I 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.
When 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.
As 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.
Following 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.
Always 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.
In 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.