“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than they love themselves.”
—Josh Billings (adapted)
Frieda was my baby. I remember when, as a puppy, she looked into my eyes the first time I picked her up. She was an old soul who taught me many valuable life lessons from 2005 until 2021, when I had to let her go.
By the time she died, Frieda was frail and in pain from her arthritis. I was afraid to go home because I didn't want to walk into my house and find her lying on the floor. She had lost most of her sight and her ability to hear. She was also going through something similar to what we know as Alzheimer’s.
When I asked our vet if it was time now, and her reply was yes, I felt relieved. And when I asked, “Can I sit and hold her while you do it?” she said absolutely.
I was on the ground, and the vet was trying to position Frieda so that she could lean back into me once she received the medication. Frieda wouldn’t sit down for her. Instead, Frieda came to my right side, sat down, and stared at me. I held her face and put my forehead against her forehead. She leaned her entire body weight into my forehead. She had never, ever done that before.
I looked at my vet, who said, “She's telling you thank you for letting her go.”
Thank you, Mom. I know it was hard for you to do this.
It was such a blessed experience. I was sad, but I also knew that Frieda was no longer in pain and I hoped that she had given me her blessing.
Until then, I’d never understood why people got their pets cremated. I knew I would never be that person. But it turned out that I am—and when I got Frieda’s ashes in that beautiful urn, I held her against my heart. It felt like my baby was home.
To me, the saying “letting go in love” has always meant letting go of something you treasure but are willing to part with, or someone who isn’t good for you or has caused you pain. It may be difficult, challenging and painful—but it has to be done. I believe Frieda’s leaning into my forehead was her way of saying, “Thank you, Mom, for letting me die. I know it was hard—but thank you.”
When I forget that love abounds and I lean towards the path of despair, let me remember the unconditional love that I’ve been blessed to receive.
Editor's note: During the month of October (2022), Braver/Wiser is featuring a series of reflections about death and dying.