I wrote the original version of this article more than ten years ago, in memory of my beloved dog Misty. Since Misty was my inspiration for learning about holistic health, healing and spirituality, it feels right for me to share it with you in my first Healing With Animals blog post.
My grieving began when I noticed my six-year-old retriever-shepherd mix, Misty, limping on her right front paw. After tests and consultations with veterinarians, I was faced with the possibility of losing her. They told me that there was an aggressive cancer in Misty’s body, and that she had from zero to three months to live. I experienced terror, anxiety, sadness, guilt, confusion and anger. There was one night in particular that I could feel Misty dying in my bones. I wondered how I would go on without her. At that point in time, I could not begin to imagine the journey that lie ahead of us.
Misty’s energy and zest for life inspired me, and I was determined to create a healing path, for both of us. I remember shortly after her surgery, peering through the door leading to the recovery room. With a cast on her paw, Misty came strutting down the corridor. No one could explain how she got there, and I was convinced that she still had some living to do. Misty was ready to go home.
Instinctively I knew that there were possibilities beyond Misty’s prognosis. I began exploring holistic approaches to healing, including spirituality and nutrition. Through this process, I developed faith in a higher power and in every day miracles. Over time, I focused less on fighting the cancer and more on healing – emotionally, spiritually and physically. I learned to rely on my intuition and sit with emotional pain. By opening to both my power and vulnerability, I found strength that I never knew I had.
Early on, I let Misty know that I was willing to go the distance with her, for as long as she wanted. It was important to me that she be free to move on, when she was ready. I cherished each day with her. When Misty stopped to sniff the flowers, I came to appreciate the lesson in it for me.
The gravity of Misty’s physical condition forced me to address issues that I had not yet resolved. As much as I loved her, Misty was not always easy to live with. She was strong willed and I had allowed her to become the leader of our pack. Part of our healing was me taking charge and shifting the relationship. The more comfortable I became with the alpha role, the less Misty challenged me.
Out of my fear grew hope and out of my pain grew acceptance. It was the combination of the two that got me through. Up until the time that I made the decision to euthanize her, I believed that it was possible for Misty’s body to heal. I came to accept that while there were some things I could do for her, ultimately Misty’s life and death were not in my hands.
Misty and I shared another two years together. I am grateful for that time. Throughout most of it, her quality of life was good. Misty ate home cooked organic meals. Even after the cancer spread to the bone in her right hip, she loved to run down the stairs in our building and romp in the local dog run. Misty was not interested in the other dogs, but could not wait to play ball with me.
About a week before Misty died, her condition deteriorated. She was not eating and very lethargic. I carried her down the stairs and into the car, to take her to the vet. As we got outside, we passed a neighbor who commented that I should put her to sleep. Misty let out a yelp like I had never heard before. I knew that she was not ready to die just yet.
Misty held on to life until the very end. There came a time when I needed to be strong enough for both of us. I knew that I had to let Misty go, and tell her that it was time for her to let go, as well. Misty and I had been able to grieve, heal and separate from one another. We had shifted the dynamics of our relationship and were ready to say good-bye, so that we could each continue on our own individual paths. Misty had always had a strong, wild spirit and now she would be free from the constraints of her physical body.
Some of my greatest life lessons have come through my relationship with Misty. She showed me that amidst grief there is an honesty and intimacy with the self that opens to unlimited possibilities. I learned to live authentically and embrace fear, loss and uncertainty. Opportunities for healing continue to present themselves. Along with the emotional pain come growth and a sense of peace.
Now I sit with clients as they struggle to let go. Whether their companion is a dog, cat, horse or parakeet, I focus on the meaning that they attach to the relationship. l see the healing potential for the person and their pet. As I bear witness to both the love and the pain, sometimes I cry with them. Through it all, I trust that out of their grief will come healing and acceptance.