Navigating Loss with a Grateful Heart
'When a child is born, either the child is going to watch the parent die, or the parent is going to watch the child die.'
These words by Stephen Levine which I heard at a Death and Dying Retreat with Ram Dass have informed my life ever since. Every relationship has a beginning and an end, and when it ends in death the helplessness of grief ensues.
Last month I had to let go of my precious dog Baba after eight years of unmitigated joy. He did not want to eat on Saturday night. We saw a vet on Sunday afternoon and on Monday he was put to sleep. This precious boy who went everywhere with me and who made my heart sing even when it was breaking with the loss of my husband Michael is no longer physically present in my life.
I am gutted. This space is empty without him. Yogi, our big fluffy tabby cat, is asking where his brother is, and I wake up every morning not knowing what to do because always first was Baba.
Baba came to us when he was about a year old from somewhere in Northern BC. From the get-go he was Michael’s dog and rarely listened to me. But he stole my heart from the very first minute. And as I threw myself into our relationship and our daily life together, I forgot Stephen’s words about impermanence even as we navigated the last two years of Michael’s life together.
Baba was so full of energy. Seeing him gallop across the fields in the park made my heart soar. I had this expression about him: ‘Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Baba!!!!!’
And then there was the digging. Our park is full of voles, which are kind of like field mice and live mostly underground. They especially make their homes around the roots of Nootka Rose bushes. Baba was like a kid in a candy shop when I let him off leash in the fields. Or maybe more like a cocaine addict? He would dig relentlessly for ages. Rarely catching anything, but when he did holding the little being tenderly in his mouth. Needless to say, the vole died anyway – probably of a heart attack.
We would get to the park and he would see one of his dog pals and look at me and say, “Oh Mum, I want to play!” So I would let him off leash, and he would run like the wind towards his dog buddy and then at the last minute veer swiftly to the right or left and find a place to begin his excavations. And when I called him, he could not hear me. And when I got close to him, he would dart off in another direction. His agility (not in the traditional sense of dog training) was Gold Medal standard in dodging me. And I just stood there and laughed, because his joy brought me joy.
Two of my trainers wanted me to use an e-collar to control him. For me that was totally out of the realm of possibility. I recognized from the beginning that Baba was a free spirit with a heart as wide as the world. In no way did I want to reign that in. So often I stood by looking like a helpless bystander while Baba pursued his heart’s desire.
Last summer we were in the park with one of Baba’s buddies and his dad, and another two-legged friend of both pups. It was right after the end of COVID, so people were beginning to gather again. There was this huge family gathering with old people and children and dogs and at least three portable tables full of food. Baba went flying across the field and snatched a loaf of bread off the table until one of the men pinned him down. When I arrived on the scene, there was my boy with this huge loaf of bread in his mouth being pinned to the ground without resistance. Of course I apologized profusely and offered to pay for the bread, but inside I was laughing and commending him for going for what he wanted.
I can feel dog owners, and especially trainers, cringing as I write these words. But if we humans had even half of the one-pointed determination that Baba had when it came to focus and attention on a goal, the world would be a better place and there would be less anxiety and depression and victim-ness among us humans. As the great poet and mystic Rumi says, ‘The soul is here for its own joy.’ Baba lived that idea to the fullest!
In any case, for the past few weeks grief has been my daily companion. A memory, a toy, his empty bowl bring tears. Then I remember Michael saying, “Tears are an expression of love,” and I find myself shifting into heartspace where all I feel is love and gratitude that this beautiful soul shared my life for nearly eight years. And again I remember Stephen Levine’s words about the impermanence of all of our relationships. And with a heart breaking with love, I write to Baba and express my gratitude for his life and all the gifts he brought to us. I discover that doing this eases the rawness and begins to nurture the joy that Baba was so adept at expressing in his daily life.
Baba was named after the great Indian saint, Neem Karoli Baba – Ram Dass’s teacher. Michael had a profound connection with Maharaji, as he was lovingly called, and talked to him daily. Maharaji’s teaching was Bhakti yoga and service. My all-time favourite book about him is Miracle of Love which contains stories about all those Westerners who trekked to India in the 60s to find enlightenment. Maharaji, like my Baba, was a bit of a trickster, showing up in the most unexpected ways and bringing unbounded love to whomever he touched. He was also a shapeshifter and sometimes was seen as the Monkey God, Hanuman, who was the perfect servant of God. And I am reminded again that our world would be a better place if we had more of these energies - Bhakti, joy, spontaneity, love.
As I share my sadness and my joy with you, I also want to share with you the Essences which support the Metal element in our Body/Mind, because the emotion of the Metal element is grief. The Metal element is all about what we value, what we hold dear, what we love. So naturally when we lose something or someone we love, there is grief and sadness. And I know for sure that all of us at some time or another are going to experience grief. That is the nature of life. I would not for a minute give up all that love and joy so that I never had to feel this pain. If some of this experience resonates with you, I invite you to explore our Metal Essences – the healing energy from these plants, flowers, sea creatures, and gems can support each of us as we move through these moments of love and loss.