“… he looked into my eyes just like he was looking into my soul to make sure I was all right. I have never forgotten how I felt. I had never had anyone look at me like they cared that much.”
Two years ago today, I lost my boy, my constant companion & guardian for eight blessed years, The Black One, Shunka.
Last year, I wrote about the anniversary of his death, but I didn’t post it until much later.
Since then, much has happened, internally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The process of taking the physical gift from him, a tooth, set in action an emotional chain reaction – one long delayed and much needed. As I wrote:
I needed to understand, not just with my head, but my heart, that I had done the right thing, that he understood, and that he had never left me. That it was okay to cry, to mourn, without feeling guilty. That it was okay to look at his pictures again without the heart stopping grief & guilt. That it’s okay to look at them and smile.
He stands beside me. And I tell him I understand now.
He did not die, he does not sleep.
The greatest gift of that day is knowing with absolute clarity & confidence that what we are, who we are, does not end when our “life” here ends.
Our spirits never die.
Sometimes, when bad things happen, we wonder what the reason is, or what good could possibly come from such a painful thing. But I learned so much through the experience, as excruciatingly painful as it was, that I am thankful for having had it, and for having the time with him – 8 years – that we did.
Shunka was more than just a dog to me – he was one of the once-or-twice -in-a-lifetime dogs. Taking care of him through his final months, as the brain tumor got worse, tested the limits of my love & compassion: he had seizures, lost control of his bowels, became uncoordinated. There was a lot of cleaning up to do. A lot of fear with each seizure that it would not end.
Sick as I was, I focused every ounce of energy I had on him, on keeping him going. In the process, I didn’t save any energy or time for Rhiannon, and unintentionally hurt her very badly.
I felt, somewhere deep inside, that if I could only pour enough love & energy into Shunka, that he could beat the brain tumor. I’ve had extremely ill animals before that have had truly miraculous recoveries. But it was not to be, not this time.
Getting to the point of letting Shunka go, and arranging to have him put to sleep, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. I didn’t want him to die in fear. It took every drop of love, courage, compassion, and determination I had to be with him every step of the way. As his spirit passed from his body, I was nose to nose with him, gazing into his eyes. I owed him that much.
Having the experience of his illness and passing, I grew in my ability to love and care for another.
I learned how to let go.
I gained in emotional strength and courage.
I learned where my emotional limits were, and surpassed them.
Today, Rhiannon and Ben and I sat on the big rocks by Shunka’s resting place, and talked about how much we missed him still, but also how we’ve began to heal from the loss, and what we learned. And we remembered him:
How completely safe we felt with Shunka around; he would have died protecting us if necessary.
How my big brave boy would get so scared during a thunderstorm that he’d get on my bed, on my pillow, and wrap himself completely around my head.
How he was so funny when he’d go into the dog yard and dig up a rock, and then throw it behind himself with his front feet so he could chase it.
How he’d bring rocks into the house: through the dog door, up the stairs, and then would drop them all over the house. Some of them were bigger than his head! And we still occasionally find one.
How we’d throw snowballs off the deck to him as he waited down below, to catch them and eat them.
How when he was a puppy, and losing his puppy teeth, we’d find the little sharp teeth, usually by stepping on them.
How much we loved him, and love him still.
My mother wrote some very kind words about Shunka:
He was different then any dog that I have known. I will never forget how he changed after you had the seizure. The way he was with me too. The one particular time that I was back in Rhia’s room and I coughed. He came running down the hall to me and stood right in my face and looked in my eyes just like he was looking into my soul to make sure I was all right. I have never forgotten how I felt. I had never had anyone look at me like they cared that much. I can understand why you feel like you do about him.
It was an experience I had often, with Shunka, but rarely with any other dog.
He was a very special boy.