rest her soul

For a little while yesterday, her body was shaped like a crescent in her bed beside the desk.  I would stop my work and look at her and hold completely still and, unblinking, watch for movement.  Marty was standing in the doorway, and we confessed to each other that we both could see her body rise and fall in a regular rhythm, the black coat playing tricks as the radiator heat and leaky windows blew her hairs gently.  Cleo’s eyes were open—a result of the anesthesia—but they were dark enough to seem closed.
Where did she go, Marty wanted to know.  Her body got cold almost right away, all that leftover heat from circulating blood and physical energy just dissipating in the air like vapor.  We’d all like to think some clump of soul goes first, intact and at some perfect age of wisdom and agility.  If Mary Roach couldn’t prove it in Spook, I’m not inclined to believe in that perfect soul leaving the body’s building at thirty-four seconds past death.  I think it’s the job of your memories to reconstruct the souls of the departed.  They visit you sometimes via the corner of your eye, when the light hits just right, and a shadow flits, or when a heavy truck goes by and shakes your house and your bed, and you sense an impression on the mattress; the apparition, the disappearance—there’s your ghost, their soul.
I’m moving slowly for a few days.  I’m missing the sound of Cleo’s labored breathing, the struggle of her toenails against the wood floor.  I can pull my kitchen chairs out at will.  Chance is missing her, too.  We put his bowl where hers used to be, and he looked at us as if to ask for permission, and he ate cautiously.
In the early afternoon, against yesterday’s bitter cold, Marty finished digging and wrapped her in my old electric blanket.  He covered her with garden dirt and tears, and then it was done before I even knew.  Marty came inside, and I went out to stand with her and thank her. 
More than sadness and grief, I feel relief.  We can live with pain or indignity or loss of senses or limited mobility, but should we have to live with all of them, even when our ability to make that choice—especially when the ability to make the choice—is gone?  For all this talk of “quality of life,” why is it still the quantity of life that we attempt to preserve in the face of all of these ills? 
For some, it’s a religious belief.  It would seem that a major world religion was borne of the suffering of one man.  “It’s not the Christian way,” someone at the Catholic school said of euthanasia. Then she leaned in and whispered, “I don’t care; I wouldn’t want to live like that.”  Sometimes man learns the wrong lessons from history.  For me, the sin is in the suffering, the godliness in the compassion.
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10 Comments

  1. jodi December 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    that last line. yes. so true.

    sending lots of love to you. xo

  2. Kim Hosey December 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Beautifully written, and very true. The way you preserve their memories, it's like your dogs are all still around, and I've never met any of them.

  3. Towles December 15, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    Finally got brave enough to read it, and I'm so glad I did. To a dog well loved …

  4. Cybergabi December 15, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    Very very wise words. Thank you. I wouldn't want to live like that either.

    Much love to you and your family.

  5. Richard Gilbert December 16, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    I don't know where her soul has gone, except into you . . . and this gorgeous prose.

  6. jo(e) December 16, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    Beautifully said. Hugs to you.

  7. Lysandra Cook Photography December 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    Sending love.

  8. Belinda December 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    all very wise and true.
    my thoughts are with you.

  9. miriam December 21, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    so much truth in this for me – grief/belief/relief says it all. i lost my cat a few years ago – or i should say – i chose to put her to sleep to end her torture and mine. what a mixture and well-expressed feelings here.

  10. Elizabeth (Beth) Westmark December 31, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Over the lifetime of our 27 year marriage, my husband & I have loved into old age and buried three great canine friends, so far. Maggie is now 12 1/2. I don't think my heart can take another after Maggie.

    You've heard the prayer, I'm sure: God, please help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.

    I have enjoyed your writing over time and it is good to discover your blog.

    I am glad your vet came to you and helped Cleo. We had a similar experience 7 years ago with Con, my big-headed puppy, 16 year old black lab Westmark's No-Cut Contract. We buried Con in the place out back we call Good Dog Ridge. My husband has asked me to scatter his ashes there.