His name was Alcaeus "Cae" Olaf Lund. We called him Cae, pronounced kai. Alcaeus is a greek name meaning strength and everyone knows that Olaf likes warm hugs. The name fit and he wore it well.
We said goodbye to Cae on April 23, 2020 and then I waited for it to stop hurting so I could write to everyone about it. Which was silly of me because that's not how grief works. It had become increasingly clear that he was unable to control himself -- even though he really wanted to. I worked with him for 2 years and he made fabulous progress, all things considered, but in the end he just wasn't able to achieve the necessary level of control to be trustworthy. Humans really did that beautiful boy a disservice when they bred him to be aggresive/high-drive (which is NOT the same thing as mean, please understand) and then spent his early years slapping him around.
I watched him bite my daughter, who he loved dearly and who wasn't doing anything to invite it, and at that point it was clear to me that he wasn't even capable of controlling himself for the ones he loved. Despite the fact that he gave it his best effort and I gave him all my support we just couldn't beat it.
My heart broke but I made the decision to say goodbye that afternoon because no one wants to live in constant fear of hurting the ones they love most. And I'm responsible for the lives of those he interacts with (including my daughter, who he barely broke skin on).
He was such an enormous presence -- it felt like I'd lost half my pack and most of my heart.
I couldn't shake the feeling of having cut out my heart and set it on a table next to me. Of staring at it wondering what was to be done or if I even cared. I woke up the morning after he died with a line from a song running through my head: mama, can you die from a broken heart? And then sat there thinking that if I left my heart on that table instead of putting it back where it belonged, the answer might have been yes.
Working with animals you always know that there's a chance you'll get hurt. I've got scars to prove it, but nothing that compares to the pain of making that last decision for them. Nothing that compares to the difficulty of stepping up to the plate, to say goodbye when everything inside is screaming at you to hold on tight. I go into every foster situation knowing that it could end this way, understanding that it's my job to give them a chance but that there are limits to what I'm capable of and I couldn't forsake my responsibility to my daughter, to the other animals in my house, to a potential adopter or to him.
He wasn’t perfect but he was a good boy. The best. He lived big and loved hard and I want him to be remembered as the brave boy he was. The one who never stopped loving even when humans made it hard.
A week after we let him go, I was looking at old pictures of Cae. I had a goat to milk and wasn’t even dressed yet... but it needed to be done. I missed him. I missed that big smooshy face racking me in the crotch when he wanted his ears rubbed -- he never did master "gentle" by most people's standards. I missed the sound of a thousand man battle, complete with war horses and catapults, raging in my livingroom every time he played indoors. I missed his big meat head and his even bigger heart.
I wouldn't change a thing. I stand by my decision to offer him a new life as well as my decision to say goodbye. But with big love comes big hurt -- you can't give a full measure of the warm fuzzies and only get a half measure of the pain when they leave. Because physics. Or something.
I often think of all the great big, huge life lessons he left behind and how they still don't fill the void of his presence. I still don't have his face to squish even if I do have things like The Quality of My Personal Relationships to consider. He made me think a lot about how even the ones you love deeply can take a lot out of you, so it's important to choose your inner circle wisely. Among other things, he was a great teacher.
I still miss him. And I wonder if this is a love I'll feel forever. Like one of those scars that heals but is always visible, so you never forget the time you jumped into the water, laughing and holding hands with your bestie, and got a little cut up. Sometimes the good times sting a bit. But you always smile when you look at that scar.
Cae’s death gave me the opportunity to examine my inner landscape, especially in regards to loss and the strong feelings I have around it, which are often difficult to put into words. No one enjoys goodbyes, particularly when they’re not reversible because regardless of how you feel about reincarnation and the spirit, while we exist on earth certain losses are permanent.
Around the time of Cae’s death my aunt buried her beloved bunny Phinn and was facing the possibility of also saying goodbye to Phinn's bond-mate, Levi. She and I were talking about her goodbyes and it got me thinking about life, love and that last permanent goodbye.
I've always felt a sense of peace within the pain when saying goodbye to the old ones, knowing that they were well loved and that I was able to help them reach that goal of "the golden years" with quality and not just quantity. There's something special about saying goodbye to someone who got to live to seniority with you. A completeness. As if nature is coming back around the way it was intended to.
I have this idea of a goal for all my animals, that I aim to get them to and through old age with grace, joy and as little pain as possible. Quality AND quantity. But I always hold it in my heart that quality is ultimately what's important over quantity. So during those times that I'm unable to have senior years with them, I still understand that the goal has been met when they have lived well by their own definition (not mine) -- and from that place, senior years become a gigantic bonus. Leaving from there becomes its own kind of special celebration. With tears, but still a celebration.
It's never easy, just worth it.
And I find myself in this space, feeling grateful that I had the opportunity to love Alcaeus Olaf Lund for two whole years, even though we never made it to the so called “golden” ones as he was only five when we parted ways. I was blessed, for two years, and now life goes on and I continue to be blessed by his memory. Sometimes the tears still come when I look at his picture next to my nightstand, but the bitterness is gone.
My hope is that if one of you have said goodbye to someone you love and you stumble upon this post, it helps. Even if it’s just a bit.
All my love,