Jonah, a reflection.
The first time i met him wasn’t on the trail that August day with Nancy and our groups of dogs, it was several years earlier while day dreaming on my couch a province away. He came in a vision, and i was startled by him. This blond, springy, yet wise and regal dog was standing in an open area. Perhaps a grassy field, or maybe a beach? His presence was undeniable, and yet it didn't make sense to me. I had a dog already, one i was head over heels in love with. Jade was my girl; a sweet, smart, strong girl who was black and powerful looking, with the gentleness of a butterfly. At the time, I couldn’t imagine myself with any other dog.
I knew he was on the West Coast. And I knew him somehow, though didn’t how ~ and he seemed to be waiting for me, almost enticing me to engage in a game of chase. He stood there expectantly. As if waiting for me to come to him. In some ways, i think that was when i knew i was going to end up living on the West Coast. That this dog in a vision was sent to call me to the coast, but i had no idea he would be coming to walk beside me for more than a decade of my life.
Jonah arrived unexpectedly. Jade had been gone for nearly two years, and Lucy had left us that spring. Nancy and i walked together one August day in 2007, Jonah having been ‘boarding for free’ with her for months at this point, and she was looking toward making some decisions about what was next for him. She messaged me later to let me know she thought he was meant to be with me. With me?! We hadn’t thought about getting another dog after Lucy… we were unsure what was next. Nancy insisted we take him at least for a trial; her group had kennel cough and he didn’t, so it was us or the SPCA. We took him for the night, and then we knew Jonah was next. He was with us for all the rest of the nights of his life.
We went for a hike yesterday. Jonah was with us. I could feel him running through the forest and trees in spirit, restored to the young, springy soul that he is. I imagined him zipping and bounding, and then stopping to look on us with his wise, curious, playful gaze. He loved to play games. Soccer, and ‘you can’t catch me’ were his favs. Soccer was hilarious, he was so intent, tracking the ball as if it were a deer; if he came back as human, he’d be a soccer goalie for sure.
We played on the beach we hiked to ~ Panda and Gunner and Gracie chasing sticks and running in the sand. I built a little sand enclosure for a candle and lit it for Jonah. A little light in honour of his spirit and we sat, watching the waves roll in their cycles, making their way close to us before retreating further away. I was taken with the beauty of the light in the sky, the water, the movement of nature. Somehow I was reminded of the ways of nature, of time, and of the finite nature of our existence on this planet each lifetime. The love and the heartbreak of the whole thing.
He didn’t really love Christmas this year. There were a few treats that he was happy to eat, and of course turkey dinner. But the rest of it, he just wasn’t his usual, joyful self. Brice mentioned yesterday he hadn’t seen him do his woofing smile in a while. I hadn’t even noticed. Thinking back now, i don’t know when the light of his joy faded. It’s like me not noticing when Gracie stopped lying on his bed with him. Or when he stopped wanting to play ‘you can’t catch me’. He never stopped wanting to play soccer though; that game just evolved into a more manageable version he could play from lying on his bed.
The grief is coming in waves. I’m allowing it. They kind of well up and instead of pushing them down and making myself focus on something else, i’m letting them roll through. It hurts. Last night i thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. Grief is a strange animal that i don't particularly want to be friends with. My usual way is to avoid the uncomfortable presence of it. Keep busy getting things done. Look everywhere but there. But my love for Jonah is making it hard to avoid the grief.
Three years ago I lost a baby. His name was Ethan. My water broke two weeks too early for him to survive outside my womb… his lungs weren’t developed enough. His heart was beating strong. He was alive. And if i let him live, his moments of living outside my womb would be suffering and struggling to bring enough oxygen in to stay alive. With some support and guidance from an amazing neo-natal specialist, we ended Ethan’s life.
In the days since, i’ve had trouble making peace with that process. Not just the decision that had to be made, but the whole process. The waiting to see if the water sac would repair and refill. The realization it wouldn’t. The deciding. The understanding what the deciding would mean. The shock and blast of reality of what would come next. And next. And next.
(Mercy is a a thing. I just now, in writing, realized I can ask for mercy. That i can request it if needed. That i also can request, and receive, the sweet gift of mercy.)
The process meant they would put a needle through my belly, into Ethan’s heart, and put him to sleep. They would then induce me. To deliver my dead baby.
(Is this real? How could this even be on the menu of human experiences to choose? Typing it now, it seems laughable… like someones made up horror story. But it’s not. It is my story.)
I was in a haze of some anti anxiety medication. I was convinced i needed something to be able to keep my own heart beating through that. That something was required to numb the breaking of my heart so that i might keep breathing.
They never know how long it will take once you’re induced. In those moments, i’m so grateful to have listened to my intuition. To have even had intuition with concoction of numbing medications in my blood. Nevertheless, intuition said ‘stay at the hospital’. I listened. I stayed at the hospital. I went into labour very quickly. Within a couple of hours. And within a couple of hours of that, i was delivering.
The gift of giving birth happened in those moments. To have a baby come down the birth canal and into the world is truly a miracle. In my case, a bittersweet, heartbreaking miracle. I won’t be able to deliver a baby again. If we are (i really want to say ‘when we are’) blessed to carry a baby to term, i’ll need to deliver by C section. But i’m aware enough of gifts to know this was a gift this baby gave me ~ the experience of birthing.
As if the horror of all this wasn’t enough, i ended up with some mystery complication that none of the gyne team in Victoria could figure out. I was admitted to hospital for days afterward… i don’t even remember how long i was there anymore, but it seemed endless. The first two nights i was in a room with a woman who had a six month old baby that kept coming to visit her. The baby would cry, and i would wonder how i found myself in this ever worsening experience. At this point, it became comical to me on some level ~ and invited me to dive deep to find whatever i needed within to get me through this.
On the morning of Jonah’s death, we took a walk in the park across the street. It was the closest thing we had to a walk in the forest. He loved the forest. In our years hiking together, he loved to sniff everything, and explore as far as he could go without being too nervous he wouldn’t find me again. He’d run into the wild, exploring the far reaches of the forest. He sniffed all the trees that morning. He meandered wherever his nose took him, his wheelchair in tow, and then following his nose back to me for his favourite treats, those made by his Grandpaw.
Afterward, we came home and crawled into bed. I curled up behind him and we spooned, our hearts joining and beating together as we rested. This had been how he’d soothed me all the years we’d spent on our own. He’d crawl into bed beside me, and our hearts would beat together, soothing the breaks in mine and his. I allowed my mind to wander back through our shared days and memories started surfacing of some moments i’d captured like photographs in my mind. Some of them have been, others have yet to be, shared.
The first day he came home. The first walk over to Auntie Sam’s. Down to the beach. Sitting on the balcony with his hooter snooter in the air. The peaceful, regal look about him as he was being brushed. The day he stole the brick of butter at Lisa & Bob’s backyard party. His face looking expectantly through his other grandpa’s downtsairs door, hoping a visit. The call i got from my parents saying he ate a whole plate of uppla fluppla on New Years Eve while i was in Barcelona. The time he hurt his foot and we had to be patient with each other as i half carried, half dragged his sedated body up my narrow (carpeted) stairs. How he carried that pink pig in his mouth and rested his head on it. The time we were on the beach in Tofino and I tore my ACL and he waited with me while someone came to help. All the days and nights i cried into the thick of his fur. Like i was lying with him now. Curled into him. Hearts peaceful, and resting together.
As i was lying there, revelling in the living photos in my mind, and all Jonah had gifted me, and anticipating the impending heartbreak and gifts in his death, a word fell into my mind. A word i haven’t particularly liked, mostly because of what it was associated with in the world. But in this moment, the word came sweetly. Softly. It might has well have been wrapped with a beautiful bow on it. Or presented on a lush pillow.
Mercy. Also heard as Merci.
Jonah gifted me this word. He presented it on a lush pillow.
In that moment, that one word brought healing to so many breaks in my heart. The mercy I was showing him in this peaceful end to his journey, he gifted back to me. He offered mercy to me ~ in all the days since Ethan, the horror of wondering if i’d chosen wrongly to play god ~ that i might also receive mercy on my own heart.
Merci, Jonah. Of all the gifts you’ve given me, the one you gifted as you left this life was the most profound i’ve ever received.
Tamara is an entrepreneur, coach, leader and catalyst for adventure.
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