“Will my dog who died come back to me?” is a common client question in communication sessions. Dogs will visit us in spirit and occasionally a dog will reincarnate and return to us. Maybe they return as another dog, or maybe they return as another being.
Further questions are about when or how the new body will come into the person’s life. I had those questions, too.
Beloved Nicki, my sidekick of 15 years (“the best dog who ever lived,” I would tell her), died last year at the end of May. Of all the shocks and heartbreaks that year, accepting a life without Nicki was the most complicated.
Gentle, funny Evie was the first dog loss. Then my mom died of cancer in September, just before my best friend Kris developed a rare, aggressive cancer that took her away in January. Another friend I loved died of cancer in November, just days after her 39th birthday. My little buddy Bean left his body a week after Kris. A close friend since my teens died suddenly two weeks after Bean. Scrappy Belle, a dog who had survived whatever was thrown at her, left her body a few weeks before Nicki.
During this period, I was painfully ill with lupus flares and, three days after Nicki died, I finally ended up in the emergency room. The doctors found something to measure and record, but grief doesn’t show up on a CT scan.
In my perception, everyone who died was truly gone except Nicki. Her body was cradled in the cool soil beneath an azalea. But I felt her close to me. She let me know she would be returning.
I grieved the others in emotional waves, knowing their physical loss was final. I wailed and sobbed for Nicki slightly differently. I desperately wanted her back. I talked myself into believing I could have her back. It will eventually be okay, I thought, because Nicki will return.
She showed me the shape of the dog she wanted to be—a whippet. So I studied whippets. I contacted breeders and a rescue. I went to the amateur whippet races and lure coursing. Being captivated by sleek dogs flying with such passion made me forget my hidden motive for a moment.
I anticipated Nicki’s return for more than a year. It felt like the time had come to make space for a puppy. I would finally clear out the cabinet of Bean’s medical supplies. Finally box up Nicki’s mobility wheels and give them to a dog who can use them today. Finally go through the drawers full of diapers for Evie, bumpers for eyeless Belle, and protective clothes for hairless Nicki and Bean. I would finally throw away two toy boxes full of bedraggled plushies with the squeakers ripped out.
Somewhere in the clearing, it hit me. Nicki is not coming back. The space I am making is for a new dog I do not know. A dog who is completely herself. A dog who is not coming to fill a hole left by a predecessor. She will fill an entirely new, her-shaped space. She will be loved for who she is. Not for who I wanted her to be.
I do believe that the soul that was in Nicki will return. But it won’t be Nicki.
It took three times the normal sedation to help Nicki leave her body that May. The vet asked me if it was because I wasn’t ready to let her go. When the vet left the room for the third time, I realized that, despite my denial, I was not at all ready to let her go. Nicki was a strong and willful terrier and she was holding on for me. I had to do some energetic work to unlock my grip so she could be at rest.
More than a year later, I understood that I was still gripping onto her. For her, for myself, and for the future family member, I have finally opened my hands.
This story does not end with a puppy. Letting go of one thing in order to get another isn’t truly letting go. Clinging and grasping invites stagnation. Letting go invites possibility. If we’re willing, we can clear the way for discovery of the secret ways we are clinging. Allowing for the flow of life allows for unforeseen and unfamiliar possibilities.
Also, this story has not yet ended.