Yesterday I lifted Juliet into the car to drive to Waltham, Massachusettes--a suburb of Boston--where we had an appointment to discuss surgical options to address her cancerous tumors. The previous 36 hours had been rough for her: barely able to walk, no appetite, and collapsing hind legs had catalyzed a visit to our own vet the previous morning. A thorough exam didn't indicate anything of specific concern, though it did highlight some anemia. When Juliet clearly had not improved by yesterday morning the veterinary practice at Waltham--specialists, with emergency, 24-hour support--encouraged me to come anyway.
When we left the camper to go to the car, a collection of five turkeys greeted us. In the nearly three months that we have lived in the campground, the only wildlife I had seen were squirrels, chipmunks, and a lone turtle. The turkeys were a surprise, robust and clustered around the back of the car, turning their heads one direction, then another, as though trying to determine their path. On a whim I fished my phone out of my purse while they set out across the road, and took a couple of pictures.
The drive began in dawning light, and I was aware as we got underway of the continuing glow of sunlit color in the remaining leaves that still bore witness to the season on their tree-top perches. It was more color than I would have thought possible for early November, showcasing a darker, richer palette than the bright and showy leaves of early autumn. It struck me that what I was seeing were the elders of fall, the mature stands that remained after the young and energetic leaves had fled the scene, and I welcomed their companionship on this drive weighted by concern and a deepening dread.
The trip to Waltham, a little more than an hour without traffic, proved to be the last that Juliet and I would take together. Recognizing that her condition did not lend itself to a hopeful prognosis, I considered that she was manifesting a response to arthritic pain in her hips and back. I was not expecting the review of her vital signs to reveal an accelerated heartbeat, low blood pressure, or a fever. The moment I had been fearing was before me, and the decision to release her from difficulty and decline was necessary.
On my return home I was grateful for the reception on the radio of one of Boston's public radio stations that still plays classical music. The melodic strains were a balm for the raw grief that began in the vet's office, and continued to flow as I drove. I noticed again the color still clinging to the trees, and saw those mostly-tall sentinels as standing at attention, an honor guard to the life I had just bid farewell, and a show of respect for my loss. I remembered the turkeys, and marveled at their timely appearance, as though to escort Juliet from her earthly abode as she started her final journey as part of this life.
I write this not to chronicle these closing hours of her much-cherished life, but to acknowledge with deep gratitude the presence and comfort that the natural world offered to me on this saddest of mornings. Twenty-four hours later the sun has breached the horizon to bathe my surroundings with glorious light still caught in a few leaves. The sky is blue and the air is crisp. My pain cries out to these signs both of continuity and the shifting reality of all living things: that life begins, blooms, declines, and ceases. I am not expected to celebrate today, or tomorrow, though I can tip my hat to the beauty that surrounds me.
I am forcing myself to get out and walk the roads that I shared with Juliet. It hurts like hell that she is not with me. But these are our roads and our trees and our time together to celebrate the unique last months we shared together. It is what I have, and I will cherish it as a way to honor how much I cherished her. Death reminds us of the fullness of life we experience, of the joy captured in our hearts, and the love that sings through our days. I feel it all to the marrow of my bones.