A beautiful life

Splash in back seat of carI so hoped it would be another year, even a few more months, before I wrote this. But great spirits come in their own time, and leave in their own time, and Splash, my companion and spirit guide, has left in hers. She turned 14 in April, and then, in May, we found out that she had a ferocious tumor on her heart. The vet gave her two months to live, and she died almost to the day. It was still a surprise, if only because she was so lively and herself in her last days, even in the last hours before she collapsed.

Luke holding Splash as a puppyWhen she came into our lives in 2001 I could not have imagined that I would be writing this in Valdez, Alaska, in an RV that is my home, after a day of hiking and photographing wildflowers. I was living the relatively normal, way-too-busy life of mother, partner, friend, daughter, sister. Taking care of my elderly father, seeing my son, Luke, into high school in a world that was about to include 9/11. Running a business I valued, living a life I cherished. But she led me out of that path and onto another one entirely.

She started the process by not understanding cars, ever. To the end of her life she would have blithely stood — if allowed — in the middle of a road of oncoming cars and wondered, tail up, why we weren’t all joining her. But, in her wild puppy-ness, she needed time off leash, so I took her to the Hither Woods trails in Montauk, where she bounced ecstatically all over the place, responding only to calls of ‘cookie,’ which would bring her back to my side, eager for a treat.

Splash and cow in KansasAs time passed, I noticed that she would occasionally, of her own accord, come and walk right next to me for a stretch of the trail. After a while I saw that there were places where she would routinely do this. It occurred to me that she was seeing, or sensing, spirits, and that she came when they were around, whether for her own protection, or mine, or simply out of a sense of the unusual, the mysterious.

Today, after years of studying with shamans and living through lots of wild happenings, I assume the woods are full of all kinds of energies. But at that point, in the midst of my practical life, chugging through to-do lists, I hadn’t given much thought to such spirits. It wasn’t an alien idea, it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing that would happen to me. But I became increasingly convinced that she was tuned into something I couldn’t yet apprehend. As she so often did with literal doors, she was nosing this one open.

Splash at Big Reed Pond, MontaukFollowing Splash into the woods meant spending stretches of quiet time, a special gift in those busy days. There, surrounded by the patient wisdom of trees, I could listen to my own inner voices. There was nothing sudden in this process. We walked those trails for four years before the change began to be obvious, ten years before leaving that whole life behind. In the meantime, with her presence and comfort, I mothered through the storms of adolescence, helped my father cope with his last years, lived my full life. But in the woods I was opening to mystery, beginning to relate differently to spirits, and Spirit. A profound shift was underway, and not, in any way I was used to thinking about such things, directed by me.

Splash in UtahAlways at least slightly ahead of me on the path, Splash was leading me each step of the way, ever herself: smart, deeply intuitive, enthusiastic, loving, flexible, patient. My black and white spirit guide. We were inseparable. When we began our travels, with several long road trips between 2007 and 2010, and then leaving on our journey in 2011, she jumped right in, taking her spot in the back seat, where I could see her over my right shoulder, and sometimes find her wet nose near my ear. Except when Luke — whose puppy she had been, and whom she adored — was around, she slept by my bed for part of each night, though usually went to her cushy spot on the couch at some point.

Splash & Luke reindeer selfieIn the last few months she slept all night next to my bed. I could feel her tiredness; a calm, end-of-life tired. A life beautifully lived, where she did a wonderful job at the loving she came here to do. The energy that animated her was winding down. When we got the diagnosis in May I sensed that she didn’t want me to hold on, to put her through risky surgery that would only buy a short time more. It’s hard for me not to want to fix and solve things, but that’s part of what I learned in her company — to allow, to release. To trust. That our love for each other will survive her leaving. That her spirit will be with me, doing exactly what she has been doing all along: guiding me, through her heart, deeper and deeper into my own.Splash on the Oregon coast

18 Comments

  1. Sue July 26, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    Oh, Betsy – How we love our pet companions ~ our spirit guides, our children, our pals. Always so ever-loyal and devoted; they don’t talk back, or question, or doubt. Always just “there”, with unconditional love. Your photos capture such character and essence of Splash. I know you must miss her so much. I appreciate that you so poignantly shared your story. I’m going to give our two special aging pups some loving attention ….. right now …

    • Betsey July 28, 2015 at 11:27 am #

      Thank you for these lovely thoughts, Sue. Give those two pups a hug from me!

  2. Venus Maher July 25, 2015 at 8:54 am #

    Bless you for letting her love in and listening to your spirit guide while she still wore fur.
    Now that love and guidance will go on, but without the aid of physical sight. It is true, she is still your guide.

    • Betsey July 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

      Thank you for these lovely words, Venus. I do feel her with me, though I certainly miss that furry body!

  3. Marianne July 25, 2015 at 6:06 am #

    Tears are streaming as I read your beautiful tribute and remember dear Splash and your relationship with her. I remember when your special bond blossomed in Hither Woods and how those walks seemed like oxygen for you then. I was so impressed when you took that big step/leap of faith to venture out on the road and start a new life with Splash at your side. You two have seen and done such amazing things on this journey. I trust that your powerful relationship with Splash will continue and that she will be your spirit guide from the spirit world. And I know how deep that grief is when our animal soulmates leave their earthly selves. Much love, hugs and empathies.

    • Betsey July 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

      Thank you so much for these beautiful words and memories, Marianne, which are making me weepy, too. When I saw your FB comment, I was remembering the first time you brought tiny puppy Lucky over and Splash couldn’t make out what she was at all! It was so hilarious. She was ten before she figured out small dogs. Love the image that those walks were like oxygen. So true! Love to you.

  4. Cara Brown July 24, 2015 at 8:40 am #

    Oh,Bets! I had to keep wiping tears as they were blurring my vision to keep reading. I had no idea she was such a spirit guide for your walks in the woods – and in your life. Sweet, loving, wise Splash. As much as her spirit will travel with you, I’m guessing you are missing her physical presence – those unconscious energetic tentacles that connect our bodies to our loved-ones bodies. Tender love to you and George.

    • Betsey July 25, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

      Thank you, dear Cara. Yes, I miss those wondrous tentacles terribly, and more so as the shock of her actual death recedes.

  5. Allison July 23, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    Such an amazing tribute for such a special spirit. I constantly baffle others when I tell them I like animals more than people. But, they are so much easier to connect with, at least for me, anyway. It’s love, understanding, and devotion in the purest and rawest form. There are never any strings attached. My 13 year old dog is going through her last times with us. Bad heart. The thought of losing her is too much to think about, but reading this brought me bittersweet joy and peace. Beautifully written. Hugs and love to you. Sorry your heart hurts. xoxo

    • Betsey July 23, 2015 at 11:56 am #

      Thank you for your warmth and sympathy, Allison. Lovely to ‘see’ you here. My heart goes out to you, too, at the end of your dog’s life. I’m glad if the post helped with that in any way.

  6. Marcia July 23, 2015 at 8:27 am #

    What an beautiful memorial! My heart is full of the love that comes through your words and photos. I get the sacredness and beauty of your relationship and am grateful to be there with you.

    • Betsey July 23, 2015 at 11:54 am #

      Thank you so much, Marcia. ‘the sacredness and beauty of your relationship’ is such a beautiful way to put it.

  7. Carol Nicklaus July 22, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    The Wonder Dog, indeed… What a beautiful eulogy, for a beautiful life. We should only hope that we might deserve something similar, from those we love and who love us, when our time comes to move on.

    Found myself looking at the rug in my room today, where she so often lay near me when she was staying with us, and wondering if there might be a hair or two of hers still there… She’s still here, hairs or no hairs …

    You guided each other to discover new and beautiful and profound places for both of you. I will love her forever.

    She knows.

    • Betsey July 23, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      Hairs on the rug! Don’t let Maria vacuum it! Though you’re so right, she’s here, hairs or no. Thanks for your beautiful comment.

  8. Linda July 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    I am sorry for your loss, and thank you for your thoughtful insights into the friend and companion that you shared your life with. I have shared my life with some amazing companions and can understand what you are feeling right now. Much love goes your way from my heart. Take care love ya.

    • Betsey July 23, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks for your sympathy and love, Linda. So appreciate it!

  9. Ann July 22, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    Sniffle. What a beautiful tribute to love and life and following the path that was meant for us. ❤️❤️❤️

    • Betsey July 23, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Thank you, Annie. What a lovely response.