I’m one of those people now, the ones who stop the dog walkers they pass to ask about their dogs and say hello. I delight in crouching down to get eye-eye with those furry wonders and to give them a friendly pat, perhaps receiving some big-nose sniffs and the occasional lick-yo-face kisses. It’s always amazing to me with animals how strangers can be as worthy of a kiss as their own kin. I miss all that amazing doggy affection since losing my beloved dog, Fiesta, in November. She helped me feel so worthy of love.
Fiesta had the cutest snout. The softest ears. The sweetest kiss. In her older years, when she could no longer jump into my car on her own (even though she would always make the effort – right up to her very last day), I would pick her up in my arms and savor that moment of a quick cuddle and kiss before putting her back down and buckling her safely into the seat. Yes, Fiesta wore a doggy seatbelt in the car. From the moment we got rear-ended a few months after arriving in Boulder, CO, and I watched with horror as her furry little body flew helplessly off the seat and hit the dashboard (thankfully with no harm but a bloody broken nail) – I buckled that dog in evermore. Her health and safety were as important as my own.
I have yet to have my own children. Fiesta was like my only child, my favorite companion, my best friend.
The choice to euthanize my best friend of 15 years was the hardest choice that I have ever made.
This choice may have also been the most compassionate.
Fiesta had great health for 13 years but the last 2 years of her life were wrought with escalating difficulties. In addition to becoming blind and deaf, Fiesta developed skin cancer at the age of 14 that caused her leg to bleed copiously 24/7. I wrapped her leg for 7 months. I couldn’t find a solution beyond surgery or amputation, neither of which would promise to improve her overall quality of life, which was increasingly deteriorating. Fiesta also developed a malignant melanoma inside her mouth that was operated upon and removed, only to return. The vets warned me that the cancer risked manifesting elsewhere, internally, which would cause a regrettable amount of suffering for her to endure. I had also been giving Fiesta eye drops in her only remaining eye 3 times a day for 2 years to prevent the eye pressure from causing her pain. She could no longer see from that eye. We were just prolonging the life of an organ that wasn’t functioning for her anymore. It felt hopeless. Her other eye had been removed due to glaucoma. She loved her independence to explore her surroundings, and that independence was rapidly disappearing. Fiesta often got stuck walking in circles, even when on the leash, as if she couldn’t remember which way was forward and which way was back. She would sometimes get stuck in the corners of my room and whine, lost in darkness only a few feet away from me. I had the impression that dogs are suppose to lose their appetite when they’re ready to die but Fiesta absolutely LOVED to eat. She never lost her appetite. She always gave me lots of kisses. She seemed happy to be there with me.
I could not discern whether I was being selfish to hold on to her, or selfish to let her go.
The vets told me this was the hardest part of having a dog. Saying goodbye.
Then one day, while taking a yoga class with another teacher at the Yoga Loft where I also teach, the yoga teacher said to the class: “Whatever it is you’re dealing with, are you choosing peace? You can choose peace. What would it be to choose peace?” And something clicked. I had to make the choice of peace for Fiesta. She didn’t have to fight anymore. I cried hysterically while driving her to the vet that night. I thought I might have an accident on the road. But we got there. She peed very casually on her way to the door. She always shook with fear when we went to the vet, but this night, she never shook. She showed no fear. She looked excited, actually. I thought I might faint when we stepped inside that room but something kept me conscious. And in that last moment of transition, as her physical form fell gently into my arms, there was truly a sense of peace, a sense of Spirit even laughing at me for thinking that my dog was ever just her body.
Fiesta’s physical death has asked me to surrender my sweetest love to the unknown. There is an ethereal peace in that surrender.
It’s been almost 3 months now that I have been staring at the soft purple velvet sac that Fiesta’s ashes are wrapped in, wondering: what do I do now?
I do not have all the answers but I have found a few actions helpful. I value conscious action to intentionally move our energy in order to digest our experiences. Avoidance of issues accumulates over time as stress and illness in our tissues. So, I am here sharing my current Top 10 Actions for Grieving The Loss of Your Pet in case they could be helpful to you in facing these issues, too. I’d love to hear if you have found others…
My 10 Actions for Grieving:
- Create An Altar. I created an altar where I put some of Fiesta’s things including her paw print, her collar, a wrapper from her last treat, a picture of one of my spiritual teachers, and a painting that I had made of her.
- Sit For Meditation, Chant, Song, Prayer. I sat in at least 15 minutes of meditation every night (sometimes in the morning or afternoon) and said prayers, chants, songs for her passage for 49 consecutive days. I’ve heard that sitting for a loved one for 49 days, or 7 weeks, after their death is what Tibetan Buddhists do. They seem to have done a lot of research on death and the afterlife.
- Make Water, Food, Incense Offerings. I continued to fill her water bowl and offer fresh treats to her alter every day for those 49 + days.
- Write Letters. I wrote letters of thanks and farewell to her best veterinarians and to her best groomers. One of them even wrote back with a sweet card that said they made a donation in Fiesta’s name to a local animal rescue organization!
- Offer Flowers To The Altar & To The Earth. This in particular has felt like a significant discovery. I bought a bouquet of fresh flowers and put them on her altar, where I was sitting in meditation and prayer on a regular basis. Once the flowers dried after a week or two, I cut the stems and crumbled the flowers into a kind of potpourri. I then carried that potpourri in a little sac with me on one of my favorite hikes that I used to walk with Fiesta. As I walked alone without her now, I tossed little handfuls of the potpourri to the ground around the path as I walked, thinking of her. Then I got another set of fresh flowers and put them on her alter, to repeat the hike once these flowers had dried – after another week or two of meditation and chants at her alter. I have found this ritual particularly helpful as an honorable and refreshing way to actively connect her memory with the Earth, the birthplace of our bodies and also their deathbed. I suppose I could do the same thing with her ashes, but I’m still holding on to her ashes.
- Walk With Japa Practice. I try to take walks as if Fiesta was still with me, meaning I continue to walk in the places we walked together. I can’t always do this with a pocket full of dried flowers, but I can do this with a mala. So I walk and do japa practice, the recitation of mantra, with my mala – sometimes with Fiesta specifically in mind, sometimes I try to bring all animals to mind. I think I got this idea from one of my friends in India who takes power walks every morning while reciting japa. She makes her physical fitness routine a spiritual fitness routine as well.
- Invest In Your Physical Fitness. Physical fitness, or the efficiency with which our bodies use oxygen, has a direct effect on our moods and our minds. I signed up for three months of personal training sessions at the Colorado Athletic Club where I also teach yoga and dance. I started these once-a-week sessions several weeks before Fiesta died and I continued them for several weeks after. Working with a trainer offers a far more challenging and educational experience than exercising on one’s own. Our sessions really challenged me during the session as well as throughout the week between the sessions. Having to be accountable to a personal trainer caused me to face my weaknesses, rather than caving into them. We worked on cardio and weights in a way that I had never done before. Learning something new is always helpful. I remember one day when we were doing a weight-lifting exercise with a focus on the pectorals and rhomboid muscles, it felt like I was really getting into my muscular “grieving zone” and building strength there.
- Initiate Change. I moved. Two weeks after Fiesta passed, I moved out of the little room that I had been living in with Fiesta into an empty room in the same house that we had been living in for three months. Two months later, for several reasons, I moved out of that house into another house entirely. Initiating change can be very helpful. If you can’t move houses, you can usually move some furniture, or artwork, or maybe even move the way you move around the house. Initiate change, rather than being perpetually shocked by it.
- Practice Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I have been practicing Vinyasa Yoga for 16 years and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga for the past 8 years. The Ashtanga practice in particular has helped me to work through many traumas. The Ashtanga Vinyasa emphasizes deep steady breathing and subtle energy cultivation in the face of physical and psychological challenge. I have not had my Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher in town to practice with since the Yoga Workshop closed here in Boulder last year, so I have been doing self-practice for a year. When I left New York City, I was also doing self-practice for two years before moving to Boulder. Through these fluctuations of Ashtanga teachers, my practice has fallen apart in many ways – but it has also progressed and come back together in fresher ways. Having a relationship with practice is like having a relationship with a significant other: oneself. It has to be organic. It can’t be forced. Valuing this relationship by showing up to it in some way, even if it’s not looking its best on any given day, creates an opportunity to get involved and to get evolved. The relationship with our practice can help to balance our other fluctuating relationships. I know no other form of yoga that helps to develop such a relationship with practice like the Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa.
- Share In Conversation. Dance. I continue to reminisce about Fiesta with those who knew her and also with those who didn’t. Her spirit lives on in the sharing of her memory. Sharing this whole process in conversation with my mom has been especially invaluable, as my mom loved Fiesta just as much as I did. Maybe even more! It can be hard to hear someone else’s grieving, but it’s really important to listen to others grieving too. Conversation must go both ways. I also created a tribute page (in-progress) on my website and several blog posts (I guess that’s because I’d also love to hear from YOU). All forms of Art are forms of Conversation. Dance is one such art form that is instantly accessible and liberating. It can be a conversation with oneself, with another, with a piece of music, or simply, with a feeling. Dance can also be a fantastic form of physical fitness. Dance!
February 20th, 2020