Sometimes life’s lessons come unexpectedly, and from places we could never imagine, such as books, movies – or even, a woman with autism.
As you are well aware as a reader of my blog, I have been overcome with grief at having to have my beloved pug, Dekker Black, put to sleep. These past seven years were filled with a companionship I never truly understood until he was gone. While I knew the decision was right for Dekker, it is the decision that has had me in the grips of fear and guilt these past two weeks.
I have always struggled with the idea of terminating the life of our animals. It is a decision I had hoped I would never have to make. I just could never come to peace with the concept of choosing when to end an animal’s life. There were very few situations where I could, in my heart and soul, truly justify it.
So, as you might guess, my decision to end Dekker’s life has been devastatingly hard. I have been struggling to make peace, not only with the loss of my companion and buddy, but with the decision itself.
Monday, I was overcome again with sadness, depression and loneliness. So much so that I decided to take the next twenty-four hours and do nothing but watch movies. I have gotten into the habit since Dekker died to watch movies at night until I finally drop off to sleep as night has become the most challenging time for me. Between not being able to get to sleep and/or waking up repeatedly throughout the night because I hear Dekker crying or barking, I have slept very little these past two weeks.
Thus, I was watching this movie about Templin Gardin, a woman who was born with autism during a time when autism was still believed to be a form of schizophrenia or a lack of bonding with the mother at birth. It is an incredible story of a woman overcoming impossible odds with an illness that was not only not understood, but often damagingly misunderstood.
Templin’s mother never gave up on the idea that her daughter was different but not less. As a result, Templin learned to speak, go to school, received her bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees. She became self-sufficient, a published writer, and designed humane systems for the raising and slaughtering of cattle. She eventually became a college professor and a speaker on Autism.
In the movie, Templin has this ability to see the world the way the animals do because she sees the world in pictures. She comes to realize that how cows are raised and then slaughtered is expensive and cruel. She’s say that while it is necessary to slaughter cattle so we can eat, we don’t have to be cruel in how we carry that process out. Against great odds and resistance from many cattle ranchers, Templin builds a whole new slaughter system that allows the cattle to go to their deaths calmly, peacefully and without any stress. She always believed that cows deserved our respect and our kindness even in their death.
Mind you we are talking about cows here who many think are mindless animals that are raised for the sole purpose of feeding us. While Templin had no problem with that, she couldn’t understand why, as humans, we have to be so cruel in how we carry out the necessary slaughtering process.
When I finished watching the movie, I had a powerful, watershed moment. It was as if Templin herself was speaking to me. In that moment, something broke in me and I finally was able to let go of the guilt and fear that had kept me locked up in its vice this past week.
I had never looked beyond the act of ending Dekker’s life. I couldn’t get beyond the moment that life left his big eyes. That picture has haunted me these past two weeks, tormenting me over and over.
But having watched this movie and learning from Templin, I suddenly understood that I had done something for Dekker that was filled with love, compassion and respect. It was only because I loved Dekker so much that I could make the decision to bring his pain and suffering to an end. I also suddenly understood the depth of my promise to Dekker seven years ago when I chose to keep him even though I knew he had health issues. You see, I now understand that because Dekker didn’t have the ability to make choices for himself, those decisions then became mine and mine alone. It was up to me to give Dekker what he couldn’t receive on his own. Therefore, my gift to Dekker was to love him unconditionally all of his days, especially if ever necessary, in how I carried out his death.
My soul was suddenly flooded with the understanding that Dekker spent his last twenty-four hours filled with his favorite foods, walks, play time, cuddling, kisses, and a sense of safety because he knew that I had his best interest at heart and that I loved him unconditionally – as only a ‘mother’ could. Even in the last moments up to his death, he was where he always felt the safest, in my arms, surrounded by my love, kisses and hugs. My words calmed his heart and he relaxed and was at peace. He transitioned from this world to the next without any stress. I suddenly understood what unconditional love looked liked.
And then, I was overcome with another watershed moment. I realized in a small, small way that I suddenly understood God’s incredible love for me when he sent his son to die for me because I couldn’t bridge the gap of sin between He and I. I don’t think in all the years I have been a Christ follower, that I really grasped the sacrifice that God made on my behalf … until today.
I finally understand how much God really loves me. It is of a depth and breadth so profound that it took a woman with autism and the death of my precious Dekker, for me to comprehend it and truly appreciate it.
Perhaps even more profound for me, is that I now have an inkling of how hard it must have been for God to watch his son die for me, even if he knew it was the right thing to do. My love for Dekker cannot compare to God’s love for me – there is no human comparison for that. But in a new way, I can understand the sacrifice God made for me out of his incredible love for me because I understand, on an emotional level, what my sacrifice of unconditional love looked and felt like for my Dekker.
Today, I still grieve for Dekker, but I also can now move forward and rejoice in the incredible blessing he was to me. And even more amazingly, I will always remember that it was his death that led me to a deeper understanding of God’s love for me.
Lastly, as Dekker relaxed before his death in my arms because he knew he was safe, secure and surrounded by my unconditional love, I now, can also relax in God’s arms for the same reason.