My colleagues who know about Pet Grief said “Get a paw print from Stella before she dies.”
Determined to honor her passing exactly right, I vowed “I will get that footprint.”
So in the midst of inconclusive vet visits and internet searches for horrifying dog illnesses, I staggered over to Michaels to survey their Pet Memorial Products. There I found The Pet Memorial Stepping Stone. The picture on the box indicated you could cement-secure a pristine footprint from your dog and then decorate it with mosaic tiles!
Perfect. I got two.
I came home and mixed the cement. Then the task of convincing stubborn Stella to step in it…
For days she had languished, almost too weak to walk. One look at that wet cement coupled with her perception of my unholy intentions and she surged through the doggie door. She snaked around the fruit trees in our back yard, avoiding me as I chirped and coaxed behind her with my vat of solidifying goo.
The first batch hardened before I corralled her.
Then batch number two, a stealth endeavor. I mixed it in secret and held it behind my back. I tiptoed behind Stella, straddled her and aimed her paw at the wet cement. Once again, my dying dog rallied. Again, her willfulness surpassed my skillfulness. The result showed signs of struggle and looked like a lunar crater.
To preserve Stella’s comfort, I gave up. She had no interest in creating a cherished keepsake; so no footprint for me.
I added this to my list of disappointments….
A few days later, Stella passed away peacefully in my arms. Hugh and I drove her still body to the Vet Clinic for cremation. I stroked her everywhere. I smelled her ears and held her paws. I wished I had that foot print. But I didn’t. Failure. We said good-bye. Forever.
Then the card arrived at my home.
The Veterinary Techs had Xeroxed a Rainbow Bridge Poem and fastened it to a piece of construction paper. To the left of the poem was a small patch of Stella’s red fur; and at the bottom right, an ink footprint. Stella’s footprint.
I stood in my living room. I touched the footprint and I wept.
In that moment, I adopted the Vet Techs.
I baked to show my appreciation. I brought cake to every vet visit. Sara needs her puppy shots? Pumpkin Spice Cake. Bartie has a boil on his bottom? That sounds like time for the Chocolate Cavity Maker Cake.
The baking became a ritual. So now, when I fail to bring cake, I hear about it…
A few weeks ago Sara chased a squirrel into some underbrush and came out with a swollen eye. It was a semi-emergency with no time for cake. At the vet’s, Megan entered the exam room to help us restrain Sara. In the midst of the procedure, the removal of a foxtail from Sara’s left eye, Megan assumed a look of indignation and asked, “Wait a minute… where’s the cake?”
Then Josie, while preparing my bill said, “I’m sorry it’s taking me so long. I’m a little weak because…. well, you know…. there’s no cake this time….”
They tease me and apologize immediately. “You know we’re kidding, right?” they say.
I tell them, “I will keep this lack-of-cake-joke alive as long as possible.”
Silently I add, “Because it feels like family. It feels like home. It feels like love. Love’s footprints.”
I think of the card the Vet Techs made for me. Was the footprint they provided just ink on a page or was it love that slayed me with tears and hope? Do the Vet Techs even know what they did? And are they Vet Techs or are they Bodhisattvas, awakened beings living in truth and devotion, creating connections and honoring what matters most?
I believe they are enlightened beings. And if it’s true for them, it’s true for all beings who serve, holding hands, paws, retractors, thermometers, heartaches, and aspirations.
Then I consider the invisible footprints that forge my path.
These footprints introduced my parents at a roller skating rink in 1940’s New York. The footprints made a family with four little girls and taught us to love music, education, and animals. This devotion led me to college in North Carolina where I met my friends Debbie and Jeff. Then the footprints stepped me back to New York where I met my husband. He gave me a Cat for Christmas – Miranda – who reawakened my reverence for animals.
New footprints carried us to California, where we reunited with Debbie and Jeff. They convinced us to get a Vizsla, even as I claimed “I don’t want a dog, they’re too much work.” I was right. Dogs are too much work, too heartbreaking, and yet the footprints knew better.
The footprints brought us Stella, who trampled my soul and broke my heart open with her beauty.
Stella’s footprints led me to the moment when I stood in my living room crying about a card.
And Stella’s stubborn refusal, my failed attempts to cement her paw – this too was part of the footprints’ plan.
I didn’t get the footprint I wanted.
I got the footprint I needed.
Yes, I got the footprint I needed. It guided me to the precipice where joy and sorrow become one. It stepped me over the edge to be borne upwards by kindness. It awakened me to the mystery of undeniable grace….
So perhaps the secret to a good life is less about forcing our path. That’s like trying to get a Vizsla to stick her paw in wet cement. Maybe it’s more about learning to see the invisible footprints already in place for us.
First, we see the footprints we take for granted – the care of billions, (yes billions) of big-hearted people performing small acts of devotion. We include ourselves in the seeing, as we trust that our acts of wholeness serve too.
We see how humble footprints build connection, love, laughter, manna from heaven, sustenance – cake if you will.
Then we see all footprints embraced by larger footprints – the footprints that shepherd our lives. We may resist, avoid, and ignore, these footprints. Yet the footprints stay on track. They relentlessly lead us to the greater yet to be. They shatter the illusion of “insignificant moments” as they guide us to an intimate infinite significance we cannot know.
Even not-knowing is love, for it invites trust.
So today, let us trust the the mystery-in-love, as love. Let us trust love’s footprints. Let us walk together in peace and kindness on this journey called home, exactly where we are.
Thoughts to Ponder:
- Take some time to notice the people in your life who serve you in countless ways.
- Notice how you serve others through simple acts of devotion. What is your “Kindness Footprint?”
- Select a moment in your life. Now look backwards to notice all of the meant-to-be seemingly insignificant details that carried you there.
- In moments of adversity, trust the invisible path that carries you home, exactly where you are.