Ode to Sabby: The Serenity Prayer

February 17th, 2011

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer is my daily mantra.  Yesterday was no exception.

My beloved friend and companion, Sabby, was put to sleep last night.  It was an act of mercy on my part – for all concerned – as he became lame and his illness was taking its toll on his quality of life.  The angelic vet assistant who accompanied me along the way said to me:  “Char, you did well by him, and you are helping him in a way that we humans aren’t allowed to do for each other.  He is truly blessed to have you as his owner.”

One of the privileges and responsibilities of pet ownership is to enjoy them while they are with us and to care for them lovingly which includes “in sickness and in health.” I find veterinarians, as a group, to be some of the most compassionate, caring professionals who are truly able to keep the best interest of their patients in mind.  I was also blessed to have a team of veterinarians who worked tirelessly to find the right medications to keep Sabby comfortable.

I take great comfort in knowing that I did the best I could for Sabby.  I accepted that I couldn’t change his fate and I found the courage to find the right vets for him.

This is not the first time I’ve lost an animal.  In the past, losing an animal has been extremely traumatic for me.  This time was different though and though it was still hard, it didn’t have that same sting of trauma.

My intent in sharing this story is for you, dear reader, to think of what’s going on (or has happened already) in your own life that has been challenging to deal with. Perhaps you’re on the verge of losing a beloved friend, family member or animal.  Or maybe that has just happened.   Perhaps, there’s something in your personal or professional life that is changing or has changed unexpectedly that comes to mind.

I invite you to pause for a moment and see what comes to mind. If you want, as I share how this time was different for me, see if  what follows helps you make a teeny tiny shift and softens the impact of change.

What is going on in your life that you cannot change?  And, are there things that you could change to make this situation easier?

The power of asking questions of ourseves  is sometimes not in the answer itself but instead in just opening up the space to consider the question.  As with anything, there is no one right way to do this.  I recognize we are all different so what works for me may not work for you.

Consider my questions (which follow my own personal insights) as invitations to  think about whatever you’re dealing with right now.

  • I asked in prayer for a sign of when Sabby needed to be put down.  Shortly thereafter, he became clearly lame in 3 feet, stopped eating and drinking.  There was no mistaking that the end was near and he was suffering.

Consider this :  Is there something that you’re concerned about?  Would you like to ask for a sign about what to do or consider next?  What would that look like?

  • I told people I trust what was going on as it was happening, which helped me have the courage to do what was needed and feel less alone.

Wondering:  Is there someone you could talk to ( by email, by phone or in person )who could help you feel less alone?

  • I spent some quality time with Sabby listening to my favorite music with a candle burning and got him to purr.  I will always feel connected to him.

Think:  Is there a way to honor or acknowledge what you’re going through right now?  Yes, it’s important and No, it won’t take as long or be as hard as you think.

  • I attended to all the practical details ahead of time which included telling the vet how to handle the bill, how I wanted to leave after it was over, and that I would be leaving the cat carrier and blanket with them so I didn’t have to walk out with an empty carrier.  This was an act of mercy for myself.

Question:  Are there some details that you could attend to ahead of time to make things easier for you in the long run?

  • I had a plan for coming home which included taking my dogs for a walk,  making a healthy dinner, and calling my kids who have been so supportive through this.  I followed through with my plan even though I felt like curling up in a ball.  It helped.

Hmmmm:  Would it be helpful to think of what to do later so you wouldn’t have to think about it in the moment?

What I’ve learned over and over again is that having words to describe my feelings, asking trustworthy people for support, attending to practical details, and having a plan have all been major building blocks that help me feel more peaceful about difficult situations. My hope for you is that this blog  helps you find greater peace and self kindness as well.  I’d love to hear how this lands for you.

What do you do when you love someone so much – you’d do anything for them – and they are suffering?

How do you help your loved one get through a dark night of the soul?

Jane (not her real name) contacted me because she didn’t know who else to turn to.  She was very concerned about her father who she described as the most giving person she’d ever known. He’d always been the strong one, the rock of their family, and he loved his active lifestyle.

Jane’s mom and dad met in the Peace Corps and had been married 40 years. Her mom died unexpectedly about 8 years ago.  Jane knew this was so hard on her dad and in his typical style, he rarely talked about his feelings.  Instead, he often told stories about his mom and how amazing she was reminiscing about the good times.

Then, Jane’s father decided to get back in the Peace Corps and do some volunteer work in various parts of the country.  He loved travelling and this was a great fit for him.    From there, he worked locally with habitat for humanity.  He found meaning in his life again and was doing okay.

One day, Jane got a call that her dad slipped while running.

In the process of getting her dad the care he needed,   the doctor also discovered he had COPD (a lung condition).  Suddenly his whole world changed.

First, he had to adjust to portable oxygen.  Then, he needed special oxygen equipment in the house.  He also needed surgery for a torn rotator cuff plus a pin in his ankle making it impossible for him to get around as he used to.

Life as he knew it was turned upside down.

Now his life revolved around doctor’s appointments, oxygen tanks, and adjusting to constant pain.    He was so used to being the one who helped everyone else; now, even going to the bathroom was incredibly exhausting.  Needless to say, Jane noticed that he wasn’t his usual chipper self.  She could feel his frustration, his sadness, and his pain.

Recovery was going so much slower than either of them expected.

They had always been a family of faith which got them through many hard times.  Almost every time Jane spoke to her dad, he would say something like: “I wish I could just be with God and your mom already.  It’s too painful to live like this.  And I have no choice about this one – because God takes you when he’s ready, not when I’m ready. ”

This concerned Jane more than anything else.  She sensed his deep despair and felt like a helpless bystander.  All she could do was listen – and listen some more.  Her attempts at encouraging him to hang in there felt trite, even to her.

I listened to her and felt her heavy heart.  This kind of thing is so difficult for everyone involved.   It is so scary especially when we feel so helpless.

The first thing I said to Jane was that, in addition to the physical changes for her dad, I suspected some grief may be surfacing for all of them. Jane was used to her mom and dad being together.  Her dad was facing the most difficult time of his life alone, without his wife beside him.

Being ill brings us face to face with our losses. When we ourselves get sick, it can bring up all kinds of grief as the one we counted on isn’t by our side.

I think the views of our society on grief are flat out wrong.  They always say the first year is the hardest.  I disagree.  The first year is very very difficult and the waves of grief often crescendo in unexpected ways for the rest of our lives.

I understand only too well how grief can come up when we least expect it.  I’ve been widowed for almost 20 years and some days it feels like it was just yesterday that my husband was by my side.

In my humble opinion, grief is our constant companion in one way or another when we’ve lost someone we dearly love – regardless of how long it’s been since they’ve died. We learn to live without our loved ones – we grow around the experience – but we never “get over” it.

When we don’t feel well, we feel vulnerable.  We need other people’s help and we don’t want to ask for it.  We don’t want to wear out our welcome or seem like we’re complaining – so we try and keep it inside.  That’s human nature.

And when the one we love isn’t there to help us, it’s understandable that we often feel sad, worried, helpless, afraid and lots of other things. Needless to say, we’re all different so our feelings on this are as individual as our fingerprints.  And our feelings are always with us regardless of whether we acknowledge them out loud to others or not.

Often those unexpressed unacknowledged feelings create that dark night of the soul that I’m referring to.

I did a retreat at home this weekend.   It was my invitation to create some space to just be – and see what’s really up with me.  (hey – that rhymes!)

What I discovered was surprisingly difficult as I faced yet another wave of grief about so many things – I thought I was OVER that already. It’s been a long time to still be playing that tune.

Anyhoo, life doesn’t hand us the dishes we order.  Right?

The creator of this experience, Jen Louden, asked us to dedicate our retreat to something larger than ourselves.  Taking her up on that one as I was stirring my lemon risotto on the stove, I dedicated my retreat to world peace.  I had no idea what I was really stirring up inside myself when I began this process.

What I learned from this was how to sit compassionately with my own feelings. There were many difficult moments for me as I listened to those tender areas longing for love and understanding.

I imagined our world leaders sitting compassionately not just with their feelings but with each other’s tender spots negotiating how to live and let live. It’s possible, you know?  At least I believe it is.

Part of this retreat involved calls on the phone with some amazing speakers who spoke of different ways to find comfort and connection with ourselves and each other.

One of those speakers, Christina Baldwin, suggested a practice she calls the Touchdown which takes 5 minutes to do.

Here’s the recipe:

What you need:  5 minutes and something to write with

What you do:  Close your eyes, ground your feet, take 3 deep breaths.  Sink into the chair you’re sitting on.  Open your eyes and notice the first thing in front of you and write for 5 minutes about it.  Write in an unhurried way, keeping the pen moving neither stopping nor hurrying, don’t worry about punctuation or grammar or anything like that.  See what comes up.

I’m going to save the third step for tomorrow’s post.

In the meantime, I invite you to try this for yourself and see what comes up.  I guarantee you there’s a surprise waiting for you to unwrap!

I am blessed to know so many amazing people. Linda Resca is one of those blessings.  She is a professional caretaker in Portland, Oregon and has dealt with her own cancer in various forms three separate times.  Through these experiences, she has developed an unshakeable faith in the indominitable human spirit and she is an inspiration to me.

There are an infinite variety of spiritual ways of thinking and being – and all are welcome here.  This you tube video was magical for me – it showed me how despite whatever happens, we can survive it and actually thrive.  Linda has not only survived her cancer but is actually in the field of helping others as a professional caretaker.  Now, that’s what I call really getting the juice from some of the sour-est lemons life has to offer.  She has somehow transformed her life threatening experiences into a powerful presence that I’ve never seen the likes of before.

This video was done spontaneously and impromptu so the quality reflects that but the message itself is beautiful.  I had to listen to it many times as her experiences resonated so strongly with my own past history.  Though Thank God I haven’t actually personally experienced cancer, I have had many health scares and I could relate to much of what she describes here.

So, without further ado – here’s Linda.

Let me know what you think of this.