My Beloved Sterling,
It’s been a year today since you left us, and although I know you’re here in spirit, I ache no less now than the night I held your paw in my hand as you took your final breath. I remember you so clearly, and I miss you so damned bad.
In all my life, I have never had a friend more clear, more constant, more loving than you. When we placed the last stone on the cairn we built for you, I remember my heart howling and howling, for days-weeks-months, and now a year later, it howls even still. I thought I could just write a little remembrance, but instead I find myself struggling to sob quietly, so as not to wake up your mom. It’s funny how the missing just takes over sometimes. I remember it happening on the ferry one day – an innocuous trip to the city and suddenly I’m staring out the window thinking ‘oh shit’. I choked on tears all the way to Victoria. I still don’t know why it hit me when it did…
Do you remember that letter I wrote, the day after you died? I sent it out to friends and family then, because there was no way in hell I could maintain my composure long enough to call them. In the days that followed, I lost count of how many people wrote me, or called me, or stopped me in the park where I walked our little Hyacinth, to tell me how much that letter moved them – how much YOU moved them, how much you would be missed.
My beloved Sterling boy, you touched the lives of everyone you met. You touched my life too, but you did so much more than that. You loved me. You changed me. You let me love you. You made me a better man.
I’m re-posting that letter because your dying was the most beautiful gift. Being with you that day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was one of the hardest things any of us have ever done. And it was beautiful. Profoundly, immensely, achingly beautiful.
My gratitude, and my love are eternally yours.
Our Beloved Sterling
July 14, 2003 – August 05, 2014
Hello Friends & Family,
I am sitting at my desk, staring out the window at the sky. I have to write this letter to you because I just can’t face the phone calls today…
Vulture just flew over head, and I know that he is heading to the forest where our family laid to rest our beloved Sterling, yesterday. My heart breaks a little more as I send my gratitude and prayers to this graceful Spirit-bird, come to carry our beloved across the veil.
It’s been a long few days.
Sterling turned 11 this July. He’s always been such a healthy, happy guy. Even at his age, he still hiked with us everywhere, and hopped in and out of the van like a puppy. All you had to do was say “walk”, and he was all over it. This past weekend, he became suddenly ill, and in his own special way, he told us unequivocally, that it was his time to die.
Tuesday morning, in the wee hours between midnight & dawn, my beautiful boy asked me to come with him into the night. He shuffled slowly, but with great determination – down the drive and out to the street. He pulled me silently along the path of one of our favourite walks, showing me memories of our time together, his love for our family, his gratitude for our gift of little Hyacinth earlier this year – a reminder of his youth, and a protege he could pass his knowledge to, to watch over us when he was gone. Under the stars, he walked with me, strong and silent at my side. His remembering was so clear, and this was his gift – to himself and to me – this final walk, just the two of us as we’ve always been, together.
Reaching the edge of the woods at the base of the mountain, he stepped in front of me, placing his body between me and the mountain, and pointing his head to send me firmly home. His intention was clear. He was saying goodbye. He was heading off into the mountains to die.
I stood with him there, for a long, long time – my knowing at war with my fear. He showed me so many things. He showed me how animals know to move away from their homes and families to die, so that their sickness and remains won’t contaminate water, soil and dens. He showed me his ancestry, and the ways that his kind communicate teachings and knowledge through movement, and thought, and energy, and smell. He showed me the true form of his Spirit – shifting in and out of this world as he drew closer to his passing. He showed me that animals die in solitude on purpose – that the long walk hastens their death, that they leave traces of their teachings in the stardust that falls along their path, that they choose their final resting place in alignment with the stars, that they lie down on the earth, and breathe in the sky, and reach out to Great Spirit to receive the gift of peace in the stillness and silence of being at one with themselves. He showed me so many, many things…
I stood there with him, at the edge of the worlds, knowing that all of this was true. I stood there with him, at the edge of the worlds, witnessing a reality so profound it defies description. I stood there with him, at the edge of the worlds, seeing the terrible truth of how far we humans have distanced ourselves from all that is sacred in nature. I stood there with him, at the edge of the worlds, immersed in the beauty, and strength and power of a reality I pray and pray we can someday reclaim. I stood there with him, at the edge of the worlds, and asked my boy to please come home one last time so we could tell his mom, and his sister, and his puppy before he disappeared into the night.
I still haven’t made peace with the asking. I can rationalize all I want, but the bottom line is that I let my human conditioning and fear override the beautiful truth he had shown me. I asked my boy to please come home, and as he always has – he came. There was no blame, or disappointment or judgement in him. He just loved me, and came.
Melissa and I sat vigil with him all through the night. He wandered off now and again, and though we had resolved not to follow him until daylight, he kept coming home. All through the next day, we moved with him as he flowed from sunlight to shade, from high ground to low, from his natural environment to the one he has shared with us for so many years – hour upon hour of presence. And silence. And witnessing. And love. There was no pain. Just… fading… And these moments when he would be sitting in one of his postures that we know so well, and he would look just as normal and healthy as he always has, and we would have to fight like hell to stay with his process… fight like hell to stay out of denial… fight like hell to stay with our knowing.
Late in the evening Emilaea and Christian joined us. Sterling had slowly been making his way back up our long driveway & into the house to his bed. We all sat with him and loved him, and laughed with him, and cried. As his time drew nearer, we carried him on his bed, out to the back deck, under the stars. He was so patient and loving with us – holding us close, until we were ready to let go. In the end, we all drew back and lay with him in the night air as he drew his last breaths. It was raw. And beautiful. And real. His life-force left his body at 11:11pm. We shrouded him in blankets, and I stayed on the porch beside him through the night – with the rest of the family just inside.
On Wednesday morning, Ravens came to honour him – circling above his body, and calling him home. Melissa, Emilaea and I carried our boy to a beautiful spot in the forest and laid him to rest in what we hope is the kind of spot he would have chosen for himself, had I been strong enough to let him go when he asked me. We laid him on the forest floor, with his body in direct contact with the earth – a shroud on top of him to preserve his dignity in the face of our presence there. One by one, we selected and carried rocks and stones to cover him, to honour him in this place. Little Hyacinth kept vigil at Sterling’s head and back as we worked. With the base of the cairn constructed, we laid ferns and sticks across his body to brace the weight of the cairn above him. We adorned him with talismans, and crystals, and salted tears, and love. For hours & hours, we carried rocks to shelter him – each stone a memory of his life, and a prayer for his journey. It was dirty, and sweaty, and heart-wrenching… and transformative, and healing and profound.
I have these moments when my heart breaks so hard it buckles my knees, and my mouth opens to pour out the heaving, but all that comes out is silence. I am so grateful for my family as we hold each other close and breathe in the life around us. I am so grateful for little Hyacinth, who carries Sterling’s teachings with him, and reminds me constantly that life carries on. I am so grateful for the life and presence of my beautiful Sterling-boy who has taught me more about presence, and patience, and gentleness, and unconditional love than anyone else I know.
Last night, Sterling asked Melissa and I to sleep inside so he could have the night to himself for his Spirit-walk. Hyacinth cuddled up with me on a mattress on the floor beneath the candle that has been burning steady for our Sterling since his passing. He stole my blankets, and crowded me off the bed and warmed me with his little, snoring body, and saw me through our first full night without our Sterling-boy. Life goes on…
We will keep the candle burning until it burns itself out – carrying Sterling’s light into the Spirit-world. We will send our prayers and blessings and gratitude to the Spirit-birds that honour him. We will perform other ceremonies in the coming days and weeks, to honour Sterlings life, and presence, and passing. We will heal. We will remember. We will be ever grateful for the gift he gave us in allowing us to witness his passing. We are deeper, wiser, stronger, people for it.
We are sending you our love, and welcome yours in return, but please send us your love without feeling sorry. We’re not sorry. We wouldn’t change a moment of this experience for anything else in the world.
Teron, Melissa, Emilaea, Christian, Hyacinth and Sterling.