Life isn’t sacred.
Life is precious and wonderful. It can be tedious or exciting. Life, as Glennon Melton Doyle says, is brutal and beautiful… brutiful. But life isn’t sacred. Sacred means holy, set aside, reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object. I’m not saying that life can’t be those things, but general everyday life doesn’t qualify as sacred. However, there are moments in one’s life that are sacred. Birth, when a baby takes its first breath, causes those present to catch and hold their own breaths, waiting for that first cry as air fills the infant’s lungs. Death is also one of those sacred moments; being present as someone takes a final breath is a holy experience and a sacred honor – one which I count myself blessed to have witnessed.
My husband and I discussed some of this a few weeks ago as he prepared to undergo an angiogram. We were filling out paperwork for his Advance Directive in the event things went horribly wrong. He didn’t want to have life indefinitely prolonged via medical support if there was no hope of recovery. We did the hard work of discussing how long I should wait for him to come out of a coma or allow him to be on life support, should those things be in our immediate future.
We experienced sacred moments yesterday. It was a beautiful morning: the smoke was finally clearing from our skies. I wanted to visit friends who were camping in a lovely Riverside spot before they left to journey home, so SuperDad and Moses and I drove the short distance to the state park. I walked the first half-mile with them, smiling at how happy our dog was to be sniffing everything. We parted on the bridge; man and beast continued on their favorite hike together while I returned to where my friends were camped. About 30 minutes later, when I was expecting their return to us, SD called to say the dog was having trouble breathing (this was not terribly uncommon and usually righted itself within minutes) so they were resting before moving on. Ten minutes later, a second call let me know that Moses wasn’t recovering well at all, and could I get a cart to meet them? My friend J and I asked the camp host if there was a cart available but she did not have one, so we drove to my house for our folding wagon, quickly returning to the park with it. We met SD and the dog on the trail: Moses had slipped into a coma. We gently moved him to a blanket and lifted him into the cart. The trail back was rocky and uneven, and the decision was made for SD to go retrieve the car while J and I walked with the wagon along a smoother path until we could all meet up. At a stopping point in the shade, J reached down and pet the dog; she noted that his heart was beating quickly. By the time I reached down to feel his chest, Moses’ heart had stopped. There was no trauma, no misery – just a quiet ending. He was having a joy-filled morning, walking on one of his favorite paths in the woods until with a final wag of his tail, he laid down to rest. SuperDad was there to give him water and keep him company. When Moses took his final breath, he had a loving hand placed comfortingly on him.
Death is sacred, and in those important, holy moments of yesterday, there were people to bear witness to it. Aside from the fact that he was a 14-year-old Labrador retriever – that makes him the human equivalent of 98 years of age, so clearly his time had come – I think that is why I am so at peace with his passing: he was ushered out of this life with loving hands. Moses now at the proverbial Rainbow Bridge, where he is free to sniff whatever he wants to his heart’s content. We weren’t his first family, so if the legend is true Moses will have at least two joyous reunions in the future. There are some wonderful dogs I know of who went before him, and I imagine there is quite the dog party happening now.