We miss her. We are coping and remembering all in our own way, all on our own time. The previous post felt therapeutic to put up, now it drives me to sadness each time I see it, so today there will be a new post to buffer it; a post who's time has come.
There is some true business to attend to here: as I was searching for ways to celebrate Sterling's life during her final moments with us, I could not find much inspiration on the Internet. There were suggestions of possible donations, if cremation would be an option, how to talk about it to others, how to cope in the days after, but nothing about the actual event.
Certainly one of the ways I can honor Sterling is by using her life and her death to help other pet owners; I gave this post a very search engine friendly title and will explain how we held Sterling's passing in the hope that it may help other pet owners find peace in their anguish.
Sterling's death and wake ceremony
When all options had been explored and it was determined that the kindest, gentlest thing to do for Sterling would be to put her to sleep, we put some processes into motion.
-We opted for a "call out" fee from our vet which enabled us to put Sterling to sleep in the familiarity of her own home. If your vet has that option, I highly recommend it. It helped all of us, including our other dog, Trot, and our 3 year old son, to cherish the sacred final moments with her. This was to be family time, pure and simple.
-Familiar music was played throughout the day. In our case it was James Taylor who has always sung in the background of any big decisions of my life. Sterling, I'm sure, knew this. Or maybe this part was just for me, but either way, it helped.
-We fed her whatever she wanted and bought a special pint of her favorite ice cream to toast her with. This part was a bit macabre for me - like a final meal- but on reflection, I'm so glad we did it.
-She was cozily tucked in to her bed in her favorite part of the house. We started a warm fire for her and placed some important things from her life along the mantle as a makeshift altar: her collar, pictures, a sage smudge stick, a lit candle, a cow figurine to represent her love of them, a letter from the Humane society to her, a book of Mary Oliver poems, and Dog Heaven.
-Throughout the day we all took turns snuggling with her, sharing our favorite memories, crying, remembering with pictures, and looking in to her eyes to just listen to her.
-As time drew near, our infant son miraculously decided to take a nap. Bear, the 3 year old, was given the option to follow his heart with how much he might participate. We reviewed all we had talked about with him in the weeks leading up to this: Sterling will die, we all die because everything from the Earth goes back to the Earth, once we die, we no longer need our bodies, once we die we are no longer in pain. It is ok to cry, it is ok to grieve. And in our family the belief is- Sterling is going to Heaven.
- the vet team arrived. That part was hardest. I changed the music to Heavenly Day by Patty Griffin (she wrote it for her dog) and put it on repeat.
- we gave Trot and Sterling some final time together before removing him from the room for the actual injection. Perhaps you will opt to keep any sibling dogs in the room, but from my research and talking to the vet, we choose not to.
- final goodbyes and the family gathered around Sterling. Her head was in my lap, I stroked her fur and read a prayer:
God of merciful death,
We stand here
knowing that life
must be winnowed
This is a holy act performed:
to open a gateway
for a willing One
to come to you.
This is an act of healing,
a release from suffering,
an end to pain.
He is One
whose arms are open
to embrace you.
I whispered sweet nothings to her, I refused to cry at this moment, and instead savored the smell of her fur. As she was about to pass, we prayed:
Beloved one, you are dying,
but you are not alone.
We are here with you,
the beloved dead and Georgie await you.
You go from love
Carry with you
May our love carry you
and open the way.
-Carry only love-
- The vet quietly left and Trot was let back in, we gave him time alone with Sterling and then we gathered around her again. It was sad and beautiful and oh so peaceful.
(3 weeks ago)
- I had time alone with Sterling while Bear and Champ went to the woods to finalize her burial ground. The wake lasted 2 hours before Champ took her to be buried. I chose not to go for that part, but Bear wanted to see it all. He had been prepared by reading "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant and "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney" by Judith Viorst.
- Her grave ready, we all headed to the woods. I read Mary Oliver's "Her Grave" and we prayed and reflected. Eventually I closed the ceremony by reading Mary Oliver's "In Blackwater Woods."
(one of the first digital pictures I have of her - 2007)
- as the days go on, I will make a photo album full of her pictures, we will donate to the shelter she lived at before coming in to my life, and we will burn the smudge stick to leave behind only happy memories, but for now we cry, we laugh and we remember.
* all prayers adapted from here