As many of you know, I laid my long-time canine companion Oliver to rest last week after having him by my side for almost 15 years. Oli was a long-haired Jack Russell Terrier whose intelligence bordered on the inconceivable and whose penchant for anxiety rivalled that of Woody Allen. He was faithful and loving, and could convey the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language through a single glance. His absence, as I’ve mentioned to those around me, has been overwhelming…and as time passes and the wound of saying good-bye to him slowly starts to heal, it is also providing incredible insight into the process of death, loss, and recovery from the shock of that loss.
I had previously gone through losing another dog – Sally was added to our family 2 years after Oliver showed up, and she was with us for 6 years before her health failed and we had to say good-bye. It was the first time I had ever lost a pet, and the shock of it was traumatic, to say the least. I had severely underestimated the weight of the energy that an animal brings into the pack, and even more severely underestimated the size of the hole that is left in our hearts when that energy passes onto the next stage. I have lived through the deaths of people as well over the last 37 years of my life, and as jolting and traumatic as they have been, none of those people were with me day and night for years on end, and losing Sally was a huge shock, one that has paid me another visit over the last week. This time, however, is proving to be different.
Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, in human, canine, or any other form, can attest to the fact that there is an element of the irrational in that suffering. One minute they’re here, the next they’re not. That suffering doesn’t necessarily depend on the length of time spent with him or her, as the strongest bonds can be quickly formed between those with like-minded ideals, points of view, and emotional frames of reference. I can safely say, however, that after continuously being with Oli for 15 years, I have been seeing him everywhere I look. The irrational element of not being able to make sense of his loss, as I also felt with the losses of my family members and friends, was always one of those things that I accepted as being part of the process of dealing with death. It was also something I had understood as not being explicable or definable, but something that simply was…something that could not benefit from analysis as it would constantly bring me back to a place of no answers or insight. Oliver’s death has changed that.
What has become clear to me over the last week is that the inability to understand the mystery of death is based in the ego. The ego is relentless in its drive to claim proprietorship – Oli was MY dog, this person was MY friend, this relative was MY grandparent. And on levels conscious and unconscious (perhaps even subconscious), losing those we love is an inarguable blow to the ego, one whose effects are non-negotiable and permanent. The shock we experience at losing them is mainly based in the fact that they were never ours to begin with, that we don’t own anything or anyone…we simply manage it all. We manage the relationships we are blessed with to the best of our abilities, as we do all other aspects of our lives and careers, but the second we believe that we own them, then the ego has won and we have placed ourselves in a place of suffering. We need to accept the blessings that are bestowed on us in this lifetime, as we do the pitfalls and traumas that we are faced with, but we need to understand that we are all simultaneously co-existing and that we need to let go of the constraints that immediately form when we try to claim ownership over anything or anyone. We all are. It’s that simple.
And so after the past 14.5 years of being blessed with Oliver, and after being taught innumerable lessons about unconditional love and the bonds that can be formed between members of different species, Oli continues to teach me. I’m so grateful to this universe for allowing Oli and I to spend so much time together…I owe so much to that little guy, and I know that more revelations will unfold over the next little while…and I’ll be sure to share them as they reveal themselves….