Dear Loved Ones,
Many of you know that I had to have Gibbs euthanized on Friday. My sweet, faithful, loving, friendly, spiritual, adventurous dog. He had gone lame in one leg after Christmas, and the vet thought he had probably frayed his ACL, and I was told to have him rest and be still. But by Thursday evening his breathing was shallower than normal and by Friday morning he was unable to draw an easy breath. I took him back to the vet, and they x-rayed his lungs, finding that both lungs were fully clouded, leading them to think he either had metastasized cancer or a fungal infection caused by spores breathed in. They could not start treatment for either as the treatments would clash. They told me to take him home to wait for the results. By the afternoon he was really struggling to breathe. He was sitting up, stretching his chest out like he was trying to make room in his lungs, and wheezing. I asked my friend to come down to my house, and we were soon heading back to the vet. They still had no treatment that would help him immediately, the drugs would take two weeks to kick in, and so I made the hard decision to relieve him of his suffering. It was painful to watch him trying to breathe, so I can’t imagine how hard he was struggling.
Since then, I’ve avoided walking in his favorite places, but today, as I was trying to write my sermon I realized I needed to walk. I pulled on a hat and some shoes and headed out on this warm winter day. And, without thinking, started on a route that we had walked hundreds of times. I headed over to the monastery and walked all around the grounds. Tears began to flow as I passed the bush he always had to pee on, as I walked past one of the sisters who would always say hi to him, as I passed the apartments where his buddy lives…. So many memories with each footstep. As the tears came, I thought about those last minutes with Gibbs and how sacred they were.
When we arrived at the vets that afternoon, I carried Gibbs in. They led us into a room, and I sat with him snuggled close. By then, I could tell he was exhausted, and just wanted to be held and loved. The vet came in and we talked options, and they took him away to put the line in his leg. When they returned, they had wrapped him in a blanket, and handed him back to me. We sat there together, my friend standing by our side. And he just moved in as close to me as he could get. I whispered some words to him, and held him, slowly stroking his head head and ears. Mary said goodbye, and I kissed him. When the injection went in, his head was laying on me, his body held close, safe and secure and loved. And then his pain was gone, his suffering over, his little body at peace.
There was beauty in those moments, even in the pain. That trust and love, followed by the peace. The passing of his spirit back to God. My tears turned from anguish at his suffering to relief at his rest. Grief would come, but in that moment I felt it was a blessing.
The scene reminded me of a sculpture at St. Ben’s monastery. It is of a group of Sisters keeping vigil with someone who is dying. The quietness and beauty and holding and love depicted in that sculpture captures the sacredness of community and death, and it is an image of how death should be…. Surrounded by love as that bridge is crossed. Surrounded by people who know that this moment is sacred and filled with God. Surrounded by people who carry hope in their hearts as last breaths are taken.
And it made me think of the countless thousands of people who have died alone during these pandemic times, family and loved ones kept away for safety. My heart breaks at the thought of their loneliness, and for the nurses scrambling to bring them comfort as they die, over stretched with patients and exhaustion as they try to bring compassion in those last moments. And tears flow once more as I wish that each being that crosses over could be held by one who loves them, could be surrounded by comfort and witnesses to that hallowed moment between life and death, to be accompanied across that threshold, for it is a holy experience for both the one dying and those left behind. God is tangible, and the air feels sparkly with the wings of angels and the blessing in the pain of saying goodbye.
I have long said that I’m not scared of death, but scared of dying. But I think, if I were surrounded by such love as I died, even dying would not be scary. If community were there, people who recognized the sacredness of the moment, if those wings of angels were heard beating as they waited to carry me away, if I remembered that great Love in that moment and snuggled in to it, then, I trust, it could be a time of peace and beauty and freedom from whatever struggle had led me to that point. The any fear would be replaced with peace and surrender would be easy.
In these weeks and months ahead we will continue to be surrounded by too much death. I pray that each person knows they are held by those that love them, whether they are physically able to be present or not. But, more than this, I hope that each one feels the Great Love, the Divine Love, holding them as they cross over the threshold, that they know the peace and beauty of this as they let go of life, that they hear the angels’ song as they breathe their last breath, and that fear is dissipated as peace flows through.
While I am sad, I am thankful that Gibbs knew this, and thankful that Mary came with me so I could know that I was not alone. And although there may be no more stories that begin with the words, “As I was walking with Gibbs,” I know that his love with stay with me for a long time.
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