Eulogy: Learning to Let Go

On Friday our beloved Chelsea passed away. She was about age 11 (we don’t know for sure — she was a pound rescue). She died of massive liver cancer, complicated by abdominal bleeding and a sudden onset of critical anemia, and she was already dealing with chronic and worsening arthritis and hypothyroidism. Until Tuesday (when the picture above was taken), we had no inkling of what brave Chelsea was dealing with. She was always stoic — as my previous story of her encounter with a woodchuck indicated. Her sudden appetite loss got us worried enough to take her on Thursday for blood tests and X-rays, and our vet immediately arranged fast-track admission to the Guelph University Veterinary Hospital — one of the best equipped and most respected on the continent.

That night Chelsea paced and panted heavily the whole night long — never lying down or even sitting, so I knew she was in a lot of discomfort, though she never uttered as much as a moan. I sat up with her all night, out on the deck in the light rain. Friday morning I had to lift her into the car, and back out again when we arrived in Guelph. Another battery of tests ruled out Cushings Disease (an adrenal malfunction) as the cause of her fatigue, panting, and badly swollen liver and abdomen. Cancer had claimed most of her liver, probably causing the sudden anemia, and it had spread to other organs and was causing accumulation of blood in her abdomen. Her liver function was almost gone and the tumors were so large and pervasive they were inoperable. There was serious risk of the larger tumors rupturing at any time and causing massive internal bleeding.

The wonderful staff at Guelph, Doctors Kate Berger and Danielle Richardson, patiently explained the diagnosis, what they had done to confirm it, and what the options were: Hope against hope through exploratory surgery (itself dangerous because of the severe anemia, even after transfusions), weekly chemotherapy to buy her a bit of time. Anita, I and the doctors were all in tears. They described the options carefully, in great detail, with the risks and possible outcomes, answering all our questions, not steering us towards any decision. When we made the most difficult decision of our lives (money was not a consideration for us, and played no part in the decision), they prepared us, and had us go in to see Chelsea just before they administered the injection (we were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to keep up the brave and cheerful front, and that Chelsea would become alarmed about possible separation from her ‘pack’ — a pet’s greatest fear after loss of freedom — if we were to be there with her too long without appearing to be taking her out of there). Animals have such great instincts for this stuff.

When she saw us there was great tail-wagging, licking of faces and fuzzy hugs, and then as they gave her the injection she died quickly, peacefully, painlessly, with a smile on her lovely face. It is the first time I have ever been present at the moment of death of any living creature, and I was overwhelmed. The tears had all been earlier, when we heard the news — now we were just quiet, moved to a sense of wonder at the experience, and at how much Chelsea had once again taught us foolish humans. Such courage, such grace, such dignity.

The doctor agreed with me that in many ways we are (most of us, anyway) more humane in our treatment of animals at the end of their lives than we are with our fellow humans. As I sat there stroking Chelsea’s soft fur it occurred to me that if I were that sick and facing the same prognosis and alternatives after a full and healthy life — alternatives like ‘extraordinary measures’, procedures that had almost no chance of working and would be painful or humiliating to undergo, days or months of being prodded and subjected to invasive and unnatural procedures just to buy a bit of time, to decline more slowly, to prolong the inevitable, I would want my loved ones to choose for me exactly what we had chosen for Chelsea. But because I am a human, for them to do so would have been against the law, a crime punishable by imprisonment. There is something very wrong with us. Damn the laws and religions that deny us simple dignity, choice, and peace.

Chelsea was loved by our whole neighbourhood, and at our annual neighbourhood BBQ Saturday, as we answered the “Where’s Chelsea, the greeter and co-host?” questions, we had many guests with tears in their eyes. There is a big empty space now in our lives, and in theirs — one that can never be filled. But our lives were so much richer because of her, and we learned so much from this modest, magnificent creature.

I am now even more in awe of nature and her sacred and endless wonders. I am a better person, and I have Chelsea to thank for the time she graciously spent with me, putting up with my human foibles and patiently showing me how to pay attention, how to trust my instincts, how to live in the moment.

And finally, how to let go.

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28 Responses to Eulogy: Learning to Let Go

  1. Randy Keeling says:

    Hi, So very sorry for your loss. I read you story of your beloved Chelsea’s passing with tears in my eyes. I so much agree with your statements about prolonging the inevitable… I truly know how much a dog means, they are the sum of all the best reasons for living. Know that you gave Chelsea a great life. She knew he was well loved. From these passings, we can only be reminded that each day, is to be cherished with those we love. Tomorrow is promised to no one. We only ever have today & now, and must make the best of the time we have with the ones we love. Our Pets, especially dogs, are such an important part of our lives. They are the incarnate of everything good in life. Perhaps that is why, “Dog” spelled backward, is “God”. They give us true unconditional love, and make us smile from the inside out… God’s Speed Chelsea , peace be with you… Our Deepest Sympathies, Randy Camille & Boo

  2. Ranga says:

    I am sorry about your loss.

  3. I’m sorry you lost Chelsea, but comforted you did so in an ambience of peace and great care. Losing a good friend is always hard and I’m grateful you shared this moment.

  4. I am very sorry for your loss of such a close friend. It was very open of you to share this story with us.

  5. kara says:

    She’s over the rainbow now – not in pain anymore. We had to put down our Maddie awhile ago and it still hurts plenty. Your wonderful eulogy made me cry…thanks for sharing – you did the right thing.

  6. SB says:

    My sympathies.

  7. Sabine says:

    Deep sympathy from South Texas… My heart goes out to you. I know my Griffin is my World, and I can only imagine the loss of him.

  8. Doug Alder says:

    Losing a cherished pet is one of the hardest things we humans have to go through. My sympathies Dave.

  9. Myke says:

    Pets teach us so much. We lost Scooter the Siamese Cat in May (2005). He spent more than 23 years demonstrating how to live with dignity. I feel sad every time I pass his grave in our backyard. Remember – Chelsea’s spirit will return and you will laugh again.

  10. Jon Husband says:

    condolences on your’s, your family’s and your community’s loss

  11. Deepest condolences. We are all in the Q so lets all be patient and wait our turn too.

  12. Hi there! Much condolences for your loss. I lost my beloved pet and friend just over 1 year ago. He died in a freak incident that would normally never happen. It was traumatic and painful, especially for my parents who had to deal with the pain and suffering of my little friend. They quickly had to make the same choice as you and it was a painful thing to know that he wouldn’t be around anymore. But the memories live on, even the silly or annoying ones that dogs have such a gift of repeating! :-) Despite the memories, grief is a normal and healthy response. I sympathize with you!Thank you for your blog site. I try to read it frequently when there are entries related to knowledge and content management as our company here in Finland is going through the process of how to handle the whole KM area. Your entries provide good advice and perspective. Keep it up.Warmest greetings from a Canadian in Finland!

  13. Rob Paterson says:

    DaveI am so sorry to hear about Chelsea. Every time I hear of a dog dying, I think of my own two dear dogs and the time that they will be gone as well. I wonder, is maybe a lesson that they teach us by their short lives is how to die and how to cope with their loss?I can hardly write as my eyes are full.And yes Dave – how strange that we can help our dogs die well and yet finding a good death in our fear driven high tech medical framework is so hard to find for western humans

  14. Michael says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Dave.

  15. Kate says:

    I’m so sorry, Dave. Chelsea was clearly a remarkable friend and member of your family. You have written a lovely tribute to her in this entry. Though it is about her death, it is also about the love you had for her and how important she was in your life.Take care —

  16. kerry says:

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerability with us, Dave, as well as the beautiful picture of Chelsea. It opened up my heart this evening.

  17. Yubi says:

    Don’t know you, but “been there” as well … mine was pitch black as yours …mother was more upset than me (maybe) so I told her: “You know, I like to think he’s now some kind of ‘angel’ … but ’cause he was so black … well then maybe he’s become some kind of ‘bat’ …” and now, when bats fly around our heads in summer nights, chasing their insects … we look at each other and smile …For Robert as well: found this in a book:”Everybody is born so they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody and being nice, right?” The four-year old continued, “Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

  18. robinandrea says:

    Lovely tribute to a fine friend. A few tears and sympathy from a fellow nature-lover in the pacific northwest.

  19. It’s not fair that a good dog’s life is relatively short, yet that very fact cycles us through a long procession of these wonderful creatures. I feel your loss, but I know you have wonderful memories of Chelsea. Take care.

  20. Anne Morris says:

    Thank you for honoring your wonderful Chelsea by sharing her bravery, and her importance to you, with us all. Her story is so similar to my Callie, a rough collie rescue who I had from 4 to 12, 8 short years. She, too had crippling arthritis, and she let me know by that same nighttime pacing, the inability to be comfortable at night–that anxiety and stoic refusal to give in, all the while waiting for ME to give HER the permission to ask me to let her go. It was a transaction which cannot be described in words. My own sweet one passed away in the back of my station wagon, on her own bed, as the cool New Years’ Eve breeze ruffled her wonderfully full coat. May other animals profit from what Chelsea taught your family.

  21. Daphne says:

    I searched my mind and hoped to find, a poem, a saying, a word of some kind–to express what I feel for Chelsea.She is playing now–chasing butterflies and woodchucks…in a place where there is no pain nor sorrow.

  22. Frank says:

    Sorry to read of your loss. May health, happiness and Peace return to your life quickly.

  23. Patry says:

    I loved your sensitivity to Chelsea’s need for her pack. Also your comments about how much we great and wise humans can learn from the behavior and love of our humble animal friends. The loss is hard.

  24. Dave Pollard says:

    Thank you all so much for this outpouring of love and understanding. Having so many sympathetic friends online not only makes a loss like this easier to handle, it makes me more optimistic that together we have what it takes to make this world a better, more caring, more responsible and healthy place. I hope you all have at some time in your lives the wonderful opportunity I have had to know and learn from such a special creature.

  25. Chris Clarke says:

    Excuse me. I need to go hug my old dog now.I’m so sorry, Dave.

  26. Ryan Koroll says:

    Im very sorry for the loss Dave. :(

  27. Susan, Mario, Ryan, Dana, Dooley & Zoe says:

    Dave & Anita – all of us in the neighbourhood miss Chelsea very much. She brought many of us (humans and animals) together in a very unique way. Every morning, Dooley still sits at attention on the front porch, looking intently towards the end of the road, waiting for his very good friends to come by for a treat. Chelsea is a gentle symbol of the community spirit that we all share, and we will always remember her as a strong and loving memory of this incredible neighbourhood.Peace to all of you.

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