Moving Day

In two days I am returning to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I lived for 24 years before coming to the Denver area late in 2011. When I first came to the Denver area, my health was poor. I was in shock from the sudden death of my beloved husky, Blessing, and the sudden loss of my home, job, and mobility. Had an Aurora friend not invited me to come and stay in her house, I would have been homeless.

ImageNow, nearly a year and a half later, I am moving back to Santa Fe. The new friends I have made in Colorado are not happy about this; they fear for my economic stability, returning as I am to a state with widespread unemployment and a vast gap between rich and poor. It is also a fact that New Mexico has one of the highest rates of spousal abuse, child abuse, drug abuse, animal abuse, and drunk driving fatalities in the nation. Public support is available to assist the underemployed and the ill, but that support has dwindled under New Mexico’s present governor, a well-to-do Republican with little sympathy for those who seek “entitlements.”

Moving is never easy. It is particularly difficult right now because I have had a falling out with the friend in whose house I have been staying, and I am ashamed and saddened by this. No one is at fault particularly; we have simply discovered that our private wounds make us incompatible housemates. But it is hard having to acknowledge that another’s life has been improved by my leaving it. I will also miss my friend’s dog, a black Labrador who has been a hugbuddy and companion to me during my mourning over Blessing.

Sudden, painful change is built in to physical reality. It is represented by the Tarot cards Death, the Lightning-Struck Tower, and the Devil (which I have renamed Pan). These three Tarots are not necessarily cards of moral evil or physical destruction, although they can be. At root they signify the powers and influences over which the human will has no conscious control, powers and influences that trigger physical, emotional, and comprehension changes that one must acknowledge, accept, and adapt to or die. It is human nature to resist such transformation even when part of us longs for it. But in some circumstances, as the Daleks might put it, resistance is futile.

My story is by no means a tragedy. I am moving into a house with good neighbors in a safe neighborhood, and I have been overwhelmed by the loving support of friends all over the country, who with their contributions of time, money, and encouragement are making this move possible. My cat, Urdwill, will like it there, too. And I am looking forward to reuniting with old Santa Fe friends.

But I can no longer deceive myself. No change is permanent. Reality is both a particle and a waveform, and life is a balancing act. And when you are old, as I am, you must give up the fantasy of total self-reliance and total independence and embrace interdependence, community, and mutuality. As my friend Jerry told me the other day, “It’s time for you to accept the love people want to show you.” How strange that this is so difficult.

A Gentle Death

Ruby was an 11 or 12 year old Australian shepherd dog who had been kept confined in a trailer and overfed to the point where she was virtually immobile. When my housemate Dina adopted her back in June, they lived together in a cabin in the northern Colorado wilderness. They took long walks through the woods and played in the fresh sunlight and breezes. Ruby began to lose weight and get more fit. She joyously greeted her friend Dina every time Dina returned to the cabin. Feisty and long-coated, Ruby was a working dog with a deep sense both of loyalty and of her rights to her own body; Dina was the only human Ruby permitted to stroke her belly-fur.

When Dina and Ruby moved to Aurora not long ago, it quickly became clear that Ruby had reached the point where her body, severely arthritic and spotted with flesh-pads, could no longer support her fiercely independent spirit. Dina made the difficult decision to have Ruby euthenased.

Having a beloved animal mercifully killed in order to spare her the agony of a lingering, painful death is I think the bravest and most unselfish service a pet-owner can choose. My late partner’s Stuart’s wolf-dog Kaz died in my arms on the emergency vet’s operating table after a deliberate hit and run one Sunday morning broke Kaz’s spine. I felt a window in reality open up and Kaz’s spirit drop through it, and then the window closed, leaving a smooth unruffled surface behind, as though Kaz had never been. This took place about a year after I found Stuart’s dead body in his bedroom, dead via brain embolism.

Years later, I held the head of my blind husky, Moon-Pie, when a Santa Fe vet gave him his final injection. Moon’s hind quarters had failed, as had his kidneys, and he faced his death with a growl and a bark. A few years later I lay with another dog, Bear, who went to sleep peacefully, felled by the same symptoms that had brought Moon-Pie to his end. Then, last year, my husky Blessing died at my feet in our back yard, possibly of cancer (there is also the possibility she was poisoned by a mentally ill neighbor who showed up very suddenly while I was mourning her body with a friend). All these losses came back to me as I sat quietly beside Dina, observing beautiful brave Ruby’s last moments in her old body.

The deaths mount up as one gets older. But the hope I cling to, when my emotional body is wailing in grief and loss, is the memory of what I felt with most of my dogs after their last breaths: the persistent sense of their loving spirit presences around me. I am not such an anthropocentrist that I believe a dog’s purpose is to serve its human caretaker. Dogs, like everyone else, have their own private stories which sometimes coincide with ours and sometimes do not.

But I do know that love is never lost. In a dream I saw my dead brother Jeffrey’s spirit move off into light accompanied by all the dogs, cats, and birds we had known and loved in our Connecticut childhood. We are all one, and Love is the evidence of that; and I pray to Wolf Mother that when it is my turn to shed my own noble, sagging, arthritic animal body, she will receive me into her pack with the same loving playful devotion she showed to Kaz, Moon-Pie, Bear, and Blessing.

And of course, Ruby.

Moon-Pie & I, 2008, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Moon-Pie & I, 2008, Santa Fe, New Mexico