In August of 2012, we found out that Kiki had terminal heart and liver problems and was given six months to live. (Read the post here). She defied the prognosis and lived for nearly two more years. It is with a very sad and heavy heart that we announce her passing May 29th, 2014, at 2:35 pm.
Below I wrote a letter to her, to thank her, to honor her, to say goodbye. Please feel free to leave a comment; we know she touched so many hearts.
When I met you, we were both a bit of a mess. You were almost four, the equivalent of twenty seven-ish in people years—the same age as me. Your parents had just separated, and you were staying at your grandma’s house with your newly minted single mother. I lived in the guesthouse out back, which meant you and I shared a common yard.
One day I came home from work and found you lying in the plant beds out back, big brown eyes sadly looking up from a large puff of downy soft, black fur. Clearly, you were moping.
You had been banished from the house for acting out (something about “vengeance-peeing,” a weapon you held close to your heart for many years to come). I, too, was struggling with where I fit in this world, but I had found more constructive outlets for my dark and lonely moods. And, yet, despite that I had been clean for a year and a half, and that I had all the trappings of a stable life, I still felt vacant—as if I were only a silhouette of who I might become.
I had unwound the tangled ball of childhood pain and teased out the drug addiction and resentment that had crippled my start. The threads of adulthood were neatly laid out before me, but I didn’t know what kind of life I wanted to weave. My sober life in the South Bay, although much more ample than my life as a heroin addict, felt small and constrained.
I walked into the front house and found your leash. You perked up at the promise of escape, and we took off down the hill towards the woodchip path that paralleled the beach. We ran along the trail beneath a canopy of eucalyptus and, after a while, I said, “If you promise not to run away, I’ll let you run free, okay?” I unclasped your lead, and you sprang forward as fast as you could. You bounced and bounded in long, erratic laps around me for miles, but true to our pact, you stayed in sight.
Running with you—blood hot in my ears, sweat dripping off my head—I remembered riding my bike through the neighborhood with my childhood dog, Cubbie. She was a half Chow, half Retriever mix, similar to you. With a goofy smile forcing its way across my face, I felt the same essence of who I was then: simply, a girl playing with her dog outside.
Oh, the places we’ll go! I wanted to whoop and yell. I was inspired by the same energetic potential—a wild mix of freedom and connection—that we humans feel when we’re too young to know restraint. Joy, pure magical joy, is what it was, something I hadn’t felt in so long.
And then it came to me, a moment of truth: I had an irrefutable feeling of wanting you by my side forever, and I knew I had to honor it—without wavering.
Throughout our years together, I learned to make more authentic choices that continue to inspire and bring me immense joy, most notably of which were falling in love with your daddy, becoming a nomad, and having a baby. But, I think the decision to adopt you—making that commitment to love you with abandon and provide for your needs until the end—was the slip knot from which I knit the fabric of my new life. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I realize it was one of my first significant acts of self-love. In other words, caring for you—giving you healthy food, safe shelter, fun exercise and tons of affection for the past eleven years—was inadvertently me taking care of me, too. From you, I learned that I could show up for my loved ones—for myself—for life.
And that’s how it works—the crazy, karmic reciprocity of loving relationships. The more we risk, the braver we become, and the more we are able to give and receive love. In turn, our silhouettes fill in; we deepen and expand into three-dimensional, whole selves, colored and defined by all that love.
But, of course, you always knew that, sweet girl. What’s more amazing is that you taught the lesson to so many of us people.
When we arrived to Buenos Aires a little over a week ago, I immediately took you on a walk to let you stretch your legs and go potty. I’ve always loved walking with you, watching your tail flounce with each bouncy step. I especially loved watching people’s reaction to you; you could (and did) make armed guards at narco check points say “Awwww, que raza es tu perro?.” In fact, in every country we’ve been in, the number one question we were asked is what breed of dog you were, to which we replied, “one of a kind.” People just wanted to be near you, touch your kind face, and pet your soft, fluffy fur; I can’t even begin to count how many strangers have taken your picture.
This time, however, you walked painfully slow, stopping every few steps to take a break, and it struck me for the first time that the end was near. The next day you lost control of your bowels and fell like a deer on ice when you tried to pee. You stopped eating your food, so I fed you filet mignon and pate (Oh, you always had expensive taste Miss Kiki! I’ve never met a dog who enjoyed Roquefort more than you). A day later, you could no longer stand up on your own; I had to prop you up on your paws so you could toddle a few steps or, more often, just pick you up and carry you outside. A week went by with no improvement. I cleaned you, your bed, my clothes, the patio and the floors every day—and, honestly, I didn’t mind so much. The part that hurt me was when you tripped over your hind feet and couldn’t get up again; when I realized that you no longer had the strength to sniff around; when you looked lost and confused in the living room, feet away from where I stood.
I didn’t want you to lose your dignity. I didn’t want the world to withhold its pleasure. I didn’t want you to forget the safety of my love.
The 29th of May was the hardest day of my life. The veterinarian came to the house to help us let you go. I didn’t want to, not even a little. I wanted to wail during every second of your passing, and maybe I did at times, but mostly I tried to just be present for you. Your dad and I were by your side. You were happy, happier than we’d seen you in so long. You smiled your toothy grin—god I loved those little teeth!—and let your spotted tongue loll out of your mouth as I held you in my arms, caressed your ears, and scratched under your chin.
The vet gave you something to calm you, and I stroked your face until you fell asleep with your head on my lap. You were smiling. Then, she started an IV, and I lied on the ground and pressed my body to yours, my hand on your heart, my face in your mane, breathing you in. Your giant heart beat strong against my hand until it faded and didn’t anymore. You died so peacefully.
I felt your presence lift and vanish, and I thought, how gracious you are, my love.
I wish I could do it all again. Your whole life, I want it again. I want to live every moment of sweet, wonderful you, again.
And maybe I will.
At the beginning of my favorite book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, he discusses Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence. Eternal recurrence, which dates far back in the Ancient East, posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. In plain words, it means we will relive every moment of our life again and again, eternally. If this is true, then everything we do is weighted with permanence, which is different than what we humans normally feel: the unbearable levity of time passing into nothingness—the forward march of transience.
I feared that I’d lose myself in losing you—that, I, too, would vanish in your impermanence. My love for you has been a giant pillar holding up who I am, the foundation of everything I built. I worried that I’d unravel or want to erase myself like I did after Spencer died. But it’s not that way. Although I lost you, my love for you lives on—eternally recurring, with weight and meaning. It will define the way I love, and therefore who I am, for the rest of my life.
I am you. And you are me. You are in everything I do, my darling Kiki.
And now the fabric of my life is big and strong and warm, woven from your love and memories, and I will wrap myself up in it to comfort me through your loss.
Thank you for loving us. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Thank you for letting us be there to let you go.
Mama, Daddy, and Soleil
Kiki on the Oregon coast
Kiki at Bishop, California
Kiki on the Rogue river
Kiki on the Deschutes River
Kiki on the wine tour
Kiki in the van
Kiki in Mexico
Kiki in Belize
Kiki in Guatemala
Kiki in El Salvador
Kiki in Honduras
Kiki in Nicaragua
Kiki in Costa Rica
Kiki in Panama
Kiki flying to Colombia
Kiki in Colombia
Kiki in Venezuela
Kiki in Ecuador
Kiki in Peru
Kiki in Bolivia
Kiki in Chile
Kiki in Argentina
We love you, Kiki. We always will. Rest in peace, sweet girl.