Leaving a legacy

Sometimes there are lessons that we learn from the most unusual and unexpected quarter. Learning partnerships with your children, as parents, is one thing. When we adopted an 8-week old blue cattle-kelpie cross puppy from the RSPCA shelter on 20 November, 1996, we did not realise how much we will learn from his joining our family until his passing on 7 October, 2010.

Mitch had always been a vital, quietly energetic, responsive yet unimposing dog. He was there for 2 years before my 2 children were first born. He rounded them up and protected Jett and Xian in the park from other dogs when they were young. He loved us unconditionally, even when the kids pulled his tail and jumped on his back. He was with us through happy times, and through many rough patches, especially through the last financial crisis - which saw us move homes 4 times in just as many years. Just as we were coming through to happy days again....

The weekend of his 14th birthday, Mitch was diagnosed with an indolent liver carcinoma with a septic abscess. We checked him into VetICU for a week and hoped to see him bounce back. 3 days later, the vet was concerned that he was not rallying. I swear that he looked at me and seemingly said: "Let me go, Mum." Mitch was not eating and his weight had dropped by more than 30%. He was often too weak to walk towards us.

Just as we were seriously considering euthanasia - which was causing emotional upheavals in the family -more overtly so for me and Xian, he perked up enough for us to decide to nurse him at home. The week passed and he had his good days and bad. He seemed to plead to me with his eyes "Let me go, Mum". But I soldiered on - as we could not bear to let him go. Until one morning, as I was syringe-feeding him for the sixth day, my usually compliant patient decided to clamp up defiantly and go on a hunger strike, as if to say: "Enough already....Let me go, Mum."

We had him home for 1 week before we decided it was time to assist the end of his suffering with our sympathetic vet, Dr Herron. We were all there with him to the end .....except that Jett decided that he wanted to be outside when injection occurred. Mitch used his last bit of energy to be uplifting as possible connecting with each of us (ala the N'avi "I see you" in Avatar) and lay down elegantly when it was time - he knew his time had come - and passed gracefully and quickly over. To which Dr Herron commented: "Mitch was fighting to stay alive". He was dignified to the end. Like a samurai.

Jett reckoned that at the time the injection was administered (he checked that it was 8.25pm), he felt a cold shiver up his arm - and that he sensed energy brushing past him as if it was Mitch's way of saying goodbye.

What are we learning here?

As was posted on Tim Ferris' blog http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/10/19/michel-de-montaigne/- it is important to reflect on our own life regularly. To make 'ourselves a job'. To learn from events.

The lessons we are taking from this event are many, including:
1. how easily we take health for granted - and when it deteriorates quickly - we wished we had been more vigilant. Makes us review our own routines;
2. when something/somebody good but quiet has been  around us so consistently - how we take it for granted - and the thought of missing it when it goes, heightens the hurt. Makes us reflect on our priorities;
3. in deciding to let go of something, is it for the betterment of the thing itself, is it for our selves, or is it truly about the greater good. Makes us aware of our values.....

Our tribute to Mitch
You are now free from your suffering.
Born: 24 Sep 1996
Died: 07 Oct 2010
Thank you for showing your unconditional love and faithfulness as a member of our tribe.
Your gift to us has been to help us slow down,  spend time with those we love,  and to re-connect with nature.
Your quiet spirit and presence is sorely missed.
We love you, Mitch.
When we told our family and friends the news of his passing, there was outpouring of love from around the world. Even in death, Mitch has an effect on connecting the tribe!
My sister, Elaine, in France wrote this:
'Yes, remember all the good things and how Mitch has enriched your lives. However, do allow yourself the "luxury" of grieving, as it is only natural and part of the process of life and death. It is not by accident that all cultures have a grieving period, e.g. the 100 days in Chinese custom, when people withdrew from society to be sad and then re-emerge to continue with life. Unfortunately, nowadays it is all rush, rush, rush and pretend to be business as usual. You cannot, and should not, skip over the grieving process. After the grieving is over, let go of the sadness and remember all the good times and the happiness and love Mitch gave you.
Tad James said that those who grieve the most and the longest are the ones who have the most regrets and have not said and done all that they wished they had said and done with the departed person. I am sure you have always shown Mitch all the love and care, and there is nothing more to be said and done. So I am sure your grieving will be short but still allow yourself that little luxury. It is for you.'
As part of the grieving process, I have decided to share this story of learning from the home front. The bond and strength of ties do not have to be biological. We can learn from anyone and anything.
Thank you, all, for your thoughts and kind words.
I am glad you have all met Mitch now - even if you have only experienced him through this reminiscence.
He was dignified and calm through his illness and in his passing.
We are better for knowing him.We miss his peaceful calming presence....But we feel his spirit is strong still in the home.
We are glad he came home for a while to be with us.....

This, and many other things has he taught us in his being with us.
In reflection, he took care of us (in finding balance in life) - more than we had to take care of him.

How arrogant I was to think that we rescued this puppy from the pound 14 years ago - but it was he that rescued us in many ways. He left us a lasting legacy: to love unconditionally, and to live a great life that can be quite simple really.