Two Rites of Passage: a graduation, a death.

Two weekends ago, I officially became a college graduate, earning my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from CIIS. We sat in the living room. On the right was my laptop, where we watched the virtual commencement ceremony; on the left, our dog Coco, propped up on a pillow and bundled with blankets. Her health was failing rapidly, having taken a dramatic turn for the worse just days before. It was a strange juxtaposition; the future, the past, life, and death. The following day we put Coco down.

Two rites of passage, standing at the threshold of a new life chapter. The experience of losing our dog continues to transform me. There is grief, pain, and heartache; what has also arrived is a deep, deep gratitude of the transcendent experience that is love and loss. There is a phrase that I like very much, which goes something like, the depth to which we can experience pain is equal in measure to depth to which we can love. In this blog post I share some of my reflections since Coco has been gone. In sharing what is personal, we can connect to what is universal.

***

May 16: Here I stand at a crossroads, and it’s as though a river is rushing by. I can smell the clean comforting water that carries scents of mossy rocks and wetland runoff. The past is behind me, the future ahead, and here I stand in this river of life. There is nothing to do or change, only allow it all to flow. This river flows from me and through me, in me and beyond me. Our doggie, Coco, has passed on.

We said goodbye yesterday, tears streaming, hearts aching with the hole she has left in her absence, the empty space in our home, our lives. It was time and she told us so. She was always such a good communicator. She had a mass growing in her stomach, we’d found this out in January and the vet said it was about quality of life now. A new protocol with diet change and pain meds, we tuned in our dials to high alert, and we wondered, how will we know when she’s in too much pain, how will we know when she’s ready to go? We kept asking her to let us know and eventually she did. In truth, the last few months were tense in this regard. And I can only notice it now, in the absence of tension, in the absence of our fur baby, Coco. Not that I would have changed anything. Nor do I resent that tension. There is an interplay of deep care and concern and being ready at a moment’s notice to do or attend to whatever she needed. This kind of willingness is born of true love and friendship. When someone- or somebeing- you truly care for needs and depends on you, there is a joy in the giving; a satisfaction that comes from being of service. In love’s selfless giving there is great receiving, too. And Coco gave us mountains of joy. Buckets of love. She gave us love like a river flows downhill, naturally, without any pretense. Because a river just flows, it is the nature of River. The nature of dogs is simply to love and be loved. There is no question, no trying, there is only loving.

Coco taught me about love, about seizing the day, finding joy in the routine. Our daily walks gave us space to share all that cannot be spoken. There are emotions and ways of knowing and being that live between words. When you engage over years and years together, be it a partner or best friend, there is so much conveyed in the in-between.

This is a love story. And in remembering all the wonderful times, I feel immense love and huge gratitude for the near fifteen years Coco shared with us.

When I first met Coco, she was six weeks old, playing with her litter mates, in a small fenced in corral. I sat down cross-legged on the floor with these bouncing balls of cuteness as they scampered and played. Pretty quickly, a small brownish gold fur-ball wriggled under my knee and popped up between my legs. They say that your animals choose you. Two weeks later, after she got her shots, I went to pick her up and make it official. We drove home together, Coco zipped up against my chest inside my stretchy jacket, like a makeshift babybjorn.

Coco Kaplan, born: June 18, 2007, died: May 16, 2022.

***

May 19: Learning to get comfortable with the edge. The edge of discomfort, the edge of change, the edge of unglorified moments; moments of death and life and rebirth. Finding comfort in the constant transition that is life. Adjust and readjust, as my dad would say. I thought Coco was scratching at the bathroom door when it was actually the air humidifier this morning. Split-second moments of coming to terms with her absence. She lives in my heart forever, yes, but I cannot cuddle her or play with her, nor take her for a walk anymore. She has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It is beautiful to imagine this bridge, where all our passed-on loved ones are reunited in spirit. Perhaps they are frolicking together, cheering us on from beyond? There is a thunderous silence in Coco’s absence. There’s no Hi, sweet Coco when she’d look at me, or Good morning, punkin!; there’s no How are you, my sweet girl? With these everyday exchanges gone, along with her presence, the house is suddenly so still and so quiet. But it was me who was talking, and now it is me who is quiet. My little mascot was a daily inspiration, and now there is just an outline where she used to be. It all comes in waves. I know I will find my inner joy again; it is not even gone really. It has just retreated in a respectful reverence for the grief that is here now. I am navigating a new edge; I adjust and readjust.

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May 20: Coco has been gone four days and yesterday I overate the strawberry-rhubarb crumble and made myself feel gross. Eating my feelings is not something I have ever known myself to do…at least not till now. But you know what? All is OK. This is a new edge, with new emotions, a new reality. I have not been here before and it is OK to feel out of my element. Adjust and readjust.

May 21: There is no backwards. This is a phrase I used to say to Coco on our walks when she’d catch a scent in the opposite direction…I mean, otherwise, we’d be there all day. I love this phrase because it applies not just to walking, but to life in general. Especially now in these times of pivotal change on our planet. There is no backwards and we can accept this and face each moment fully alive, saying yes to whatever comes up inside us, making friends with our shadow and our light. This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer; but we will suffer less and it will not fester. (It also doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes try to stuff our feelings with strawberry-rhubarb crumble. This being human thing is hard.) We could also choose to dig in our heels, pining for the scent that was, that blade of grass that got away, the opportunity lost, the delusion of the good ol’ days. At that only postpones our suffering temporarily, if at all. So really, there is no backwards, there is only right here and now.

Author: libra kaplan

Artist, dreamer, graduate student, & aspiring psychologist

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