March 06, 2012

Ceremony for a dog's death

We miss herWe 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 
to thrive.
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
into love.
Carry with you
only love.
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


Jess said...

TJ, I used to work for a vet, and was a part of many animals passing from this life. This is so sad, but so very beautiful... and perfect that it could take place in your home. (big hugs)

smalltownme said...

Rest in peace, Sterling. That was beautiful. Similar to our experience losing our cat...we spent her last day petting and coddling her in front of the fire, and the vet came to our house.

koreen (aka: winn) said...

Oh TJ! Beautiful, but so so sad. I'm weeping now. Remembering my Tony when I had to do the same.

Aimee said...

This is so beautiful. I'm crying as I type this, even though I never knew Sterling. Sometimes love just blasts straight out of a post. This is one of those times.

The Keierleber Characters said...

I cried just at the title! lol You know I was a basket case through all of this! I love the idea of doing it at home. I'm glad you shared this, and I hope I do not have to follow your great tips for many years to come.

Kate said...

I love you gave Sterling her favorite ice cream. This post was so informative and lovely, TJ. I know there is a different way to put our fur babies to sleep when the time comes. Peace to all of you!

Christa said...

Tina, this is so beautiful. My heart goes out to you

So Pickin' Cute said...

T.J., I was thinking about you, and wanted to check in...I'm SO sorry about your dog. Your post brought me to tears. It sounds like you had some beautiful final moments together. I have a friend who unexpectedly lost a dog, and she may find comfort in this post. Love, Abby

Pam said...

Thinking of you . . .

Emmy said...

I am so so sorry. What a beautiful thing you did for her. I truly believe Bear will be able to heal so well from this as you handled it all with so much beauty and reverence.

Jennifer said...

Eeeerrrllliiinnnggg! Old girl
You honored her beautifully

Devon said...

I just found time to sit down to peruse some blogs.. .and I am SO sorry to hear about your beloved dog. I am in tears after reading your story... you did a wonderful thing for her. Doesn't make it any easier... but she was LOVED.

Amy said...

I finally had a chance to sit and read this post. This made me cry! I am so sorry, but it sounds as if you made it so special. It sounded like a beautiful way to honor someone so special to you and your family!

Mark said...

It's not really easy to lose something dear to us, specially when you've been with her for a very long time. She will always be loved. Sorry for your loss.

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