In these last weeks I’ve been pondering the tender intersection of choice, failure, and forgiveness.
Always poignant topics inside a human life vulnerably given to the forces of love and loss, what has driven these issues directly and painfully home to my personal heart of late is the rather angst-filled decision to let our sweet, amazing dog, Ekara Faith, return to the breeder from whom we received her in December.
And let me assure you, right from the start of this tender story, that while it is an intensely difficult choice, I completely trust this is the right choice, the wisest, most compassionate choice~ for this incredibly beautiful dog (who will now be devotedly trained to become a service dog for someone in need) as well as for my broken-hearted family, who truly wants the best life for Ekara, even more than we want to get to love her personally.
After many months mixed with incredible love and intense challenge, realizing we had made a commitment to loving an intensely intelligent dog who needs (and deserves!) much more rigorous training, devoted companionship and attention than my current life as a single healer mom can realistically support; after looking into all sorts of other professional training and daycare situations, we finally came to the heart-aching decision to let her go, into what we prayer-fully imagine will be a much more fulfilling life for her.
Oh my heart aches and breaks to tears again, even just to find the words with which to share this. What a profound mystery that brings such deep, heartfully painful lessons.
The choice to bring a dog into our family was in no way a casual one for me. I had considered it for years in lieu of the persistent voicing of my daughter Arayla’s immense desire for a dog of her own: to cuddle, to love, to raise, and to learn from. Yet here I am, a single mother financially providing for my kids by the grace of a busy healing practice, and every time I turned to look at what that choice of a dog would actually, realistically entail, I would quickly turn away in overwhelm, instinctively knowing it was more than my already-full-plate of responsibility and service could graciously support.
And then, late last Summer and early Autumn, seemingly out of nowhere, I began having regular episodes of uncharacteristic and unreasonable terror arise, in which I would be suddenly overcome with searing anxiety that something was going to happen to my daughter; that somehow I was going to be asked to face the potential loss of her; that she might be taken from me. It was excruciating, these episodes. And the panic would arise in random moments~ in the middle of the night, or while alone, driving along the road, usually when my mind was otherwise open and quiet.
Needless to say, as someone who has always been extraordinarily intuitive, even psychic, and frequently prone to accurate premonition, these episodes were intensely disturbing to me. I tried to comfort myself with sound psychological reasoning~ this must be arising in conjunction with obvious transference from my own childhood illnesses, right? Or~ surely this is a PTSD symptom in response to having been intimately present through my beloved friend’s recent loss of her child? Yes, yes: that must be it. (Please let that be it.)
But it plagued me, these feelings, these fears. And I started thinking about Arayla’s fierce want for a dog. And somehow, in a way probably only other Mamas who have witnessed a close friend bury their child in the earth can fully understand, I started thinking that if anything were ever to happen to my daughter, God forbid, I would never forgive myself for not getting her the one thing she most wanted~ a dog.
And so, in late September, still regularly frequented with these mysterious anxiety episodes, I contacted a breeder of White Swiss Shepherds, a rare breed in this country, known for their supreme intelligence, beauty, loyalty, and for being devoted family dogs, and inquired with her about upcoming litters.
And then, only a few days after I made that call, in early October, my beautiful girl got so, so intensely sick, and after a week of her being mysteriously and violently ill at home, with inconclusive test results, I finally rushed her to the hospital, to be informed that her kidneys were shutting down, due to a secondary infection from e.coli called HUS, Hemolytic Uremia Syndrome, and she needed to be transported by ambulance to the pediatric ICU of C.P.M.C. in San Francisco.
I sat with her through those six harrowing days and nights, not knowing which direction it was going to go, praying ferociously for her recovery, begging the Great Mother to have mercy, please have mercy and let me keep my beloved daughter. Please, please, oh my God, please. I had been somehow for months psychically preparing for this horrifying moment, and my tender Mama heart burned hot and bright with overwhelming love and fear of loss.
In the trauma of those days life suddenly became immensely simple. Either by pure Grace and miraculous medical care I would somehow get to go home with my beautiful little girl alive, OR, she would be taken from us, and I would somehow have to learn to live with unfathomable loss. One or the other. This is what it had come down to.
I felt so helpless, sitting there all night long at the foot of her bed, all the tubes and machines beeping, the buzzing field around her~ so, so impossibly light, angels standing close, tending nurses coming and going, taking her blood, checking her vitals; all the while my thumbs pressed into the bottoms of her feet, trying with all my fierce mama love to anchor her to our world. Please stay, Baby. Please fight. Please.
And so, at some point during the process of that week, as her precious kidneys blessedly recovered, and her cheeks flushed pink with life again, and she stopped speaking casually about the “Lovely Silence,” beckoning to her from the other side, and the doctors started talking about her getting to go home, I remember thinking quietly, with a deeply sobered, exhausted, and humbled heart: “If I get to be spared the loss of my child, then surely I can handle a dog.”
Surely. Makes sense, right? 😉
And so, last December, still shaken and recovering from such a passage, I brought home the most gorgeous, white and fluffy little girl pup as a surprise to my astonished children, who of course fell immediately and devastatingly in love. Ekara Faith was instant medicine in all sorts of ways for our family~ sweet medicine, fun medicine, hard and challenging medicine. Our love for her grew, right alongside our exhaustion and frayed nerves in the face of all she required.
Arayla, (10 now) who had begged for so long, and made all sorts of promises about the limitless energy she imagined she would have for a dog if ever she got one, was shocked to discover she actually felt burdened by the responsibility, uncomfortably resistant to her puppy’s needs, mostly preferring to go up to her room and read and be quiet, rather than play with her rambunctious and toothy little dog.
Our incredibly full daily life continued, and the reality of our intense work and school schedule settled in~ squeezing in training, beach romps, and hikes with Ekara whenever we could~ but always feeling like we were falling way short of giving this rapidly growing, energetic, incredibly smart working dog the attention, exercise, and rigorous training she craved and needed. She was spending way too much time alone.
Finally, a couple of months ago, concerning behaviors started surfacing in her as a result of failure to meet her needs, and I became deeply overwhelmed. I consulted with expert trainers, who told me they could help me turn the behaviors around, with a mighty financial investment, and a huge daily dedication on my part to working with her, for a long stretch of months ahead, and my heart finally broke, knowing the reality of my life, my limitations, the truth of my capacity for this beautiful dog, and I felt horrified to suddenly realize I had made a heart-wrenching mistake.
To choose loss. The loss of something that feels not meant to be. To choose loss cannot help but bring us into intimate contact with our own failure.
What does it mean to consciously embrace the pain of failure? Not to spiritualize it away by doing a quick bow, saying “Oh it just wasn’t true”, brushing off our hands, or “ It’s all perfect.” Yes, perfect. And it hurts like hell to lose what we love, to fail what we love, to disappoint and break the hearts of those who have grown bonded in tender love.
As I’ve turned face-first into the grief of hurting my family in this choice of surrendering Ekara to her next beautiful life, I’ve been transparent about how challenging and heartbreaking it feels. In sharing my honest pain and deeply sincere sorryness with both my children and with Ekara, for making a commitment I couldn’t follow through with, giving a gift I so wanted to give, only now to take it away, this has allowed my children to meet me with their own open grief; honest expressions of loss, anger and sadness, alongside breathtaking compassion, mature self-reflection, wisdom and forgiveness.
Arayla has said to me so generously, so wisely: “Mama~ you did your best. And we just couldn’t give her what she needs. We aren’t a dog family in this chapter. We can handle bunnies. And ducks. But not a big, intense dog with a lot of energy who needs so much attention and care. Mama I love her so much too. We all do. And I thought I could do it too, and I couldn’t. It was too much. You tried, Mom. We all did. And you gave her so much! You set her up for a beautiful life, Mom! She’s going to have a better life now. I know she is. Please Mama. Don’t blame yourself.” Sweetly wiping away my sorrowful tears with her little loving hands.
In other moments I have held her close, rocked her and soothed her as she’s shed her tears of deep loss. I’ve given her permission to be angry and disappointed with me as I’ve given myself permission to be angry and disappointed with myself, deeply and truly, all the way back to compassion, self-forgiveness, self-love, and a fresh prayer that this will only lead Ekara to the amazing life she was meant to lead~ and will only lead us, and our tender, beating hearts, all the closer and deeper into love as a family.
Last night, our last night with Ekara as a family, we had a ritual of grief and gratitude. Shedding tears into her sweet white fur, telling her how much we love her, asking her to carry our love in her heart for all her days, thanking her for coming to us, for blessing our family in all the ways she has. Apologizing for not being able to continue on the journey with her, but sending her off with all our love and prayers.
This morning, as I first woke in my bed, I habitually listened for the familiar whine from her crate downstairs… and in the silent space of remembering I rolled over and burst into tears, feeling such failure and love, grief and relief all mixed together. My children heard me crying and rushed into the room, jumped into bed with me and we all held each other, comforting one another with soothing words and hands.
We reminded one another that our grief is holy; that we feel this way because of the depth of our love, the depth to which our hearts have been opened in love for and from this sweet creature. It wasn’t exactly the medicine I had in mind, when I brought that gorgeous, exquisite little puppy home to my beloved children 5 months ago. But it was the medicine that happened. Isn’t that always the way of life, though? Not usually what we could have imagined~ but somehow, just what’s required: to break open ever wider our dear hearts and bring us to our knees with humbled love and gratitude. <3