Our 14-year-old lab mix began slowing down a few months ago. I knew the day that we would have to say goodbye was coming soon. I could not bring myself to let her go. She was no longer able to go up and down the steps to the deck. Her legs would give out on her, and she would collapse to the floor.
On Tuesday, we took her to the vet to see if there was anything we could do to help her. What we were told is what we knew. She was a 60 pound (down to 53 pounds due to muscle loss), almost 15-year-old dog. Her body was preparing to go home. The gray hair, cataracts, the hearing loss all told the tale that I turned a blind eye to. The seizures were what finally woke me up to the reality that the day I had feared was approaching fast.
By Thursday Zoe was so bad I knew it was only a matter of a few days. I happened to have scheduled a reading with a medium in training. We planned it a few weeks ago. Thursday was an incredibly stressful day for me. Zoe spent the entire day in her room. She couldn’t get up to get out of it. Normally, she would spend the day in my office or Tywana’s office. I avoided walking by her door knowing she’d look up at me with eyes that seemed to say, “How much longer are we going to do this, Daddy?”
I had a test medium reading scheduled for Thursday afternoon. I thought about canceling because I wondered how my energy would be. I had arranged this meeting weeks ago when I had no idea Zoe would be this sick. The reading opened with Andy saying to me, “I saw you before we got on the Zoom. You were in a room, with falling red hearts. They are all shades of red.” She continued, “I see in your aura an almost heartache. This is a heartache that isn’t here yet. But, you know it’s coming. You are going to have a conversation about it.” I broke down in tears. She told me, “The spirit world is at the ready. This is the greatest gift you can give. I see fur hugs all around you. Fur hugs.”
Friday, I had to carry Zoe out of the house to do her bathroom stuff. She collapsed, trying to get back into the house. I heard a voice say to Tywana, “It’s time.” The voice was mine.
We made arrangements to take Zoe in the following morning. We had a full day of moving Kayla, my 22-year-old daughter, into her new house. Zoe took precedence though. We didn’t want her to suffer one day longer than necessary.
Zoe made a peaceful, quick transition. After we left the vet’s office, Kayla told us that she saw Shayna in the corner of the room, waiting to greet Zoe. I had told Shayna that morning that she better be there to greet Zoe. I was elated to hear this from Kayla.
I spent the rest of the day at Kayla’s house assembling her IKEA furniture. It had been an exhausting day, physically and emotionally. I nearly quit and opted to finish on Sunday. But, I wanted to get it done and finished up. When I got home, I saw a Facebook notice that Cyrus Kirkpatrick was hosting an event with Susanne Wilson on Sunday. Since I got the furniture done on Saturday, I penciled it in on my calendar. I’d attend if I were up to it. I had been trying to reach Susanne to tell her about my book because she had encouraged me to write it several times. Also, in my first real medium reading, three years ago, she told me I would be working with Victor Zammit. I was in the Friday Afterlife Report this very week. I wanted to give her the validation of her reading.
Sunday rolled around, and I connected to the Zoom. I quickly told Susanne about my book and the Afterlife Report. She and Cyrus did their interview, and it was time for questions and answers. Usually, I would hang back and let others ask questions. And, I already knew the answer to my question. I just had to hear her say it. I asked, “Susanne, I had to put my dog to sleep yesterday. I’ve heard that when people cross over their pets are there to greet them. Have you ever heard that when a pet crosses over, their human is there to greet them?” She assured me this happens. Then, she paused, and a quizzical look came over her face. She asked if I saw Zoe’s soul as it left her body because she was being told that I experienced her crossing. I had prayed for a shared crossing experience. I hoped to see Zoe and possibly Shayna taking her Home. I didn’t get it directly. But, at one point, I felt like Zoe’s soul passed through me. Susanne described it as a not going up but going through, a “whoosh.” A “whoosh” is precisely what I felt. I wish I could say I experienced it as joy as Zoe’s soul was released. I experienced it as pain, as I knew my baby was gone.
Susanne said she saw Shayna with braids rubbing her braids across Zoe as Zoe lay on her lap. Then, she said, “Shayna says she was in the corner of the room.” This stunned me. Shayna in the corner was exactly the way Kayla had described it.
The synchronicities were not quite over. On Monday, Tywana told me about a podcast interview with Gretchen Bickert. Gretchen was on Lisa Jones’ show “Exploring Death”. What Tywana didn’t know is that Gretchen was in a grief class I taught with Terri Daniel last year. Gretchen is a pet grief expert. So, Gretchen and I know each other. The podcast was released just a few weeks earlier, on Tywana’s birthday. Tywana and I listened to the podcast. I was amazed and comforted by Gretchen’s stories about her dog, Ernie. Lisa mentioned that Gretchen might be looking for stories about dogs’ crossings. I thought about emailing her. But my week got busy.
Then, I saw that Gretchen was going to be a guest on AREI’s Global Gathering on Sunday, eight days after we put Zoe to sleep. This meeting would be the time to share my story with her directly. I called into the meeting and was able to have a conversation with Gretchen.
It’s been nine days since Zoe crossed. The grief comes in waves, as grief does. The gratitude does as well. I am joyous when I think of Zoe’s loyalty and love. I give thanks for 14 years of excellent health. Even during all of the pain, I am glad that I am open to see how the universe continues to support me. I am conscious that as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we should keep our eyes up so that we can see that we never walk alone. The timing of the reading with Andy was no coincidence. I easily could have canceled. The timing of the meeting with Susanne added to this. Gretchen’s appearance on Lisa Jones’ show and the AREI makes the magic undeniable. And the message of validation of Shayna being there in the room brings me great comfort by letting me know for sure my two girls are together!
It’s been three days, just about 72 hours since I was at the vet’s office seeing Zoe off for her transition back Home. This grief is a whole new kind of grief for me. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t faced a lot of grief in my life that wasn’t the expected kind, like the passing of a grandparent, or my father-in-law who had dementia for several years. He was like a father to me.
The grief that is still freshest in my mind and the most prominent in my heart is from Shayna’s passing four years ago. One might be tempted to think all grief is the same; au contraire. Grief is as unique as the individuals who experience it. And, I am learning, it is also as unique as the relationship with the one who passes.
When Felton, my father-in-law passed after those years of dementia, it was like a release for him. He hadn’t been the man he was for years before he passed. His body was barely a shell of the man I remembered. Dementia had taken his wit and his intellect, or at least his ability to express them. He got to the point where he was non-verbal before he passed. Releasing him to be was not difficult. Watching him live in a state I knew he would have detested was the agonizing part. I grieved the loss of Felton long before his physical body finally released him.
On the other hand, Shayna passed suddenly. There was no chance to say goodbye; literally. I told her goodnight the night before, and those were my last words to her. I was in shock. Four years plus and am still in shock. There was zero anticipation. That’s the kind of grief that takes your breath away, and you feel like you will never breathe again.
With Zoe, it’s somewhere in between the two. With Zoe, I experienced some anticipatory grief. She was almost fifteen years old. But, she was in good enough shape up until two weeks of her passing that I could remain largely in denial. I could not completely deny that she was nearing the end of what a dog’s body can endure. I could still look at her and see the puppy in her eyes; even eyes clouded by cataracts. I denied her hearing loss. Her inability to get up and down the steps, I passed that off as just a touch of arthritis. I bought glucosamine tablets for her only two weeks before she passed hoping they would fix her problems which were most likely neurological, not arthritis.
In the last couple of weeks, her decline was so rapid that I could not deny it any longer. Two weeks ago yesterday I cried myself to sleep knowing the end was near. But, I had nearly two weeks to come to grips with what I knew was coming. I was able to say goodbye. I saw enough of a decline that I knew it was time for her to go. I thought I was ready.
Yesterday, as I took my morning walk, I walked in silence spending time alone with my grief evaluating it. In these past 72 hours, I’ve alternatively felt like I am doing OK. I’ve even thought, “Maybe it’s over.” I’ve rationalized this. “Zoe was old. Dogs don’t live that long. You knew when you got her this day would come.” So, since I’ve intellectualized it, I shouldn’t have to deal with the emotion.
Then a few minutes later, I’ll cry out in agony when I realize that such an essential part of my life is over. The grief comes in waves, just as it did with Shayna. Somehow it’s different though.
You might think, “Of course it’s different. Shayna is a human, and Zoe is a dog.” While that is very true and I would not say that my feelings for the two are the same, my love for Zoe is pure and unconditional, just as hers for me. The affection for a dog is real love, and with genuine love comes genuine grief. With Shayna, I mourned not only the loss of Shayna but of all her potential. Shayna was supposed to get her driver’s license, graduate high school, go to college, get married. Missing all of that, even four years later, compounds the grief of the loss of her being here.
Zoe wasn’t going to go anywhere. Her only job in life was to accept our love and return it to us. Giving and receiving love is something she did a stellar job of for her entire life with us. I knew that Zoe would be with me the rest of her days no matter how long or short that time was. With Zoe, there is no missing her potential. She did everything she came here to do. The only thing is I would have liked longer with her. Other than that, I have no complaints.
Someone sent a comic to me yesterday with a fourteen-year-old dog, coincidentally enough, tell his owner it was time for him to leave. The owner said he wasn’t ready. As I talked to Zoe in my head this morning, I told her that I wasn’t prepared. I heard her say, “You wouldn’t be ready if I had lived to twenty. I was fourteen. What did you expect?” She was right. I had no reply.
Another difference is that when Shayna passed, people reached out to us. Neighbors came over and brought casseroles. We got sympathy cards. When a pet passes, people are sympathetic. But, the support isn’t the same. We’re expected to get over it on our own and quickly.
Here I am on another grief journey. I am the guy who wrote the book on grief. It’s not that I thought I had learned everything there is to know. I am learning even more. I am learning yet another kind of grief. I am exploring it. I wonder how it will change me. Earth school continues. I guess this is the next class.
Many times over the last nearly fifteen years, Tywana or I have uttered that phrase. “Zoe is the best dog ever.” Zoe was a 60-pound retriever mix. God only knows her true genetic background. She looks most like a flat-coated retriever. We got Zoe in February 2005, only a few weeks after our fur-baby Chloe made her transition. The hardest decision I ever had to make was to let Chloe go. We had decided to wait until at least spring to get another dog so I wouldn’t have to train a dog during the winter. But, a few weeks after Chloe transitioned, Tywana and the girls were on the internet combing shelters looking for our next baby.
The shelter where Zoe was born named her “Curly Girl” because of the curly hair on her ears. The girls wanted to name her Princess. But, since I was vetoed from using the name Zoe for Kayla, and Shayna, and since Tywana had named Chloe, I insisted on naming her Zoe, which means “life”.
Zoe, from the start, was the easiest dog to train. She has always been eager to please and mellow. The only problem with Zoe is she’s too friendly. She loves people, preferring them to dogs. At the dog park, she’d rather play with the people than the dogs.
Zoe was never much for chasing frisbees or balls. She never liked toys. Stevie brought toys back into the house after Chloe passed. Zoe ignored Stevie’s toys. Zoe just wants to lay at our feet.
Six years ago, when Zoe was nine years old, we got Stevie. Zoe was nine and a big dog. I didn’t anticipate she would be with us for very much longer. The girls wanted a little dog that they could cuddle. Zoe took Stevie under her wing like one of her own children. They have been inseparable ever since. They’ve never spent a night apart and on the very rare occasion when Zoe leaves the house and Stevie is here without her, Stevie watches the door and cries waiting for her return.
Zoe, finally began showing signs of aging a couple of years ago. I remember taking her to the vet when she was ten. The vet went on and on for about five minutes for how great she looked for a ten-year-old. Eyes clear, good teeth, not much gray. I’ve been preparing myself for her transition. But, she was showing almost no signs of aging. The last couple of years the gray has been coming in faster and faster. She’s been losing muscle mass. The cataracts were noticeable. And her hearing was not what it was. Zoe still had the heart of a puppy though. She still wanted to run.
I think the signs of aging are a grace given to us to let us know it’s almost time to move on from these mortal bodies. The walks with Zoe stopped a couple of years ago. She would get exhausted and overheated. Stevie is a terrible walker without Zoe. She learned from Zoe and when Zoe’s not there, she’s not interested in walking. Looking into Zoe’s eyes, every time I can see the years have taken their toll. The hearing loss, the lack of ability to get up and down the steps on the deck, these things let me know the day I dread was coming.
When my grandparents crossed over, I mourned but they were old and it was expected. Even with the signs of aging, I could never accept that Zoe was old. She will forever be my baby. She still wanted to run. She couldn’t get up and down the stairs to the deck anymore. She would go down the deck stairs sometimes. But, she would walk around to the front of the house to be let in. She took the steps back into the house with a little leap though, right up until the end.
Two weeks ago Zoe started showing signs of weakness and dizziness. There were times when she cannot even stand. She would collapse to the ground unable to get up. Zoe slept in our bathroom. We had a morning routine. I would go in to get dressed and she would look up at me, usually not even moving a muscle. I would check to make sure she was still breathing because she would be laying so still, it was hard to tell. As I would put on my clothes, wash my face, etc. she would just lay there. When I turned on my toothbrush is when she would come alive. She would walk over and I’d rub her behind the ear for exactly the two minutes it took my toothbrush to go through its cycle. This was the only time Stevie would allow me to pet Zoe without complaining. She knew this was our time. When the toothbrush would turn off, Zoe would obediently walk over to her bed and lay down, all without a word from me.
The last few mornings she was not able to stand through the whole two minutes. She would either go back to her bed or just lay down on the floor next to me at my sink. Our last morning together, yesterday, I went to her with my toothbrush, sat on the floor, put her head in my lap and told her it was the day she was going to be with Shayna.
Thursday night, two days before we put Zoe to sleep, Zoe was so weak I thought maybe I was watching her last moments. She’s been spending all day in her room because we can’t trust her to make it up and down the steps. Zoe would normally spend the day in the basement with Tywana and Stevie while Tywana worked. I cried for a week knowing I was going to have to make the decision with her that I made with Chloe almost fifteen years ago.
Finally, on Friday we made the call to the vet. It was time. I was having to carry Zoe in and every time she had to go outside. Zoe, always, attacked her food with gusto every single morning and evening meal. She was barely eating, finally losing interest in treats, even. When I would take her out, she would do her business then, just look back towards the house, not making a move to try to get back up the stairs, I assume because several times she had collapsed and rolled over onto her side in a seizure just making that small effort.
The vet had an appointment for Saturday morning. Tywana wanted to try to wait until Monday to see if Zoe would go on her own. But, we decided, with Kayla to do it Saturday morning before we moved Kayla into her new house.
I barely slept a wink on Friday night. I wanted to believe I was making the best call for Zoe, not for me. I would live with any inconvenience I needed to make her happy. I would give anything to cure her. I couldn’t believe she had deteriorated so much so fast. We took her to vet just on Tuesday and even though we agreed the day was coming very soon, we knew Tuesday wasn’t the day. I didn’t expect at that time the day would be Saturday.
I did my meditation Saturday morning then went downstairs and sat in silence, still not believing the day had come. When the time came to get Zoe, I went upstairs to pick her up and bring her down. As I went to reach for her, I had a pang of guilt and burst out in tears. I couldn’t do this to my baby. I couldn’t take her and watch her die in front of my eyes. But, I knew what had to be done. Zoe never liked being carried much and never by anyone other than me. She didn’t trust anyone else. I knew I couldn’t be there to carry her in and out every time. And, she couldn’t go on much longer without eating. I didn’t want her to starve to death.
I put Zoe in the car and we made the twenty-minute drive to the vet’s office. They were incredibly kind and understanding. They offered us options for the disposal of her body. Kayla had already made it clear she finds cremains in the house to be “creepy”. I was surprised when she said she wanted Zoe’s ashes back to spread under Shayna’s tree. So, I suppose we will have a ceremony for Zoe then. Tywana found meditation music on her phone and we played it while the procedure began. Zoe was always excited about going to the vet because…treats. But, Tuesday, she didn’t even nuzzle the doctor’s lab coat looking for treats in the pocket. So, I was surprised that when I opened the bag of treats they said I could give her, she popped up and eagerly gobbled several down. I thought for a split second that maybe I had made a mistake. But, then her legs collapsed and she went to the ground. She couldn’t stand for more than few seconds.
They administered the first drug which is an anesthetic. So you know in case you ever have to do this, they don’t feel anything once this kicks in. They kind of go to sleep. But, their eyes remain open. They remain open the whole time. After the anesthesia does its thing, the doctor returns to the room. It takes about ten minutes. Then, they give the drug that stops the heart. I could not even tell exactly when Zoe crossed over unless it was when I experienced a pang of emotional pain so intense that I cried out “O God!”.
I take solace in the fact that Zoe will get to meet Chloe, her older sister that she never met. That morning, as I came down the steps and greeted Shayna, I told her that she better be there to welcome Zoe. I knew she would. But, I wanted to be sure.
I know Shayna was there when Zoe crossed. I had prayed for a shared crossing experience. I wanted to see Zoe running into Shayna’s arms. I didn’t get that. But, there was a shared crossing experience. Someone in the room saw Shayna there, waiting, as Zoe was going through the process of shedding her body. I am so grateful for that. I baby my dogs just like my biological children. Someone has to be there to baby Zoe.
I am happy that she’ll be healthy and able to run again. I cry not for her but for me. In spite of all my grief work, in spite of Zoe trying to prepare me by showing me her age over the last couple of years, it still hurts like hell. I tell myself to focus on the positive, to reframe her passing. Instead of focusing on the pain I’m experiencing now, I’m trying to focus on the nearly fifteen years she brought joy into my life on a daily basis. Not many people get that long with their dogs. Other than Tywana and Kayla, no one else got that with Zoe. I am overflowing with gratitude for our time together.
The tears are flowing and will continue to flow, I’m sure. A friend said that Zoe was lucky to have us as her human family. I am blessed indeed. Zoe is the best dog ever. She will forever remain in my heart. She will remain a part of our family. It’s good to know that on the day I see Shayna again, I’ll also see my other baby.
p.s.- I happened to see that Susanne Wilson was doing a Zoom meeting today, the day after we transitioned Zoe. I had the opportunity to ask Susanne a question. This week I re-listened to the reading she did with me three years ago as the run-up to Zoe’s crossing. It brought me comfort as her predictions were spot on. I know that she’s an amazing medium.
I asked if she had ever communicated with a pet who crossed over and was met by their human. She said absolutely yes.
She asked if I had seen Zoe’s soul leave her body. I didn’t see Zoe leave. But, I felt like I felt her passing through me; which is the way Susanne described it. I felt it as intense emotional pain for me though.
She also said she saw Shayna with a dog and Shayna was rubbing her braids across the dog as it lay in her lap. Lastly, she said that Shayna was there with us when we were there with Zoe. She was standing in the corner of the room! This is exactly as reported by someone who was in the room. Shayna was there in the corner. Shayna set this up, knowing I would be on the meeting with Susanne today to get validation.