorkie Poo on occasion, we never doubted that she had been forced to do so. We never knew the details of her life before us. Was she homeless and on the streets, or was she abandoned by an elderly person? Maybe she ran away due to abuse? She always seemed to flinch if I moved too quickly. She hid when too many friends came over for dinner and drinks. Animals tells us things without speaking, because they have no voice.
Liivi came on my first canoe trip. I would never take my other dogs into the woods or near a boat, but she accepted her fate and made the best of the excursions into to out doors. She visited Prince Edward Island this summer. Her long runs across the sandy beaches and into the frigid waters made us laugh, and even forced the Yorkie-Poo to walk in the water to keep up. Jealousy is a great motivator.
Mid December came. Liivi became ill. She lost weight due to incontinence. We took her to the veterinarian. Large sums of money were spent to diagnose the source of her sickness. We did everything that two successful humans can do for an animal they love, but after five weeks our best was simply not enough. Neither money nor love, neither hope nor intelligence can stave off Death for long. Life is never long enough. Despite our efforts, we decided that the only humane action left was to terminate our close companion’s life, to stop needless suffering, and to offer her a peaceful ending with her closest companions holding her, petting her as the drugs offered up what all of the other options could not. She left us in a silent way.
The death of Liivi has left me silent. I chose not to write until I could make sense of what to do with the knowledge she imparted upon me before she left on her next journey. At age 41, I had never before witnessed Death. As an educator who left his home over twenty years ago, my family has died without me. I have never been present. My role has traditionally been to be the deus ex machina, the ghost who flies in to clear the mess, be firm with resolution, and deal with my emotional loss at a later date. As I sat in the vet’s office, I was present. I felt Death arrive and leave again. I understood. I understand Life in a different way with Liivi’s passing.
In “The Oven-Bird,” Robert Frost questions what to do with the remains of our time before death. He asserts that even the simple warbler asks “what to make of a diminished thing?” Indeed, that is what the loss of Liivi reminds me to question. For though we have lost her, we, ourselves, are not lost. Her death is a memento mori, a reminder of death, and that what is most important is to celebrate the experience of life before we are taken, too, and covered by “the highway dust” that approaches us all. I cannot help but feel as Lyra does in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass when she is forced to leave her daemon, Pantalaimon, on the shores in the Land of the Dead. She feels as if her heart is being torn away from her. I feel this way, even though Liivi was not mine to lose alone.
We have not lost Liivi. We have only lost her companionship until we meet her again in other forms, in other places, in other forms. Until that time, we have the duty to reflect on her life and what it gave to our own. Animals teach us about our own humanity through their joys and sorrows. We learn from their uncanny habits and rituals, if only we can allow ourselves the time to sit with them and offer them the same mindful companionship they give us. From Death will spring new Life. Such is the way of things, and the vacuum created by her loss will be filled with another incarnation of what the universe wants to share. Perhaps like John the Baptist, she tells us of another to come with a different purpose. I look forward to meeting her knowing eyes in a different light.