I didn’t know at the time why she picked me; I only knew that she did. I walked in the pet place in search of a puppy. My dog of 16 years was just put to sleep three days earlier. Yes, just three days. But at the time, I knew that I needed to balance my sadness with happiness.
When I walked in to the room filled with puppies, she locked eyes with me immediately, her little face pushed up against the crate, she didn’t move. I can still visualize the image. She just stared at me. I asked the owner if I could hold her. In an instant, I felt the connection when she was placed in my arms; a tingling sensation was felt throughout my whole body. I held a few other puppies just to be sure that I wasn’t simply excited about a new puppy. I felt nothing when I held the other puppies. I knew that I had been chosen. The owner said that she could not understand why this puppy who was placed in my arms was so calm when she was normally more excitable and playful but I knew, she knew she was home.
I never experienced being picked by a puppy. But I refer to the experience often over the fourteen years that we shared together. At first she was a bit of a novelty for me. I had always had big dogs. She was three and half pounds when I brought her home. I named her Maya after Maya Angelou. I don’t know why but for some reason I wanted to name her after a great woman. Odd that Maya Angelou died this same year that my Maya passed. I tear as I write the words “Maya passed” and my heart is heavy.
I have always believed that in life the only way to deal with our pain is to learn from it. Otherwise, what is the point?
When Maya came in to my life I remember thinking that I knew she had a purpose by coming in to my life but I was not sure what it was or if I was even right. Maybe I had simply done something right in my life to be given this beautiful gift of love.
The second night of being in our home, she was placed in the crate in our bedroom to sleep as all the training books tell you to do. She cried and cried, finally I took her out of the crate and brought her in the bed. I had never had a dog sleep in the bed. I still remember her excitement as she cried a happy cry and her three and half-pound body climbed on me and wiggled with pure excitement. My husband is his half sleep state uttered, “Will you girls go to sleep”! She stayed there until the end.
Over the years she grew to be a stronger and more deeply connected part my husband and me. I have hundreds of stories, even more pictures and memorable videos of her. My husband wonders how many kisses she has on her from over the years, thousands I’m sure. She had a knack of knowing when it neared the time that I was to come home from work. She would get up from her bed, one of many, and walk in to my husband’s office and stare at him. He would tell her “not yet” and she would go back to bed. She repeated this until I came home. The greeting that I received was beyond excitement. I could barely hold her excited little body in my arms as she wiggled and squealed with excitement.
I knew over the years that she was teaching me the value and importance of self-nurturance as well as slowing down. She would lie on my lap and I felt that I did not want to move as she melted like butter on me. So I stayed put and I learned to relax. I felt so much nurturing from her, being in a care-taking profession; I knew the value of self-nurturing but she reinforced it for me in ways that I never imagined.
I feared from the beginning of my life and journey with Maya that some day that I would lose her. However, I had no idea that she would be the one who would teach me about death and spirituality. They say that animals accept death unlike humans. For me, death seems unfair. Why do we so deeply connect only to lose? When Maya became ill, my biggest fear was right in front of me, death. Some days, when I imagined living without her, I questioned how I could live a life without Maya. That may sound extreme to many, but for me she was my nurturer, someone I could nurture, she made me laugh, she made me smile, she comforted me through the most challenging times in my life and she was part of a bond between me and my husband.
In reflection, I realized that my experience of her picking me was something that I reflected on frequently while trying to come to understand my spiritual beliefs. Are there coincidences in life, I think not. Do people and animals come in to our life for a reason, I believe yes. And every time I questioned my spiritual beliefs, I referred to that day, the day that I knew in my heart without question that Maya picked me. The experience made me believe that there are no coincidences, we are here to learn and if we are open to what is given to us; well then we will learn volumes.
Slowly during her illness as I read furiously to find some answers as to why this had to happen and how could I possibly come to terms with her death, I came to believe that she would be with me in spirit after her death. In many ways that does not feel good enough, I want her physical body cuddling on my lap and waking up with me in the morning, which always put a smile on my face even in the worst times in my life. I think though what I’ve learned is that the way to cope with Maya’s death is to have a belief about death. As I let her go, I knew that she was ready to go. And I knew that when I looked at her after she was gone, it was only her physical body that was left behind. Some how that gave me comfort, I was not putting her in the ground, only the body that she lived in, and she on the other hand was free. And I knew that I gave her the best possible life. I have no regrets, which gives me peace. I do wonder how to live a life with our human loved ones without regret when they are gone. As humans we have ways of hurting one another. But that needs much more thought and learning.
Before I had decided that it was time to free Maya, I stumbled across a message that said “There is the mystery of death without dying”. How is that possible, death without dying? But, I knew then that it was time and I knew that she would be with me in her beautiful spirit. Am I sad, of course I am. The first night when I had to crawl in to bed for the first time without her in 14 years, well I sobbed. I didn’t think I could do it. My husband held me and then we held each other as we drifted to sleep without Maya. My husband and I have been like zombies. Our home feels empty without her lively spirit. And yet I have comfort in knowing that she is free from her sickly physical body. Letting her go was my last gift of love to her. This was the hardest gift of all to give to her. I believe that she helped me let her go slowly to help me understand more about my belief about death. She held on and at times I thought she might recover. Looking back, I think I needed those brief moments of hope only to gain strength to come to terms with death.
I learned that my husband and I cope with death in different ways. I need to look at pictures and videos of Maya so that I can revisit the joy I felt with her. For Jim, it is too painful. Both of us accept our differing ways of grieving and yet support each other in our grief.
And I know that both my husband and I will love again. And I know that Maya would want us to love again. Maya will never, ever be replaced. That’s not even possible. But she taught us that it is okay to give love to another and still be loyal to the ones you’ve lost. I heard someone say once “death ends a life, not a relationship”. I now understand what that means; her spirit will always be with me in relationship.
Maya, I loved you heart and soul and I will always love you heart and soul. You were a bright light always in my life. You gave me hope at times when I thought all hope was lost. I will miss you always but as I grieve for you I will remember you with love and happiness. Thank you Maya, for picking me.Share