Unearthing creative possibilities: Trish Roque's website, personal blog, & portfolio

Posts Tagged ‘zazen’

Grieving the death of my old furry friend

The Doubts

I set up a bed next to Siwa so that I could be with her through the night. I also sketched her to try to calm my mind and remain as emotionally stable as I could for her.

I set up a bed next to Siwa so that I could be with her through the night. I also sketched her to try to calm my mind and remain as emotionally stable as I could for her.

It’s been three days since Siwa passed away and the feelings are still very raw. I find myself thinking about the 35-hours prior to her passing, second-guessing my decision, wondering “What if I had________”, insert the appropriate word to fit the action/non-action I should have/could have taken. That is what makes the decision to euthanize a pet so difficult…when the doubts creep in once the decision has been made.

I spent the last 35 hours of Siwa’s life by her side, never leaving her once. I set up a bed next to hers, not really sleeping at all that night, trying to listen to her, for any movement that she might try to make.  I would move her occasionally so that she would not be in one position for too long, to help keep her blood circulating. I constantly cleaned her fur of the blood that would occasionally trickle from her mouth and I would keep changing the towel under her so she would not have to sleep in her own bloody drool.

Sketch therapy

Sketch therapy

[Here’s some advice for people with pets: have at least 5 towels designated specifically for your pet. Cut one big towel into several pieces that can be soaked in hot water when needed. This is what I did to clean the blood from her face. As the towels got soiled, I’d just grab another clean one, and as we used the towels, Jon would throw them in the washing machine so that we would have a constant supply of fresh towels.]

To keep my mind calm and my emotions stable, I decided to do some sketches of her. I believe animals are quite perceptive and can sense stress in their humans, and because of my emotional bond to this dog, I knew she could sense my immense grief. They are not the best drawings of her, but in the effort to draw, I like to think that I lessened her stress by trying to remain calm and focused.

Another Siwa sketch

Another Siwa sketch

I somehow slept several hours that night and it was during those hours that she managed to move herself. When I awoke, she had shifted on her bed, flipping herself completely around so that her head and her torso were on the bed, her bottom half on the ground. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully but when she heard my movements, she lifted her head and looked at me. And the thought that she MIGHT make it through this crept back into my mind. She even managed a tail wag.

It was very clear though that she was in pain. She still could not get up on her own and everytime I offered her water or chicken broth, she would turn her head away. I gave her the last injection of the painkiller her oncologist prescribed the day before. It was hard to determine if the blank look in her eyes was a result of the painkiller or if it was really the sign that she was ready to go.

Trying to remain calm & focused by sketching.

Trying to remain calm & focused by sketching.

Making the Preparations

Once I knew her vet’s office was open, I gave them a call to try to schedule at-home euthanasia.  I had spoken to them months prior to see if they could do this and they had responded with a possible yes, pending  the day’s schedule.  But because it was Monday, the receptionist could not give me an answer right away. I had to wait a couple of hours to hear back from them.

It’s the waiting that is the hardest. After having made a decision, seeing a dog suffer anymore than she has to, even with the painkillers, is very difficult. It also leaves opportunities for doubts, for wavering and indecision to occur.

My emotional state was obvious in the lines I drew. I was trying to focus but her proportions were clearly off.

My emotional state was obvious in the lines I drew. I was trying to focus but her proportions were clearly off.

I knew that she loved being outside so I managed to move her to her favorite morning spot. I grabbed my journal for more sketch therapy. Sketching is a wonderful way to remain present in the moment and even though I had not practiced much zazen in the past week, I like to think that the sketching served the same purpose.

At that point, my vet called back to say that she would not be able to come to the house because Monday always proved to be a very busy day for them. She could come by on Tuesday.  I was devastated. Fortunately, Jon decided to take the day off from work. He called other vets who made house calls, and found one who could come by that afternoon. She was expensive, and although I did not want to factor this into my decision process, I knew I had no choice. We made alternative plans.

Siwas favorite morning spot.

Siwa's favorite morning spot.

Jon made all the phone calls because I knew I would just break down and cry. He called her oncologist’s office to see if they would euthanize her in the car. This was the next best choice. The car was a second home to her; it meant adventure; it meant hiking, camping, traveling to forests, deserts, the SNOW! It meant FUN! He also called the crematorium to see if they could cremate her and have her ashes return to us that day.

I had been planning for this day from the time she was diagnosed with cancer and had researched options. I found the crematorium and drove there in the months before so that I would know how to get there. I did not want to be running around when the day came, trying to figure out what to do while in an emotional frenzy. And although it had not exactly turned out the way I had hoped, we had enough options to make informed decisions to make her death as respectable as we could.

About an hour prior to her passing. I moved her into the shade to keep her cool - she was a snow dog after all.

Photo taken about an hour prior to her passing. We moved her into the shade to keep her cool - she was a snow dog after all.

The Final Goodbye

When the time came, Jon and I put her bed into the car and drove to her oncologist’s clinic. We had the back windows of the car partially opened. I could see her occasionally trying to lift her head, as though she was sniffing at the passing scents. It seemed like she was trying to get up, but couldn’t.  When we got to the clinic, I climbed into the back of the car and laid down next to her, while Jon informed the clinic of our arrival.

I brought a warm wet towel to keep her face and fur clean from the blood coming from her mouth.  I tried to remain calm and whispered in her ear how much I loved her, that we would go for a walk,  and make the trip to Tahoe where she could roll in the snow (she LOVED snow), and that she would have chicken for dinner. I could hear my husband sobbing outside the car (there was no room for him in the car). This was the first time he had ever witnessed an animal euthanized, and even though this wasn’t my first, it NEVER gets easier.

I whispered a Tibetan Buddhist chant in her ear. I repeated this over and over, even as the vet and technician placed the final injection in her vein.  I laid next to her trying to remain calm and present, grooming her with the wet towel, telling her I loved her and wishing her a favorite rebirth.

Some People to Thank

This whole process was much harder than I thought it would be but it was made easier by the compassion and kindness of people, some of whom were strangers, and some who knew and cared for Siwa.

  • First and foremost, I need to thank Jon my husband, who was with me throughout the whole process. Siwa was his first dog after all, and she was the perfect dog for him to get introduced to. He was more of a cat person, and Siwa was part cat so that worked out well.
  • The Bay Area Veterinary Specialists: they had been treating Siwa for her cancer since early 2008 and knew her well. I especially want to thank Dr. Chiarello and Josue, the vet technician, who both responded with compassion when I made my emergency call on Sunday. I was comforted to know that she would pass on in the hands of people who had known and cared for her. They also gave me the gift of another two years with my dog. I had talked directly with Josue (pronounced Hosway) on Sunday and when he heard that it was Siwa I was calling about, he responded with “Oh, I know Siwa.” It didn’t take much but his response got me bawling on the phone. He was the technician present at Siwa’s passing.
  • Groveway Veterinary Hospital: especially Nicole and David who managed to rearrange the day’s schedule to accommodate our desire to have her cremated and returned to us that same afternoon.
  • Friends and Family: their kind and supportive words have really helped. Many of them had adventures with her in the Sierras, Tahoe, and the deserts, lakes and mountains of California and New Mexico.

Final remembrances of Siwa:

Siwa & Me, then in 1996 (she was ~3-4 mos. old; I was 23 YO); and in January 2009

Siwa & Me, then in 1996 (she was ~3-4 mos. old; I was 23 YO); and in January 2009

In Tahoe, Jan. 2009; Siwa absolutely loved snow if you couldnt tell by the big smile on her face. Photo taken by Tom Holub.

In Tahoe, Jan. 2009; Siwa absolutely loved snow if you couldn't tell by the big smile on her face. Photo taken by Tom Holub.


Zazen practice & what it’s currently teaching me

It’s been a very long time since I’ve practiced Zazen (sitting meditation) – almost a decade in fact.  I had intended to come back to practice since moving to California in 2000 but intentions and reality sometimes don’t coincide.  That doesn’t matter really.

What’s important is that I’ve been sitting for the last three weeks, 15 minutes every morning and every night before going to bed. Just sitting and counting breaths.  It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds – to try to reach 10, to inhale and exhale and to just focus on “one”, on “two”, on “three”, and that is a bird singing so beautifully and loudly, and what is Sammy barking at?, hmmm, I’m hungry, oh I should be counting – and back to “one”.  It is very rare that I ever reach 10.

It’s only been three weeks but in that time, my journal writings have reflected a person that doesn’t feel so panicked or rushed. I alluded to that feeling in my last post, when letting go of what’s not there just came to me.

The practice of sitting and counting breaths, of focusing on one, on two, on three – that practice reminds me to focus on what’s in front of me – to let go of what’s not there – which is everything else that is not in front of me. That includes the past, the future, and even the present, because really, what is the present?  By the time you sense it, it will already be in the past.

And yesterday, I was struck with another realization:

I need to start doing things with the small “I”, without the ego. Just writing those words, the essence is lost, yet, I don’t know how else to describe it. Replace the big “I” with the small “I” and the task at hand, whether it’s making websites or art, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, becomes about the task and not about me.

These words feel inadequate.

Make art with the little “I”, without the ego, learn with the little “I”, make websites with the little “I”.  It becomes about the work and not about me.  There is something very liberating about that – as though this load has been lifted off my shoulders.

We all have glimpses of what I’m talking about – that feeling of losing yourself in the moment with the task at hand, when hours fly by without notice.  It doesn’t have to be a task – it could be an activity, the runner hitting that high, the artist creating, the musician playing for hours. That is the closest I can come to describing this essential nature.

These words continue to be inadequate and I’m not a good enough wordsmith to describe this well, but let me try again: I’m learning the importance of fully expressing the essential nature of this person, this little “I” that’s me.


Let go of what’s not there

I’ve started Zazen practice again, medidating 15 minutes every morning for the past 3 weeks or so.  I think it may still be too soon to tell if I’m feeling the effects, however, today during my swim, I heard myself say: let go of what’s not there.

It’s such a simple statement, and maybe even redundant, yet if feels very profound to me.