It is in the middle of a snowstorm that I sit sobbing on the white-tiled floor of the vet's clinic, holding my dog as he breathes his last breaths, feeling as if my own heart will stop beating any minute.
He has been given the injection that will end his pain forever. But there is no limit to the stinging in my heart. All of a sudden, amidst the apocalyptic Ontarian snowfall, the sun comes out, blinding me and everyone in the office.
I know at that moment, without looking, that Hershey is gone. There is a sense of relief for a moment, a feeling of expansion. Then the stinging in my heart starts up again.
At exactly the same time, 8:40 a.m., a high-school teacher handing out mixed chocolates to her students before an exam reaches into a basket and pulls out Hershey's Chocolate Kisses for my son. He stares at them, unblinkingly, knowing that this is Hershey's final good-bye, and last kiss, for him.
I am convinced that if my daughter, away at university, had ever stopped crying that day, she too would have received some sort of message. This is the dog who would sense when she was coming home and take all his toys upstairs and place them at the foot of her bed.
It has been just over one month since we lost Hershey, our six-year-old beagle, to a sudden onset of intervertebral disc disease, common to his breed, in which a bulging disc in the neck or the spine leads to crippling pain and, often, paralysis. It was a rapid degeneration that no medicines could cure.
I struggled to accept that there was nothing I could do, that no matter how well-loved and well-cared for he was, there existed a genetic disposition we were simply powerless in front of. It was after trying anti-inflammatories, steroids, acupuncture, biopuncture, holistic diets, supplements, even rubbing magnesium ointment on his neck, we realized it was time to let him go.
I saw that the pain I was feeling had more to do with me than him.
But as the days went by, the grief intensified. I missed the way he pushed me with his wet nose when he wanted a treat, looked at me disapprovingly if I dropped or broke anything. I missed the way he came running, no matter what part of the house he had been in, the moment I dropped even a grain of rice on the kitchen floor. I missed his kind eyes, his unmitigated devotion and absolute trust, even as he breathed his last breaths.
I started to resent the squirrels in my backyard who, after years of being chased by him, now roamed about freely and confidently, as if mocking his loss. I felt a pain in my stomach when I saw my neighbours walking their dogs.
But I also saw that the pain I was feeling had more to do with me than him. It was difficult to let him go because he had come into our lives during a challenging time, loved us unconditionally and watched over us like a guardian angel. To lose him was to lose our connection to the past. The void was all ours.
It was time to shift my perspective: to see that perhaps his work on the earth plane was done. He had come to us to help us through a transition. It was time for his soul to depart. And so his body had given way.
This is not a common perspective on death. For most people, death is the absolute end; thus the suffering. For the Sufi mystic, however, the body is a garment. Death is simply throwing off a garment that has become worn out and torn. But just because the garment is gone does not mean the body is dead.
In fact, physical death allows the soul greater freedom and ability to manifest its faculties, tendencies and powers. This way, death is not a loss, but a transition. Even though the energy shifts from manifested to unmanifested form, it is still present. Our inability to feel someone's presence just because they do not inhabit their physical body anymore has to do with our own limitations.
This was a huge realization! All of a sudden, that deep stabbing pain that had started at the vet's office transformed into a waterfall that washed over my heart. It was a love that was expansive and liberated, overwhelming in its defiance to be contained in any perceived form.
Beagles are an obstinate breed; they don't like rules. And so, most appropriately, Hershey would not be confined to his physicality. Leaving us physically would simply increase his connection to us. He would be with us the whole time now.
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He was more than the ceramic plaque with paw prints the vet had made for us. He was in each gust of wind, each imprint in the snow, and in each box of Hershey's Kisses stocked in stores. He was there, jumping with that big grin on his face, asking to be celebrated, not mourned.
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