Come see me, Sophie (poem and essay)

Come see me, Sophie, as you’re walking the blue twilight between worlds.

Come see me, in that dream land, when the pain disappears and the body absorbs into stars, and we can behold the sun as it rises on this first new day.

Come see me,
From your world beyond breath, when the boldness of your heart finds itself again, and in the unburdening from flesh you can see the magic of who you are.

Come see me, Sophie, watching the tears of a Sophie-less morning,
Then scamper off to the world you now belong to,
catching joy like butterflies,
looking back to see me (one more time)
Quietly calm in the salty stream
Daring the world to make me forget

For as on the lawn that day with my hand stretched out was forever and when you reached back to me through Time, painted me into wholeness with vibrant splashes of your self making my heart thump with happiness, and your eyes became the wonder of the blue sky and in the deep green of our moment the clouds watched and danced across the sun.

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Sophie was an old girl I cared for for several years. She’d had been adopted as a senior dog—when I met her dad and his three dogs, he wasn’t even living with his future-wife yet—from a post off a FB rescue page, and joining sled dogs Greta and Tala, was a huge personality that liked all the attention and used her expressive face and “talking” to get it. I once looked back on one of our (by then) easy level walks adapted to her weak back legs and saw her ambling along with a “rope” hanging out of her mouth, trying to chew. The “rope” was a rat tail and the only way I got her to drop it (I worried it had been poisoned) was to briskly walk until she could either open her mouth to breathe/keep living and drop the rat or not get enough air. I’m happy to say she chose the former. She could hardly walk without a wobble but “hell yes; let me bend/stoop then chew this enormous dead poison while trying to walk without stumbling because I’m so fucking bored right now.”

Sophie went downhill very suddenly when I was caring for her in July 2017. She wouldn’t eat the pre-cooked steaks or chicken her family had left—she was in decline but they thought it was okay to go on a hasty honeymoon to Montana—and when I cradled her back end with my sweatshirt and steadied her front with her leash to get her out to sit in the side yard—a long-favorite activity—she laid under the tree where I set her and, as Greta and Tala played, looked in that way of a sadness impenetrable by anything else.
And I’ve cared for many animals now who went on to pass, and have been asked by families to help them gauge the question of “when?” Because they don’t want the animals to suffer for their own selfish desire to keep them alive yet it’s hard to even think clearly through the hazy intentional-contemplation of making something they love not-alive.

And there are deep questions asked. For instance: how much suffering is too much? Some people who have a hard time with emotional experiences and/or active grieving won’t be able to tolerate much suffering at all. The first time their rabid-eater doesn’t finish their supper they might start believing their pet is not enjoying life enough anymore; it’s possible their own anxiety about grief might be trying to make the process more manageable by controlling it as best they can or that they don’t want to feel they’re betraying their stewardship of their pet by not listening to the “signs.” In contrast, some people who have seen grief and feel comfortable navigating it can endure more for longer. Often way too long. And then there are those—most of us—who don’t know enough about it to be well-informed, and live with the agony of not knowing what to do. Is THIS the sign? About which, who could say? A vet will offer clinical data, offering to do a dental on a 16 year old cat just to give some hope.

For me, Sophie’s sadness is often the metric. The “sign.” Senior animals do bounce back from not eating and do have bad days—often really bad days—but when the eyes begin to look like they’ve never experienced happiness, it’s time to begin the process of saying goodbye.

So I did. That night, 7/11/2017, on the evening visit. Her parents (doctors) were rushing back from their trip—driving all night—to themselves begin the process and on that last visit, I sat with Sophie on the dirty concrete of her parents back patio, stroking her head.
And they got back and the morning of 7/12/2017 were able to see her off in purposeful-dignity but before I knew they had, I got woken up very early that morning by something “saying” this poem.

For the night before, sitting with her on that concrete—her sisters doing their own thing—I felt the Sophie she’d been for me. The lively fun of conversation and expressiveness in a story where a homeless senior dog gets to go on to light up a world. And knew (I mean, I did hope her doc fam would know some trick to keep her going but deep down, I knew) she’d be going where I couldn’t be part of it anymore, couldn’t see her; that this was my last chance. So sitting there, I told her I’d miss her, and asked her to come see me when she got to wherever it was that she was going.

A few months passed and I was asked to come sit for the family’s other two dogs, and it was weird because sometimes at dusk—when her sisters and I would be sitting in the yard (like all four of us used to do)—I swear I’d see Sophie. The first time it scared me because we’re trained to indulge only the “logic” of our left brain. Having things be utterly predictable is such a great comfort to humanity.

But such it is that in the known universe of which humans understand very little beyond non-quantum, not everything has to make sense to our left brain. And, in fact, it’s almost an irrational idea that it ever would, and after the passing of Sophie and many others—facing the deep questions, many with no clear answer—I’ve since made peace with the wisdom of believing in the vastness of what we don’t know and in playing the part of an active observer of that which is as yet undefined.