Kim and Bob’s home is an animal house, alive with dogs, cats and kids. It is one of the most welcoming, loving, accepting homes I have ever entered, but I don’t usually stay long, because I’m allergic to animal hair. Kim supplies a wet washcloth, so I can clean my hands after each caress, since I can’t resist.
When Kim emailed to say they were putting Cody down, I knew I had to be there. He was the oldest dog and my favorite. Cody was Bob’s companion, found abandoned many years ago in the Columbia River Gorge. Bob was sitting next to him when I arrived, not ready to let go, since Bob was already heavy with grief from his mother’s recent death. But Cody’s desire was clear. He had stopped eating, drinking and moving, staying on the circular bed that had become his universe. Bob and Kim recounted memories, as I sat inches from Cody’s head, looking into his mournful eyes, telling him what a good job he had done tending the family, how he would be missed and that it was okay to let go. His eyes were like an open door, pulling all my words inside.
His passing was quiet. A vet came to the house so Cody could die surrounded by folks who loved him. The woman was respectful and efficient, moving skillfully into the family circle as an unmet friend. After the last injection, I felt his spirit leave his body and automatically closed my eyes to track it. While Bob, Kim and the vet were loading the body into a van for later cremation, I was caught in the experience of Cody’s spirit hovering in a twilight mist toward the ceiling.
Kim and Bob made conversation when they re-entered, but I couldn’t open my eyes to join them. In that moment I was spellbound, more present with Cody than I had ever been. He’d just realized that his spirit had passed. I could feel his surprise and relief, but also a deep sadness. I sat with him in the quiet for a long time without words or movement. Finally, I asked Kim to bring a large kitchen knife to help his transition. Standing in the circle where he ended his life, I physically cut lingering ties. Then she brought a small Tibetan bell, so I could summon and speak to the spirits of the four directions in turn.
“Spirits of the South, this is your son, Cody. Open your arms and receive his loving soul.”
A whisper told me that his essence would stay in the house for three days before moving on. If any words were left unspoken, they could still be heard.
All of this was very emotional. Tears ran down my cheeks, my breathing was labored. I had not intended to do a death ritual. I had intended to sit by Bob and Kim to be supportive and that was all. But Cody’s spirit had other ideas, so I listened to his needs and felt honored to do so.