In this season of Advent, I have been thinking a lot about waiting.
I am not a huge fan.
In fact, I hate to wait. I am impulsive and impatient. I make hasty decisions, especially when I am tired and my brain is too full.
I can be ungenerous with those who do not seem to be keeping a proper pace, a quality for which Phil is certain I will burn in Hell. I told him to go grocery shopping at the same exact time as every senior citizen in town, and then we can talk about Hell.
I hate to be late yet I always am – maybe because I fight time rather than move with it.
My impatience – along with my big ears and fear of clowns – has been passed down to Emma. She came into the world exactly on her due date, waiting to be born. Ready to get on with it. Ready to crawl, to walk, to talk, to run.
Ready to go to school: “No kisses at the door, Mom.”
Ready to walk to the bus stop alone: “Stop lurking in the driveway, Mom.”
She wants to know when: When can I get my ears pierced? When can I ride my bike alone? When are we leaving? When will we get there? She is fully dressed – hat, boots, and backpack – by 7:43. The bus comes at 8:35.
Phil and Phoebe don’t mind waiting. In fact, if they wait long enough, they might forget what they are waiting for and move on to something else. Emma and I call it PST: Phil & Phoebe Standard Time. I spend a lot of time waiting at the door with Phil’s keys, his phone, his wallet. Emma spends a lot of time waiting in the car. She hides books between the seats.
But out of all of us, our dog Ellie waits the most. She waits to be fed, to be walked, to have her belly rubbed. She waits by the door when she hears Phil’s car in the driveway; she waits under the dinner table for Phoebe’s first fish stick to drop. She lets everyone else go first while she patiently waits.
And now, she is waiting to die.
In a theology class, I remember learning about the two types of time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is clock time, the time we live in. It is chronological, measurable, predictable. It makes sense. Bus comes at 8:35. Karate is on Tuesdays. Sun rises at 7:07.
The Greek word kairos means “God’s time” or “the right moment.” It is elusive and mysterious. You can’t predict or control it – you have to feel it. Nine years ago, Phil planned to propose to me on the beach at sunset. Instead he dropped to one knee in my parents’ garage as I reached into the fridge for a Coors Light. Why? “It just felt right.” Oh, Phil. You just wanted that Coors Light.
Henri Nouwen writes, “Fearful people have a hard time waiting.”
That sounds about right. I am terrified. I am afraid that Ellie is suffering. I am afraid she is going to fall down the steps or slip on the ice. But really…I am afraid of what’s to come. Of how bad it’s going to get. “Anywhere from a few weeks to a few months,” is what the vet said. It is one month today. 30 days. Chronos.
But right now there are still moments when I can forget. I scratch her ears, she thumps her tail, and I forget that her bones are being eaten away. I forget that her shoulders are disintegrating as we sit by the fire, with Phoebe deejaying on Pandora like any other day. Kairos.
But when will it become impossible to forget? We had to put baby gates by the stairs. Last week she cried when she tried to scratch her ears. Yesterday she had a hard time breathing. What’s next? Will she stop walking? Pee in the house? Stop eating? When? Tomorrow, next week, next month? How will I know when it’s time to let her go?
“You will just know,” they say. “She will tell you when it’s time.”
Huh? What does that mean? How will she tell me? And I never “just know” anything, ever. My sister-in-law had to tell me to go to the hospital when I was in labor because I thought I just needed to poop.
My friend Priya, who has known me and my specific brand of crazy for 30+ years, broke it down for me: “If you are questioning it, you’re not there yet.”
Ok. That, I get.
I want a chronos answer to a kairos question. But we are not waiting for the bus, here. I am being called to a deeper waiting. Nouwen calls it “active waiting.”
Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the world.
Waiting actively changes what I see, what I notice. When I wait fearfully, I hear Ellie’s labored breathing and think, Should I call the vet tomorrow? When I wait actively, I notice how she lays her paw on my wrist, and I think, We are holding hands.
Chronos vs. Kairos. There is nothing the vet can tell me that I don’t already know. All there is to do is wait. Do I wait in fear or do I wait in love?
John Grogan writes: “Such short lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”
Ellie has spent most of her life waiting patiently. But this time she is the one who will go first. And while she waits, we will wait with her. Lovingly, reverently, gratefully, until she tells us it is time. Kairos.
I am crying – so incredibly poignant! There are no words now. Please know that I am breathing with you and understand from the deepest place in my heart how hard this is. Our pets know us better than we know ourselves, and they weave their souls into ours. Thank you. Love you.
If only we could all live like Dogs for awhile. Hope the wait lasts a lot longer….
So sad and so beautiful Jess. I lost my father in law on this day 8 years ago. I remember that waiting and how close we all felt to God. It is a strange and sacred time….let everything else wait now. Love you.
Ellie is the sweetest dog ever!
What a sad, beautiful, bittersweet post – I always take a nugget of wisdom from your writing – I hate waiting too because I’m often fearful of what’s next (I do this A LOT with Mia) but how poignant to wait in love not fear. Wishing you much peace & love with sweet Ellie at this time.
Beautifully written….but I can’t do the ‘wait’ thing with pets. Not when they have labored breathing. They can’t tell us they’re suffering; if we’re asking ourselves if they are, why do we think they’re not? I think we don’t want to give them up. I understand that. I never wanted to give up any of my pets. But I more didn’t want them to suffer so *I* could have them near. Unfortunately they can’t tell us. They’re trusting us to do the right thing by them. Maybe it’s because I’m a nurse…our goal is to not let people suffer, why do we allow it with our most beloved pets?
Jessie. I’ve been there; waiting for your beloved animal to tell you it’s time. To give you a sign and somehow let you know they’re ready…and it’s okay. I’m such a glutton for punishment that I’ve done it three times. And each time they really did let you know it was time. It’s in the eyes. Remember in the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi instructs young Daniel-san, “watch eyes, always watch eyes.” That’s how you’ll know. Ellie will tell you…with her eyes. It doesn’t make it any easier; it just gives you a clue as to when. Enjoy your time with Ellie and many strong thoughts coming your way as you go through this ordeal.
Jessie, very beautifully written. I feel it in my heart and it reminds me of three of my previous dogs that I had to make a decision about at the right time. And it will be clear when that will be. Ellie is just making sure that you will be okay. I truly believe that. Lots of prayers for you and the family. And sweet Ellie.
I am similarly ungenerous with those whose pace does not meet my standards. And my daughter Grace was also born on her due date. Those similarities made me giggle at the beginning of this post and then the glorious writing about your dog and the ways of thinking about time made me cry. I’m so sorry for the pending loss, and for the bittersweetness of this final season with Ellie, but also so glad for the wonderful relationship you all have obviously had with her.
I feel your pain. We had to put our dog down in June after she got sick and quickly went down hill. I had the same worries you do about timing and knowing when to say when. What if I made the call too early and we coukd have had her for a few more days? What if I waited too long and she suffered unnecessarily? But just as you say, we knew when it was time. We just knew. She sent all the messages to us. She stopped playing. She laid on her bed without even lifting her head to acknowledge us. She began peeing in the house. I could see it in her eyes. “I love you. You are my family. But I’m ready to go. You have my permission to let me go.” As I tend to do, I wrote about it on my blog. I hope my words help you through this hard time: http://rocksnosaltmommy.com/saying-goodbye-to-a-friend/
So beautifully written! Waiting to let go is so hard! Thanks for sharing Ellie with us!