Missing Maisie

My dog, a Maltese/Yorkshire terrier mix, turns 11 this month, and it’s cliched but I can’t believe how fast and far we’ve travelled in that time. She’s considered a senior dog now, and I too count myself an elder. We’ve aged and learned together, this lovely soul and I.

The subject of mortality very much in the air as my mother is reaching the end of her life, and I am more and more given to appreciating each day as it unfolds. I now know – in ways I haven’t – how precious they are.
Time has a way of bending as we gain experiences, confounding in its layerings, crazy wrinkles, and speediness . Perhaps that’s why I realize I’ve been grieving in anticipation. Such grief is real, and I’m aware of it today more acutely than I have been, as I await the results of a lab test Maisie had taken two days ago.

Anticipatory grief. How many shapes and textures grief has, as I’ve learned from the folks who’ve come to me with important decisions to make about their animal companion’s illness, approaching death, and euthanasia. “What is best?” can be the hardest of questions, especially for another. There are complications, issues of quality of life, quantity of life, and resources. So many about resources, which we want to believe are infinite.

For example, some might be exhausted by the needs of an aging or ill beloved. They might worry that a pet is in pain, or suffering in some hard to name way. While it may be hard to discern, with some conversation and confidence, Most of us realize that the answer to what’s best lies within their relationship to their beloved animal. If asked, I share what I know about animals and dying; I encourage them to talk frankly to their vet; we talk honestly about resources – theirs and their animal companion’s – and how to creatively deploy them. And often we wonder together about which of the possible outcomes makes the most sense, now and in the future.

We need one another – we who love, those who love us, and the medical staffs who support us – more than ever when making these decisions. We need expertise, yes, AND we need space and time and a recognition of limits. We need to be challenged as to what the limits might be – they might be broader or lesser than we imagine. I can tell you from my own experience that denial, pride, ignorance or a combination of them can get in the way of gaining insight into what that elusive “best” might be. And sometimes, darn it, there might only be a best of not great options.

So I wait for a call from my vet, light a candle, and hope – but I try not to cling too hard to what may not be. Like all of life, there are more shades of grey than black and white. As in a beautiful, unsettling photograph, we must learn to appreciate the richness and the mystery offered us by all the shades of grey.

Rev. Eliza

We find many ways to remember.


This spring brought me the gifts of leading a Pet Loss Healing Circle in the Dana Room, as well as  a delightful Blessing of the Animals service at First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist in Bridgewater. In addition, several individuals turned to me in the midst of their loss of a dear companion, or to help their discernment about the end of a pet’s life.  I’m so thankful for these opportunities, and if it sounds weird to call them gifts, read on!

“Gift” can be defined as an “unmissable opportunity,” and most of us would argue that we’d be very happy to skip death, thank you very much. Not an option, says the Universe, Higher Power, or whatever you choose to call that which determines the joys and the parameters of our lives. For me, “not optional” means I’m called to be present to death, as it’s part of creation, an unmissable part of what it means to be alive.

Being with those who mourn their loved ones is a gift for me. Contrary to what I once felt, I’ve found walking with those who grieve reminds us of what love can be: inspiring, joyful, ecstatic (in the “beyond the body” sense of the word) and hard. Really, really hard. Please don’t take my word for it – check out this new book, “Will’s Red Coat,” by Tom Ryan, whose mountaineering adventures with the Buddha-like Atticus went viral a few years ago. His dogs – Atticus and then Will- saved his life, and their stories might transform yours. I’ve read and heard many stories about the end of life, and this one transformed my conviction that love indeed can conquer death.

So if you need a booster shot of hope and a love story to beat them all, here’s the link: https://strikingattheroots.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/book-review-wills-red-coat-by-tom-ryan/

And speaking of love and delight, I’ll be leading our annual Blessing of the Animals service in Lyon Chapel here in Brookline at 10 a.m. on Sunday, August 27th. Hope you and your animal bestie(s) can join us!

With a listening love,
Rev. Eliza