September 11, 2018

The night before Kona died, she was shaking, her body in either the early stages of sepsis from a tumor that pressed on her colon (making passing stool impossible), or her body in so much pain from the tumor, muscle atrophy, and sickness that she could no longer sit or lie down comfortably. She was panting, her body hot, her nerves stressed, and her dying process speeding.

Always a happy, hopeful girl, she took a spoonful of peanut butter (that I’d carefully laced with her opiate pain killer). She walked through the back door to her outdoor bed. It lay on the back deck; a big, wooden deck built nearly 20 years prior.

When that deck was built, my world hadn’t yet crumbled. I hadn’t yet known pain or loss. When that deck was built, I lived, much like her, in a state of perpetual presence, a state un-phased by the trials and tribulations of modern living because my linguistic skills hadn’t yet advanced to the point of being able to craft an argument, to create a word problem as it pertained to my own life, the word problem of “me.”

When that deck was built, I hadn’t yet known assault, overdose, or manipulation. I hadn’t yet known darkness, isolation, or post-traumatic stress. When that deck was built, I was a bright light, a child, open and vulnerable and ready for the world to attempt to swallow me whole.

Luckily, it didn’t.

Luckily, I managed to live when so many, not too different than me, died.

Luckily, I had the most amazing family that allowed me the time and space to come together after unraveling. I had teachers and friends and soul mates that lifted me up and carried me to safety when I couldn’t do it myself.

Luckily, I had Kona.

There are many people that will never know the love of an emotional support animal, and that’s okay. Each person experiences love and companionship in their own unique way, in a way that permeates their soul and (if they’re lucky) leaves them forever changed for the better.

Kona, like all of us, was born perfect. Life was rough for her from the start. She and her puppy siblings were left in a bag on the side of the road somewhere on the central coast of California. Luckily, some kind person picked them up and took them to the pound.

Luckily, my older brother’s girlfriend at the time really wanted to adopt a puppy. Luckily, she did. Luckily, she chose Kona. After several different living situations, Kona came to Mom and I when I was 17. But, I wouldn’t consciously know her heart until I was 22.

At 22, I had experienced loss. I’d experienced the deepest kinds of disrespect. I’d experienced pain I’d never before imagined was possible to experience.

I’d just moved home, back into the house of my childhood, to recover from years of trauma with the intention of healing. It was, mentally, the darkest place I’ve ever been. One evening, I’d been crying, wondering why I was alive. By this point, my brain had learned enough language to surmise that I was the problem, but I couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem of “me.” The problem felt unsolvable, inescapable, and hopeless.

In a moment of despair, rumination, and helplessness, I saw Kona’s face.

She’d been watching me, for an immeasurable amount of time. She was there. She was present.

She did not try to change or fix me. She did not offer me pharmaceutical solutions or self-help guidance for how to pull myself up by my bootstraps. All she did was love me.

From that moment on, Kona became my gateway into the present moment, into love. Into the timelessness of love, which permeates every moment, Kona allowed me to dive headfirst. She took me out of time and space and into the deepest, truest, most innocent love I’ve ever known. When I say that she was the love of my life, I do not exaggerate. She was, by far, the best love I’ve ever experienced.

And that’s why her death is leaving me both fully healed from previous pain and newly broken, wondering how and what will come in this new Kona-less chapter of my life.

But, because she loved me so much, I keep moving forward.

Because she loved me so much, I commit to taking care of myself, to try to be beneficial to those around me.

Because she loved me so much, I owe it to her to be as kind, as generous, and as accepting of others as she was.

Kona was unfazed by my weight, attitude, or emotional state. She did not judge me for past transgressions or perceived shortcomings. She loved me, all day every day, and was never anything less than completely giving of herself to me and to our family.

Before she was diagnosed, Kona and I spent an uninterrupted 6 months together. I’d taken time off work for the first time since in 9 years. She and I spent every day outside: at the beach, on the mountain trails of Northern California, at lakes and reservoirs, or on the back deck. The same back deck upon which we shared our final sunset.

We sat together from dusk until nightfall, watching trees become silhouettes. The full moon was bright in the peace-filled sky, its energy illuminating without being jarring.

In that moment, I knew that I had soaked up everything I could have from Kona in this life. I like to think that she was sent here on a mission to love, and that she had loved all of her people to the best of her ability, so God gave her a tumor that would take her back to him. Of course, I have no clue if that’s true. But, when I feel her standing next to me, sleeping at the foot of my bed, or watching me with her knowing eyes, I can’t help but believe that she was, and still is, my angel.

And now, I move forward in this life, without my physical best friend here with me and without the foggiest idea of how to proceed in her absence. Kona is so deeply engrained in my heart; I know I’ll never be without her. I also know that I’ll always be safe, my heart always full because she loved me so much. She changed me at my core, healing me from the inside out. I’ll miss her every day. But hopefully, one day, it will hurt a little less.

Luckily, this life brought us together. Luckily, we found love. Luckily, I got to hold her in my arms as she died. Luckily, I was given healing angel when I most needed one.

Thank you, Kona. Thank you, my love.

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