What animals teach us about being there as the end draws near

Apr 26, 2022


 She looks at me with her soulful eyes. Lately, those deep brown pools of love are becoming inhabited with pain. Her gaze penetrates me, pierces my heart. Makes me smile. Makes me cry. My dog is nearing the end of her life. And we both know it.

These animals that we love come into our lives, and then over the years we travel together. What a gift they are. The love of an animal can help us weather storms and find joy in the simplest of pleasures. These bonds of deep love and friendship run deep. They give us sanctuary. They are love, love, love and yet more love.

She clings to me more now. As if like me, she is trying to have as much time together while we can.

She clings to me more now. As if like me, she is trying to have as much time together while we can. I feel bad when I need to move from my desk to another room for fear of the pain it causes her as she slowly gets up from her bed to follow me.  That's the thing - she will follow me. And then there is the standing and the shuffling and eventually the slow uncomfortable lying down. It hurts me that she is now hurting.

There is a pattern in her that we see over and over. The gradual decline takes a sudden shift downwards. A plateau is reached for a while, then another slow decline, and then a drop to a new level. These sudden shifts can take us by surprise. We knew they would come one day, but we never expect them to come so soon.

This beautiful brown dog makes me think about the people we love and the questions we could ask them, the questions I wish my dog could answer, “what are the things that will bring you comfort now? Where are your thresholds? What are the things you would like me to do for you?  What will ease your pain?

The pill the vet prescribed for her to take each day does bring some respite, and for a time we look at each other and both are relieved. But we both know where this is heading and the medicine we are both needing is love.

Sometimes, when faced with the prospect of loss, there is a temptation to retreat a little. To protect one's heart one could slowly, almost imperceptibly harden. Yet, what the animals we love show us is that they need us to be there for them each step of the way. Everything experienced. Nothing held back. Those limpid eyes tell us, ‘don’t back away from this now, I need you more than ever.’  They show us that showing up fully, openhearted, experiencing every drop of love and pain will help them, and in time will help us too.

Time is mysterious. And precious. None of us know when the end of a life of someone or something we love will actually happen, but sometimes we are given notice when it is near.

I think of all the bedsides she has been at over the past few years. Her presence as others' endings drew near was something so sacred, so healing, so loving. She gave the gift of unconditional comfort, gently midwifing them as they approached their endings.

And now, my dog with her soulful eyes has given me notice of hers. I can't pinpoint when her end will come, but it is gathering. And it is my turn to midwife her, unconditionally. Where she goes, I follow.  My heart is breaking, but also bursting with love, love, love and yet more love.


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