08.20.01 – 05.20.13
May 23, 2013
Transitional space – that space in time where we sometimes feel angst and uneasiness because we don’t know or don’t want to know what happens next. It feels like being in limbo; no man’s land. And this causes us some discomfort and fear. If we had one word to describe what gets us through transitional space, I believe it would be: courage. The Cowardly Lion had it all along.
Three days ago, our dog, Nicky, died. We would apply that one word to her as well. While she suffered silently for quite some time, she never showed us; she held a brave front.
As she was dying, we nestled her in our bed, on a stack of towels like Princess and the Pea. Her breathing was quiet then severely laborious. We don’t know whether or not our soothing words made a difference, but we lovingly ushered them to her one after another in a steady soft rain of gentle words. The desire to do something in the space of another’s suffering is huge.
We want to do something to bring relief to one who suffers. Dogs have the amazing capability to know when they are sick, to know that they have disease in their body. They just keep it to themselves- unless it’s you who is doing the suffering – then they let you know. They have highly developed non-verbals.
9 years ago, I had knee surgery – a small piece of my femur had broken and was floating around in my knee. For 7 weeks, I was couch ridden with a CPM – Continuous Passive Motion machine that moved my knee for 8-12 hours each day. Two weeks after my surgery, our 2 ½ year old dog, Nicky, was run over by a car: she was on the inside of the tires as the car continued to run over her.
She had gotten out because she couldn’t find me- in my wheelchair - when we were visiting my parents. I went into a larger door; she went out a smaller door to go to look for me. When she couldn’t see me, she retraced her steps back to our home, and in crossing the street, she was struck by a car. Caught under the wheel well, she was run over by a minivan, who in cowardice, did not stop. The car behind her with a pair of good Samaritans stopped and lifted the wounded Shih Tzu from the street to the grass.
In a space of a few moments, I was looking for her as she was looking for me. When I cried out for her, she didn’t come. The emergency vet was neutral on her condition – not optimistic nor pessimistic. I called every hour during that Sunday night to check on her: she had a broken eye socket and a broken rib or two; her internal injuries were inconclusive at that point.
Our wonderful vet the next morning, said it was a miracle she had lived through the night; it was a miracle looking at her xrays, that had she been struck 2 mm’s away from one of the ribs, she would have been gone; that it was a miracle that the car actually drove over her – that she must have crouched so low, that the axle actually cleared her in parts as it slid over her. Miracle. Miracle. Miracle.
She had had a purpose though. She knew I needed tending to. She came home with me, and we sat on the couch every day for the remaining five weeks and healed one another. She lay protectively and courageously on my stomach and chest, and we recovered together. (Non-judgmentally, I share with you that I watched six seasons and every episode of Sex and the City.)
When my mother and father and neighbors came by to see me, she sat protectively, like a sentry at the foot of the couch holding up an invisible sign: Don’t come any closer.
When she had been struck, my father had been the one to drive the car to take her to the emergency vet that Sunday evening. He drove barefoot there – so uncharacteristic – since he wasted not a second to jump in the car to make a fast getaway. Later he would say that she was so smart, that she knew he had helped to save her. She adored my father and would sit for an hour or two, keeping vigil with him as he slowly declined with the cancer that had ravaged his body.
Nicky was courageous – okay, I am not going to lie- except when there was thunderstorm. She came to hide and burrow her way into and under our covers. I imagine from her perspective, the sky really was falling, so I always cut her some slack.
In the primitive fight for her life, this week, she did not throw in the towel. She was a warrior, much like my dad whom she adored. Her heart was strong – her liver was diseased and was poisoning her brain. She still was valiant. She mustered courage from the depths of who knows where, in her 11 pound body.
Near delirium several times, we soothed and calmed her as she made her transition to a better feeling space. Being a place holder when someone is in that transitional space is a loving thing to do. They are in the grips of raw and primal fear – and many times - there is an unsolicited cry for help. Being mindfully attuned to this is one of the most courageous acts we can do for another. We let the other know that: “We are here. We are in this together. It will be ok; you can let go.”
And, especially that they are so good and so loved. This is a repeated mantra. Over and over again.
In all of our interpersonal relationships we have opportunities to step up empathically for another.
This is courage: to muster your own in the face of another’s fear and/or suffering and still be there. Not to suffer along with them, but to be strong and resolute - to be a sentry for them.
And if and when they eke out little bits of their fear, that you are there to take it, replace it, and recycle it - with courage.