Since my dog Puma crossed over in June I have received many lovely expressions of understanding and support from readers, neighbors, clients, students and friends.
On two separate mornings I opened my front door and discovered that neighbors had stopped by and left beautiful handpicked flowers from their gardens along with heartfelt sympathy cards.
Some folks have made donations in Puma’s name to local shelters, a truly touching gesture since it is a gift that offers hope that another animal will find a loving forever home—someday perhaps even with me, when I am ready to welcome another dog into my life.
And recently I found the gift of a story in my inbox.
“Those Empty Spaces” is a beautiful piece of inspirational writing, so much so that I felt moved to ask fellow writer and animal professional Lisa Daley if she would allow me to post it on my blog so that it might delight others. And, happily, she agreed, even sending along photos of her dogs.
Deep gratitude to everyone for your lovely offerings and kind expressions of sympathy. It is always a joy to hear from kindred spirits who “get” the animals and the connections we have with them. Your love and support definitely helps fill that empty space left by Puma’s passing.
Note from Lisa:
Below is a story I wrote in 2001, two years after losing a very special family member, and told recently at at Native American story telling event.
Those Empty Spaces
by K. Lisa Daley
We lost Jimmy suddenly to cancer. He had been running great at the head of my fastest sled dog team on Sunday, but by the following Friday, he was gone.
Nothing could be done. The tumor was enormous and Jimmy was refusing food and water. So we brought his body home from the vets and sadly buried it deep under the forest floor out back, with the others who had gone before him.
It wasn’t just that he was loving, fun, smart, and my all-time best lead dog. It wasn’t only that I never got to breed him as planned in the Spring and make lots of little Jimmy’s. Or even that he was just 9 when he died. No, what always bothers me the most when we lose a dog are those empty spaces. You know; the empty kennel run, the empty dog dish, the empty bed. Each empty space is a constant reminder of the dog who was there, and now is not, and never will be again.
Those empty spaces produce a sharp pain in my chest and a lump in my throat for many weeks after. I hate those empty spaces with all my heart and dread facing them repeatedly—day in and day out—until finally, the pain subsides, and I can look at them without crying.
After we buried Jimmy out back that night, my husband and I got ready to feed our remaining eleven dogs their dinner. Tears blurred my vision and my feet dragged along the kennel floor as I prepared the dishes of food and washed and refilled the water buckets. I worked slowly and mechanically, like a zombie, knowing that when all was ready, it would be time to call the dogs in and face the first empty space.
For every night of his life with us, it had been Jimmy’s custom to stand at the back door of the kennel building, waiting for me to open it and yell “It’s dinnertime!” After which he would leap into the air, spin around in a circle three times, and then make a beeline into his kennel run where he would wait to be let inside. I had loved watching his enthusiastic and joy in anticipating his dinner for years and was going to miss that very much.
That evening, I opened the back door in slow motion, croaking out apathetically, “It’s dinnertime,” when to my surprise, instead of the dreaded empty space, I saw Shiashi standing in Jimmy’s spot. She was wagging her tail and grinning as if to say, “See, I’m here! He’s gone, but you can count on me now!” And standing in back of her was Jimmy’s sister, Cassy, who managed two rather clumsy, but complete spins before making a beeline into her kennel run.
It may seem a small thing, but words can’t describe how touched I was that these two dogs, who had never before participated in the dinnertime ritual, would do this. Whose idea was it? Did Shiashi and Cassy discuss it ahead of time then make up a plan? Did Shiashi say, “I can’t spin so you do that part, and I’ll take the door?” I was especially amazed because after the death of a pack member, it usually takes weeks before the remaining dogs ease into their new individual roles and positions. Never mind two dogs working together to fill a role of the alpha male who had died only hours before.
I was grinning for the first time in five days and feeling very grateful for the happy surprise Shiashi and Cassy had given me. So distracting were their actions that the following empty kennel run and empty dog dish hurdles during feeding time were met with less tears and nose blowing than usual.
The next morning, after giving the dogs their breakfast, I proceeded to vacuum the kennel building floors, anticipating another empty space. When I got to the back door with the vacuum, it was usual for Jimmy to be waiting there on the stoop outside and for me to step out and pat him. During the patting, I always left the door open and the vacuum cleaner running which the other dogs didn’t care for at all. But Jimmy never seemed to mind. Not my faithful Jimmy-boy who loved me so much he’d even face the despised vacuum cleaner in order to get a few pats from my hand.
When I got to the back door, I looked out the window, remembering my absent friend, but abruptly checked the impending waterworks and put the piece of Kleenex back into my pocket upon catching sight of a white head.
I threw open the door, thinking irrationally, “He’s back!” only to discover Shiashi again, wagging her tail and looking up at me with her warm brown eyes. Her expression said, “Yes, it’s me again. Don’t just stand there with your mouth open; you’re supposed to pat me now, remember?”
So I patted Shiashi, who had once again filled the empty space at the back door in spite of the racket from the vacuum cleaner behind me. I patted and praised that dog, thanking her over and over again until she finally tired of my gratitude and trotted off to a sunny spot by the gate to lie down, fixing me with a knowing, self-satisfied look. I finished cleaning the kennel, smiling, and shaking my head in wonder at the kindness and compassion of my dogs in their efforts to comfort me.
Every night after that, Shiashi and Cassy waited at the back door when I opened it and yelled “It’s dinnertime! At first I worried they’d forget their new roles, and a few times they did. But that was ok, authentic even, because occasionally, in his haste to get his supper, Jimmy would forget too. Shiashi would stand by the back door and Cassy positioned herself further back and did the spins. Cassy could only do two spins, not three. But that was all right; I was happy with two. A couple of years later, Jasmine also joined in as a backup, standing between Cassy and Shiashi. Her presence let me know that someday, when Cassy and Shiashi were gone, Jasmine would be there to take over.
And when I vacuumed the kennel floors each morning, and arrived at the back door, there was my faithful Shiashi-girl, who loved me so much she ignored the roar of the despised vacuum cleaner in order to get a few pats from my hand.
Some empty spaces left when a loved one dies just can’t be filled. But others can; sometimes in the most unexpected ways, reminding one that although it is normal and even necessary to mourn what you have loved and lost, it is also important to appreciate and enjoy what you still have. And as with all things, when something is gone, the empty space that is left behind provides an opportunity for something new and possibly just as wonderful to grow.
©2001 K. Lisa Daley. All Rights Reserved.
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©2012 Rose De Dan. All Rights Reserved. www.reikishamanic.com
Think Outside the Cage
Rose De Dan, Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC, is a mesa carrier in the Peruvian shamanic tradition. In addition she is also a Reiki Master Teacher, animal communicator, author of the acclaimed book Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism, and creator of Animal and Reiki Art. As an animal shaman, she views her role as a healer as one of building bridges between people and animals, and of empowering them to reconnect with Pachamama, Mother Earth.
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