“When something tragic happens and you become horrible hurt, as much as your pain has you absolutely convinced that this must be about you, remember that hardship is part of choosing to live, that the tragedy of death is what gives meaning to life, and that pain has no prejudice — it afflicts us all.”
—Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck
Below is a posthumous letter to my two dogs, Louie and McDuff, who my family had to let go of after a decade and a half. You may wonder after reading why this post belongs on the BizofYou blog. Do you know what the leading cause of death is? Life. Our personal biz is about using this life to its fullest. Our biz is about living deep and sucking out all of the marrow of life and let go all that is not life as we choose to experience it. Death is merely the punctuation mark to end the sentence that captures our life. When dealing with the death of loved ones, it’s important to reflect on their sentence capturing the essence of who they were and more importantly who they continue to be within us after their last breath.
Death is the one certain thing in life albeit with an unknowable time. Dealing with the death of friends or family is something we all have to deal with at some point. There is no preparation for the particulars of the deaths we deal with in our lives. There is only accepting the loss, expressing the grief and going through our particular process. The way we deal with difficulties and hardship, our process, is a foundation of our biz. Call it a process approach to living. In our life processes, we enable ourselves to weather the bad times and enjoy the good while ever in transition between. The letter below is one of my steps in my particular grieving process. Writing down my thoughts and sharing them with friends, family and those who wish to read is cathartic for me. It will also be one of the letters gathered in an Olson family book dedicated to the memory of our fur babies that were so integral to much of our life.
I hope your life processes support you in enjoyable as well as difficult times. More importantly, I hope your approach to life resonates in others as they will no doubt reflect on the sentence capturing who you were after you pass into the undiscovered country.
To Louie and McDuff,
All of us were openly sad when the first needle went in to help calm the two of you. Jessica, Jordan, Jaxson and I comforted you and gave you a last treat or two. Within a few minutes you began to get sleepy. McDuff was the first to just want to lie down going for his spot on the brown bed we took into the vet with us. Louie on the other hand just kept his eyes wide opened as if to soak up every last bit of energy he could. Being a hot day, you were still panting, but stopped looking around nonetheless. Louie, you too began to relax and within a few more minutes joining McDuff on the bed. The tears began to flow as your energy began to wane. Both Jordan and Jaxson could tell the two of you were starting to slip away and thus the tears began to flow like a persistent rain storm. Goodbyes were said along with so many statements of “I love you.” We laid hands upon both of you as much as possible to connect and console. The two of you seemed comforted by the warmth being shared with you. With sleep grasping at the two of you, the doctor returned saying it was time for the second and last shot. She asked if one of you would be more disturbed if the other was gone. We all agreed that you, McDuff would be upset the most if Louie passed first.
We put both of you on the table in the same manner that you slept every night, side-by-side with Louie curled up behind McDuff. With practiced assuredness, the doctor drew McDuff’s blood into the deep blue liquid followed by a swift injection. Your last breaths were with the hands of your family on your body and Louie curled behind you sharing the love and comfort we could given the sadness that penetrated each and every one of our souls. Your stillness brought a finality to the whole situation and made it that much more real as the doctor positioned herself for Louie’s last shot. Unlike McDuff who went easily into the unborn country from which no traveler returns, you still had your feeling as the doctor began her administrations. You had so much independence and life even the vet’s drug concoction to calm you didn’t take it away. You still responded to the cold alcohol before the needle went in. Again the blood mixed with the midnight blue injection. Just like McDuff’s last moments, we shared all the love we have for you through our hands upon you. Your last breaths were taken with all of us helping you end the thousand shocks of living with tremendous nerve damage in your spine and a possible stroke the week prior. Jessica observed your last breath and grief overtook her. The flood gates of tears were opened. The doctor talked to us about never being ready for things like this and other comforting things, but honestly, I don’t think any of us heard a word. We were so consumed with grief and the longing to bring you back home with us.
Jessica, having seen the life Louie still had in him all they way up to the end, asked, “Did we make the right decision.” At the time, I was unable to say out loud that we had. I could only hold on to the embrace of her to let her know it was alright. I took your bed back to the car while Jessica, Jaxson and Jordan stayed behind a little longer. I couldn’t do it. For me, it was time to walk away. The ride home was somber to say the least. I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to Thomas Newman’s American Beauty performed by the London Music Works in the same way again as it was the first piece of music after your exit from this mortal realm. Arriving home was difficult and brought tears to our eyes again. Although we openly shared our tears and grief, it wasn’t until I was alone down in the basement and what used to by your dog house that I openly wept like I’ve never done before in my life. The loss overwhelmed me and I thought of all the things that would no longer be:
- Coming home to your unique beagle howls and running amok all excited for your dinner
- Begging for pancakes or licking out our coffee cups on the weekends
- Your noses between our legs at the breakfast bar waiting for any dropped morsel
- Chasing us around the house after an exhausting day at work
- Your warmth and comfort when one of us is sick or laid up after surgery
- Running around the backyard like you own the world
- Chasing rabbits when we take you for walks
- Licking our legs as a comfort not only to yourself but us.
- You patiently waiting for that last bit of potato that’s so difficult to shred
Then there are those moments lost in time like tears in rain. Like the time I flew to Salt Lake City to pick you up McDuff. You were so small and so cute, I almost missed my plane as so many people wanted to stop and give you some attention. Even the police officer at the airport with her German Shepard took some time to see you off. You were so small in comparison, but even then you simply wanted to play and share some positive energy with that working dog. Louie, I’ll never forget you running after a bird and catching it out of the air in our back yard. It was simply amazing and something I would not have imagined if I didn’t see it for myself. You were our first and second born kiddos albeit of the four legged kind. And of course there are some things that are etched into our souls like your howl, warm fluffy ears, or big dark eyes. I’m glad you were a part of our life. I count myself lucky that you both lived such long healthy lives making it to 16 for Louie and 15 for McDuff. We simply wanted to end your suffering as the man on the pale horse came for you oh so quickly in the last month or so.
To say the least, you are missed. Louie, your independence and not giving up even in the end is inspiring. I loved how you would not let the pain overwhelm you even when you could barely walk, sit, stand or sleep. You simply kept going. You still wagged that tail or gave us that Louie grin in the darkest hours. I hope I can have a smidgen of your wherewithal as I age. McDuff your sweet loving nature never wavered. It was true until the end even when the pus from your lip tumor was too much for us to take. You didn’t like it when we knew you were in pain, removing yourself instead of sharing your pain. You truly loved us in ways we will never understand. You were the epitome of compassion and something I aspire to. Both of you have been amazing friends for the last decade and a half. Thank you for being a part of our lives.
Oh, one last thing, with the two of you gone, I have to clean up after myself in the kitchen. Thanks a lot!
[yes, this is sarcasm and truth commingled into one statement]
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