Monday, February 28, 2011

A Good Mother


My husband and I laid our dog to rest in the little pet cemetery behind our house on February 12th.  Sterling takes his place next to an assortment of rats and mice, three cats––two who were taken by coyotes––and one tiny fish.  Small piles of rocks and crosses made from sticks and wooden stakes mark the other graves.  We placed a poly-resin statue of an angel on Sterling’s grave.  The statue was a gift from a parishioner, out of place in my home with its somber colors.   For years, I thought of her as the angel of death and that she belonged outdoors.  Now she stands underneath leafless oak trees and atop mossy rocks, the angel after death.  Witness and guardian––honoring the life of my dog. 

In his absence, I’ve been stunned at how much my daily routine has been altered.  Sterling was as needy, difficult, enthusiastic and loveable as any child.  With his passing, my nest is truly empty and I have yet to fully understand the implications for my life.  True, I have two cats (aged 9 and 15), but their claim on me is less consuming, if not less insistent than my children’s or my dog’s.

I agonized over Sterling’s decline and suffering in his last days, worrying and wondering if and when I should put him to sleep, overwhelmed by the enormity of the responsibility I had been given over this sweet and fragile soul.  I was faced with the limits of my humanity––there was nothing I could do to save him from death.  The mother in me ached at my powerlessness.  And I was Sterling’s mother.  God knows why this abandoned dog came into my life with all his insecurities and need for constant assurance.  We both needed to know this––I love you and I will not leave you––something essential I missed as a child and he missed as a puppy. 

I was too unsure of myself when my children were young to ever think of myself as a good mother.  I wasn’t sure I could trust my instincts. I was often overwhelmed, and the only guide I had was what not to do––repeat my past. 

As I was sobbing my heart out trying to make “the right decision” for my dog, my husband told me something I hadn’t noticed.  “You’ve hardly left his side since we came home from Christmas vacation.”  Once he spoke, I saw that my days were ordered around this furry being, and that even though I was keeping up with my writing, the scope of my life had become very small.  Could he stand on his own today?  How much was he drinking? Eating?  In what manner could I administer his antacids to keep the pain of the toxins the kidneys no longer processed to a minimum after meals?  I didn’t regret my choices, as unconscious and natural as they had been, for a moment.  These are the ways we live out love and walk with our dying beloved, a willing embrace, a pinpoint focus.

I finally understood that there was no right answer, no way to avoid the outcome.  I gave myself permission to trust myself, and that my agony meant it was time to end his pain.  My dog Sterling taught me that I am a good mother.  I might not know what to do.  I might make mistakes.  But I am all in.  One hundred percent committed.  I will not leave you, nor abandon you.  I will be with you, to hold and stroke you, to offer words of comfort and love, until the end, and longer.

If I, in all my imperfection, can love like this, imagine how well God can love me, can love all of us.

5 comments:

YuFu said...

To be a good mother can be very easy, we can find love and comfort in our daily life. For example, when I study at night, my mum will give me a glass of milk and tell me I should a rest. This is very simple to do. If you give others your love, you will receive it from others. Both of you can enjoy the process of giving. Now, you realize that you are a good mother. Congratulations.

Joanne Joan said...

Nice blog....I saw that you're writting poetry too.... :D if u wanna see my blog....i am writting some too....what do you think :D?

http://joannejoan.blogspot.com/

Rachael said...

I had to let my dear dog go in September 2008. I am and was her mother. I wasn't able to bear children of my own and Sacha was my everything. I too agonised towards the end; asking myself if I was reading the situation correctly? Was I prepared to have her put to sleep for her sake or mine? It was for her sake. The vet confirmed this for me but I still, now some two and a half years on miss her everyday, say Goodnight to her every night and long to be with her again. I'm am a not a 'stupid' person who doesn't understand what dying means but I have to believe that there is something more to life than just being here on Earth. I'm barren, I'll never be a Grandparent, I have no career, no real talents so all I have is the love I can give and the love I receive. I'm sure you are good parent, you care about the kind of parent you are so speaks volumes.
(Sorry for rambling)

Garnetrose said...

I stumbled across your blog and had to comment since I, too, lost a dog recently. It is so hard to lose them but all we can do is think of all the love they gave us and remember the wonderful times we had with them. We have a similar cemetery in our back yard. Many pets are laid to rest there. The mother in you did the right thing and maybe when you are ready, you can get another dog.
A lovely post as a tribute to
Stirling.....

Charly Writer Girl said...

I've never had a dog, though I adore them. I can't even wrap my head around the agony of losing one... especially because I have always dreamed of having the chance to have one in the first place. And sometimes the best way to know if we've been good enough is to know that we worry. And so we care. And so, we must have put that into what we had done. And even the afterthought makes us better.