I've learned a lot in the last few days. Our family knew already for a few weeks that a tough time was looming ahead of us. Our dog was diagnosed with stomach cancer and wasn't responding well to medications. After a difficult, painful weekend, I arranged for a veterinarian to come to our home to euthanize her.
Quinoa was a sweet, gentle soul who taught me about good parenting, including cuddling, co-sleeping, and patience. Oh, the patience that this dog had! She taught Jacob the importance of being kind (she would get up and calmly walk away if he wasn't), sharing food with others (she was always polite but she did have a way of letting him know when she deserved a piece of his bread or a morsel of his egg) and catching snowballs (he hated snow this season until he saw Quinoa playing in it about two weeks ago). There was no way I wasn't going to cry over parting with her.
We stayed with Quinoa for many hours after she died. I washed off the urine that she had released at the moment of her passing, and we took turns grooming her still soft and shiny coat. Jacob found an old bottle of her ear drops and tried to administer them. We went over every single part of her body - we felt every lump and bump, noted which of her toes were white and which black, remarked on the beautiful, warm orange colouring on the underside of her tail and the details in her clear, blue eye. We felt her body become cooler, and then stiff. Spending this time with her body helped each of us to celebrate her life and accept her transition. Jacob looked at her and asked me, "Owee?" I told him, no, not anymore. He responded, "Oh."
I remembered that we deeply need to do many of these tasks with our newborns, too, in order to meet them, celebrate their birth, and establish bonding and breastfeeding. When new parents are free from medical interference, they examine every tiny bit of their babies, touching them everywhere, even smelling and licking them. This is what we require as mammals and humans. We and our loved ones, both those we are welcoming and those we are wishing farewell, deserve this time and space together to try to come to terms with the mystery of consciousness. Too frequently, babies are whisked away and bathed by nurses, and bodies of loved ones are "touched up" and cleaned by professionals instead of those who knew them best.
Everywhere I go, I think of Quinoa. I look around for her, but she's not lying under the painting of Everest on the wall, or by the window, or at the front or back door, or on our bed. I regret that Jacob is not at an age where he will remember her, but we'll tell him stories and show him photos of his dear friend. He may have a sense that death is something that happens, and through which we hold each other, in the midst of our tears.