“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
At 10:50pm on November 30th, 2014, Jessie, my canine soul mate, exhaled her last breath of life.
As with everything in her remarkable existence, she died naturally on the terms of her choosing. She was honored and loved until the end and she died with the dignity and grace by which she lived. I feel blessed to have been by her side to midwife her return to the mystery of what lies beyond our embodied reality.
On October 21st, she was diagnosed with advanced liver failure by our local veterinarian after concerns about sudden weight loss and finicky eating obsessed my mind. There were no other symptoms. She was happy, playful, and as loving and light-filled as ever—excited for her daily hikes, car rides, nightly play sessions, snuggles, and the endless supply of love in our household. We arranged a second, more potent visit with one of the best holistic veterinarians in the country, Dr. Marlene Smith of the Phoenix Rising Veterinary Clinic in Courtenay, BC. The journey involved two ferries, rain, wind, rainbows, and a plethora of synchronicities that eventually confirmed what I felt in my heart but was not yet ready to face: Jessie’s body was dying. I felt broken as 13 years of the most perfect love was coming to an end.
Post diagnosis, she appeared to degrade quickly as I pre-grieved her looming departure and tried to accept what would soon be. The reality was hard to swallow but I knew that my love would prevail. There was a palpable energetic shift on the day that I made peace with the inevitable. From that moment on, she relaxed into what was left of her life as her spirit seemed to thank me for remembering the force of life that was still with herw.
She taught me the magic of what I now call “sacred acceptance”. I discovered that the release of all grasping and attachment unveils a profound presence that brings with it a renewed zest for life.
The power of love delivers infinite miracles.
From the time of her diagnosis, Jessie graced us with 40 more days of tender, sacred life. Those 40 days were filled with teachings, guidance, miracles, joy, and inspiration. She shared with us her wisdom, grace, and pure authenticity until the very end.
During this time my partner, Deb Gleason and I created a new normal. We took her for short walks to a local stream to drink the fresh running mountain water that she loved so much, we spent time on the beach so she could wade in the ocean, and every afternoon was reserved for car rides to beautiful destinations that made for blessed time for all of us—including of course, her canine companion Zoey.
We set up a sacred hospice environment in our bedroom on the little futon that was specifically built for her in 2004. It was piled high with blankets and a comforter so that it was exceptionally soft and fluffy. We called it “the cloud”. She slept on the cloud for the duration of her illness and seemed to relish the extra special attention. It was reassuring to know that she was so much at ease with the turbo-charged expressions of love propelling her towards what was next to come.
Her body was failing, but her spirit continued to soar.
We often associate life with vitality, energy, and enthusiasm. What we fail to realize is the importance of the quiet, contemplative moments in life. The feelings that come when we witness a beautiful sunset, the wind blowing our hair, the warmth of the sun on our face, or cool raindrops on a warm summer day. We seem to have forgotten the profundity of life that flourishes in the simplest moments.
Witnessing Jessie’s pure pleasure with a nose that still worked despite her failing body, gave me pleasure. Enjoying a beautiful sunset with her peaceful head resting on my lap, gave me peace. Rolling the car window down so she could take in the fast moving air as she barked with pure joy, gave me joy. These were the simple doggie pleasures that fed her soul, and mine. Jessie made it clear that she would live fully until the end. The life that we once knew had taken on a different appearance, but it became richer with its innocent simplicity.
Jessie was born in a loveless hell hole and died in a love-filled paradise. A clandestine rescue on a frigid winter night morphed into one of the most powerful love stories I’ve had the honor to live. Jessie, her five siblings, and her mother were compassionately relocated by my partner and I from an abusive alcoholic who profited from the reproductive bodies of the dogs he exploited. It’s a story of courage and love that will definitely be featured in the highlight reel of my post mortem life review. Despite a motley crew that already included many rescued cats and three aging dogs, Jessie made it clear from the get-go that she was home. We were soul-mates. End of story.
From that symbolic moment on, Jessie and I were inseparable. I altered my life to be with her. Because of this, my life was enhanced in ways that are difficult to articulate. Words seem so mundane when speaking the language of the soul.
Anyone who has ever known the love of an animal knows how pure it is. There’s no judgment, baggage, or conditions. It’s real. It’s truth at its highest level. Animals remind us of who we are meant to be. They break through the conditioning that teaches us to be what we’re not. Animals love in ways that humans are incapable. It is this realization that makes me profoundly aware of the lack of love in our world. In our essence, love is who we are, but we’ve been conditioned by our culture to discount this truth in order to support the consumptive, destructive machine that has created the spiritual desert of scarcity, fear, and separation that we so blindly accept as reality.
When we allow ourselves to love as animals do, we remember the essence of who we are. When we say goodbye, we feel as though a part of ourselves leaves as well. In fact, it probably does. When we choose to love without abandon it eventually means we will feel the profound intensity of loss. But deep pain is simply the other side of love. Personally, I would do it no other way. As my dear friend Sylvie Gouin says, “it takes a tremendous amount of prana to be with pain and sorrow without looking for a distraction, a “quick-fix” way out which always ends up as greater pain in the end.” Pain is what allows for greater expansion into wholeness. It liberates us and inspires us to grow into more of who we’re meant to be.
For 13 years, Jessie inspired me to become better, freer, more trusting, more loving, more joyful, more spontaneous … to speak my truth. She showed me how to be purely and authentically me. Jessie guided me on the path towards wholeness. She showed me how limitless love really is. She showed me the transformative power of presence and she taught me how to become more like her. She showed me grace. She showed me joy. She showed me the meaning of life: 100% pure unconditional love.
As animal communicator Sharon Callahan so eloquently writes:
It is always difficult to lose someone we love, but the death of an animal companion often touches us even more profoundly than the death of a human being. Our animal companions at times grow more dear to us than our closest human friends. They love us so unconditionally and with such great presence, that their passing can leave a profound emptiness in the very deepest recesses of our heart and soul.
The love of an animal permits us to unfold, to open up, drop our defenses and to be naked, not only physically but psychologically and spiritually as well. With an animal we let ourselves be seen instead of hiding behind our personalities, our cultures, our jobs, our clothing or our makeup. They know us as no one else does, in our private joys, angry rages, deepest despair, in sickness and in health. All the while their calm steady presence companions us with an unwavering love like few others on this earth. Our animal companions see through us to the very soul of our soul, encouraging the unfolding of a sacred trust. If there is such a thing as a soul mate, then surely this is it.
Jessie was my soul mate, best friend, companion, protector, playmate, guide, and one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known. She reminded me of the beautiful simplicity of life. She was a true free spirit, a canine status quo crusher who rocked my world.
For the past month, I’ve thought about how much she packed into 13 short years: the silly antics, the free-spirited defiance, the “looks” (which meant bratty mischief that always made me laugh), the pure joy, and fun – so much fun. The snuggly affection. Canoe and camping excursions, mountain biking, trail running, swimming, snowshoeing, x-country skiing, endless hiking in beautiful places. Planning every vacation around the dogs. The way I live my life, if dogs are not allowed, neither am I. Trips to Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, veg fairs, demonstrations, and rallys. She was always to be found at my athletic events as well: open water swims, running events, bike tours, and triathlons. Whenever I saw her along the way, I was lifted by a burst of love-infused energy.
I think of the intense pleasure she showed while digging, rock huffing, howling sessions, chest rubs on her beautiful white blaze, the hilarious bum dance that made so many people smile, bossing Zoey off her special futon bed in a charmingly bratty way, learning to swim after a stick and a ball, the endless fences she broke through with the smug satisfaction that she got us yet again, the nightly baby game, staying on the yard path, begging for chopped veggies in the kitchen (oh how she adored broccoli), head tilts, the perfect potato and the beach stamp, dirty shirting, endless “get-her games”, chasing squirrels, digging in snow, sand, and dirt, endless chase games with so many friends, cookies, cookies, cookies, joy-filled trips to visit the people she loved, the pure bliss of her head out the car window as the wind blew her hair, announcing her arrival wherever she went, rolling in the smelliest, gag-reflex-inducing stuff, and her ever present smile, oh that smile. She exemplified the pure pleasure of what it meant to be 100% dog.
She was with me through sorrow and pain, joy and happiness. Never judging. Always accepting and always, always loving every bit of me.
Jessie changed my life. She taught me a depth of love and trust that I didn’t know was possible. She was a sensitive, wise soul who happened to inhabit the body of a dog. She was a powerful guru who humbled me with her presence, authenticity, goofiness, free-spirited joy, grace, and love. The gratitude in my heart is eternal. She taught me the essence of what it means to be a fully conscious sentient being on planet earth. I’ve learned how to live until the end and how to die with dignity, peace, and grace.
Each night as I prepared for meditation, Jessie would faithfully curl up on the couch next to me as we sat with our bodies touching one another. It was a sacred time for both of us. My last meditation with this beautiful soul was in what would be the last minutes of her life. As I prepared myself for meditation sitting next to the cloud, she weakly lifted her head and placed it on my lap, one more time to remind me of our sacred connection. I shifted my body closer to hers so that I was pressed against her side. I prayed with all of the love in my heart for the release of her soul from her dying body so she would finally be free to return to the source of all life. Within minutes, her breathing changed and the active dying process began. My partner and I instinctively moved into positions where she could place her hands on Jessie’s heart and I would be by her crown. We both held her, breathing with her, encouraging her spirit to leave, reassuring her that we would be alright without her. With every ounce of love in our hearts, we propelled her from physicality into the mystery of what lies beyond.
…and then as soon as it began, it was over. The last exhale … and tears. Sobbing tears from the depth of my being. The animating force for her beautiful body was gone. The light in her eyes now a peaceful vacant stare. Thirteen years of life became history in that very moment. It was surreal. I felt heartbroken and relieved. Confused and grateful. What I felt most was the overwhelming absence of the life-force that I knew as my four-legged soul mate named Jessie.
We buried Jessie’s body the following evening under the light of the moon with gentle snowflakes falling from the sky. Her final resting spot is located in a sacred rainforest with an ancient old growth tree, affectionately named “Lonely Giant”, keeping watch over her. She used to love her hikes in this magical space.
When we completed the burial, we lit 2 candles and placed them in the areas where her heart and crown chakra were located far below the earth. We sat and contemplated in silence to honor the soul who had graced us with so much joy. It was simultaneously sad and beautiful. Her body, now returned to the earth, will feed new life that will grow where she rests.
The intensity of grief that has risen from saying goodbye to my loving soul mate is indescribable. Despite my deep spiritual connection, I feel the vulnerability of my humanity. The years of devotion, love, trust, and joy that she blessed me with are now memories. It’s true that I’m left with precious memories, but it’s also true that I’m left with the painful reality that I will no longer be able to run my fingers through her thick soft neck fur, look deeply into her eyes and tell her how beautiful she is, or hug her as I whisper into her floppy ears the three words that mean so much to all of us: “I love you”. Life as I once knew it would never be the same.
Death is a mystery. What lies beyond is an even greater mystery. Jessie’s final 40 days of life, and death, have given me a deeper sense of meaning. What I’ve come to realize is that the journey towards what we label as death is as important as living itself. Sadly, this is not something we’re taught in the Western world. The collective denial of our physical mortality is what prevents us from truly living. It is this denial that traps the minds of the masses in the selfish fears that have caused such a profound lack of willingness to love in the world.
When we ignore the certainty of death, we ignore life. When we accept the finite reality of life, we open ourselves to more love, joy, compassion, presence, passion, and purpose. We live more, give more, laugh more, love more, and we serve others in a way that leaves the world a better place, and we don’t wait for tomorrow because we know it may never come. Death is what teaches us how to live.
I grieve and ache in a way that hurts my soul, but being so familiar with the pain that comes from loss, I realize that grief is simply the other side of love. They are different sides of the same coin, and one cannot exist without the other.
Grief is a complex process with its own timeline that cannot be comforted or rushed. It must be honored for what it is, an intricate response to the finality of loss. When we allow grief to move through us as it is meant to, we greatly expand our capacity for love. For many people however, grief becomes an identity that prevents them from loving rather than a process that is meant to expand their capacity to love. How often do we hear of the fears that emerge from the pain of saying goodbye, and how it’s just so much easier to remain alone? This avoidance of love is at the root of so many problems today. It’s selfish for us to hold on to stories of what used to be as we block the true Self from expressing what it was created for: love. Grief and pain are what lead us to love. We can only love as deeply as we grieve.
Jessie was a sage in a dog’s body. She was the embodiment of love. I grieve for those who say such things as “she was just a dog”, for they have disconnected from the essence of who they are, the oneness that connects all of us despite the bodysuit we wear. It is beliefs such as these that show the profound spiritual disconnect that perpetuates the paradigm of separation. As Yogi Bhajan once said, “If you can’t see God in all; You can’t see God at all.” In a culture that breeds selfishness by celebrating our collective insignificance, animals selflessly show us that we matter. They remind us that despite our physical differences, we are all the same in our purpose to love and be loved.
I have faith that the pain of my current grief will inspire you to share the love from your own true Self without holding back. Love hard now because the only possible outcome of love held back is loneliness, pain and a lifetime of regret. The pain of the “could have’s”, “should have’s” and “would have’s” is far greater than all else because it lingers in the heart as a constant reminder of who we never allowed ourselves to be.
I know that my heart is limitless with its capacity to love. As an unapologetically loving person, I’m blessed with the inability to not love. As much as it hurts right now, I know that another explosion of love is incubating with every beat of my heart. Whomever comes next will join me in grief and in love and be an integral part of a profound healing process. I’ve learned over the years that it’s entirely possible to hold grief and love simultaneously. With that, I can say with ease that there is room for many more beautiful souls to come. This is the power of love. Thank you Jessie. I love you eternally for expanding my heart in ways I could never fathom.
Goodbye may be what we say to the body but it’s never needed for what lives on in our hearts.
To my dearest friend
I stood by your bed last night; I came to have a peep.
I could see that you were crying you found it hard to sleep.
I spoke to you softly as you brushed away a tear,
“It’s me, I haven’t left you, I’m well, I’m fine, I’m here.”
I was close to you at breakfast, I watched you pour the tea,
You were thinking of the many times, your hands reached down to me.
I was with you at the shops today; your arms were getting sore.
I longed to take your parcels, I wish I could do more.
I was with you at my grave today; you tend it with such care.
I want to re-assure you, that I’m not lying there.
I walked with you towards the house, as you fumbled for your key.
I gently put my paw on you; I smiled and said, “it’s me.”
You looked so very tired, and sank into a chair.
I tried so hard to let you know, that I was standing there.
It’s possible for me, to be so near you everyday.
To say to you with certainty, “I never went away.”
You sat there very quietly, then smiled, I think you knew…
in the stillness of that evening, I was very close to you.
The day is over… I smile and watch you yawning
and say “good-night, God bless, I’ll see you in the morning.”
And when the time is right for you to cross the brief divide,
I’ll rush across to greet you and we’ll stand, side by side.
I have so many things to show you, there is so much for you to see.
Be patient, live your journey out…then come home to me.