He Stood Beside Me

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.

He stood beside me, pointing the way with his black nose… and yet, I could not reach out, shuffle the black fur, caress the ears… he stood beside me, pointing the way, pawing at the rocks, and yet, they did not move, not a leaf flutter.

I had been thinking about this for days. Because of Him, the Black One… who came and lay beside me, untouched, untouchable, and yet… there. For days I had been thinking about it.

It started with a pair of wolf teeth. One, from a Paleo-Wolf, an almost fossiled tooth, it was so old. I don’t remember where I got it now, just that I had, and sometimes wore it. And the other, over 80 years old, come from a monastery in Tibet, where they said it was time to let the holy things out into the world, that the right people would come for them.

But he didn’t like it when I polished them, oiled them, wore the Paleo-Wolf’s tooth. He had something else in mind. And he showed me, he wanted me to have one last gift. One last connection. To wear against my heart, to hold when I mourned his loss, still mourning, after so much time has passed.

Too much talking, too much messaging, about him, about dogs, about companion animals, and what they mean to me. What he meant to me.

I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

I knelt softly in the deep leaves, cleared them away where he pointed. The rocks came next. He was insistent. It was okay. He wanted me to. One last gift.

There would be payment. There must always be payment, the dance of gifts, the exchange. Tears filled my eyes. Fear filled my heart. What if he was wrong, what if it wasn’t right there where he pointed? What if he wasn’t ready to give this gift to me? What would I find?

The rocks laid gently aside, I dug with my hands. The dirt under the blanket of leaves and rocks was hard, frozen. I dug. It came up in clumps, black dirt, black, just like him.  He stood beside me, encouraging me on.

Was this it? No, a tree root. Was this it? Almost. The top vertebrae. Yes. This was the spot, and it came easily from the ground, the black dirt falling away leaving a shining thing of beauty in my hands. I was stricken with awe. Unbelieving I was holding it, holding his skull in my hands. Just where he showed me it would be.  I thought fleetingly of taking it all, the skull, so beautiful, so large, so white. No slime, no remains of his flesh. Flesh was gone, back into the Mother, into the Earth, into the dirt.

He stood beside me, tongue hanging out, smiling. He had showed me the right spot. Good dog. Good boy.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

The tooth took effort. And so large! Larger even than my wolf teeth, the ones I think I would never wear again. What need, when there was this gift, given by one I loved, and who still loves me? What need?

I placed the skull, less one tooth, back where it had lain. A crystal, a beautiful, large, quartz, laid carefully in his mouth. Payment. The dance of gifts, exchange, and a gift of life given with it.

The dirt was gently placed around it. The rocks gently patted back in place. The leaves brushed back over.

I could barely breathe. I could not believe what I had done. Had I violated his rest? He says no. He is not there. And he knows I will treasure it, baby it, care for it, polish it and string it with the oldest of ivory, the ivory of mammoths and walruses that lived thousands of years ago. I will love it, and wear it against my heart. A little piece of him to hold onto. Forever.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

The Gift

The Gift

Note: The reddish color is from red ochre, a mineral used for millennia on the bones and in the graves of the dead. It is not done drying out yet, will glow when it is. I’ll post a picture then.

 

I’ve decided to put the comments on this post into here, because they are as important to me as the post itself. Almost. But I don’t want them missed.

  1. Postscript:

    As hard as doing it was, writing it was just as hard. Throwing it out into the world, to my family & friends, to others who had known the Black One, my boy, in life. Not knowing how to say it, what you would think, of what I had done.

    He stood beside me as I wrote the words above, told the story of his gift. He showed me again what had happened, what I felt, helped me find the words. Because I had to tell it right, so some few of you could really hear what I was saying.

    Now, the light of another day has dawned. And after reading my own words over, there is a new understanding inside, in my heart, where the hole had been.

    I did not kill, or have the vets kill, my best friend. I had really done everything there was to do. I was in such a haze of exhaustion when I had him put to sleep, from caring for him through his brain tumor, the seizures, the loss of bowel control, the constant vigil over him, that when we buried him, I was too tired to really grieve. To understand the impact of having lost my best friend.

    And so I couldn’t see. I didn’t kill him, because he did not die. He’s been here trying to show me that all along. But as the months turned into a year and a half, I needed to see. I needed to understand, not just with my head, but my heart, that I had done the right thing, that he understood, and that he had never left me. That it was okay to cry, to mourn, without feeling guilty. That it was okay to look at his pictures again without the heart stopping grief & guilt. That it’s okay to look at them and smile.

    He stands beside me. And I tell him I understand now.
    He did not die, he does not sleep.


  2. I never felt that you killed him you did the only thing you could do is to help him out of his misery. That takes a lot of courage, love , compassion and pain for you to be able to do that. There are many things in life that we do out of love that brings us much pain and sorrow. Life is very complicated. Out of each thing we experience we learn. I have as I get older, I ask what am I supposed to learn from this. Most of the time I eventually learn what it was I needed to learn. I have learned that no matter how old we are we are never to old to learn. Maybe one, is when we get older, is that we have to learn to accept a lot that we don’t understand, and probably never will, and hope it makes us a better person.


  3. I know that you didn’t think I’d made the wrong decision; if anything, I think you & Rhia saw the toll it was taking on me, emotionally & physically, and thought I should have let him go sooner.
    But you know what I wrote you on Facebook, how it was at the end, how he trusted me when we went to the vets, when they put the IV in, when I told them to go ahead. You know I was nose to nose with him as his spirit left his body.
    When you can’t explain it to them, what is going on, and why you are doing what you are doing, it’s hard. Harder than it would be with a person. A person with terminal illness often comes to the point of being ready to go, and as you know, sometimes asks for assistance with it. I think that would be easier to do, emotionally, to deal with, than it is with an animal.
    It’s like with a baby, when something has to be done that will hurt them in the short term, but be better in the long run. And there’s no way to explain it to them, and they look at you with complete trust that you won’t let anything bad happen, anything hurt them… but sometimes you have to.

    It’s gutwrenching.
    And he & I were so close, he had likely saved my life, and yet I was responsible for ending his. And because he couldn’t talk, couldn’t tell me how bad it felt, I had to guess when the right time had come. When there was no more hope of recovery, and it was hard for him to get through the day.
    It is a terrible, terrifying thing, to make a decision like that. I think most people who have to decide when to end their beloved companion’s suffering do wonder if they made the decision at the right time. Was it too soon, or did you wait too long?
    My book on dealing with pet loss says the wondering and the guilt never goes away. But it finally has for me.
    Because he stood beside me, and showed me the way. Because of one last gift. I cannot explain it any better. But I can tell you I’m very grateful.


  4. In case you are wondering, I do not name him here because there are some spiritual traditions where it is considered improper to name one who has passed; that to do so will call their spirit back from it’s journey. I know I will see him again in flesh, that he will be born into a new body and we will find each other. There are some bonds that transcend what we call death.


  5. When I went out and he stood beside me as I took the Gift, it was because the ache, the horrible heart aching pain and hole in my chest, was too much.

    Now, where that hole was, where the pain was, is only a sense of peace & serenity.

    Thank you, Shunka.


  6. I am thankful that you had the experience and it eased your pain and sorrow. He was different then any dog that I have known. I will never forget how he changed after you had the seizure. The way he was with me too. The one particular time that I was back in Rhia’s room and I coughed. He came running down the hall to me and stood right in my face and looked in my eyes just like he was looking into my soul to make sure I was all right. I have never forgotten how I felt. I had never had anyone look at me like they cared that much. I can understand why you feel like you do about him.


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2 thoughts on “He Stood Beside Me

  1. Hi Ash,

    Thank you for the comment. I thought I had written too much.

    I am in tears after reading this. I’ll have to come back. I am so completely entirely moved.

    Thank you, and I’ll be back soon…

    Michelle.

    Like

  2. Hello Ash,

    I am coming across this reading again almost 6 years later. I am not surprised that the poem I offered you was one that you already knew. I find the timing synchronistic for me as it may be for you to re-read this. Shunka was an amazing dog…very special…I always felt supported when we shared the same space. He was a kind, caring, very loving and gentle for a dog his size!

    I remember when I had to put down Cleo about 1.5years ago how supportive you were, how understanding…knowing you could relate. Cleo was the second cat I had to put down in less than two years and it never gets easier. I haven’t got a new cat yet and I’m not sure if I will while I’m living here…at least as long as I commute to my parent’s in Bethesda regularly, but I do get so lonely missing a four legged soul…sometimes when I came home to my old place I would miss her coming to the door to greet me, but it’s a little easier here at my new place

    Thank you for letting me get to know the dogs in your life. I always tell people you raise them like wolves and they usually can’t relate to that…but it does make them special animals

    You treat them like animals should be treated!

    Much love & big hugs,

    MOSHE

    Liked by 1 person

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