Heart Balm

It’s been a tough week.

On Monday we found ourselves having to make the “no choice choice” of escorting our beloved Peggy dog to her final visit to the vet.  Perhaps the kindest, most loving act, to give her the assistance to make this final transition.  Yet how I dreaded it.  How I often I had prayed these last weeks and months, “Please let her pass in her sleep, or as she sleeps beside me on the sofa in the morning.”  “Please help me know when the time has come for us to intervene.”

So Monday morning, after watching her the day before in the backyard, wandering blindly in circles, stumbling into rose bushes, entrapped in dogwood branches, right hind leg foot limping, and then distressed and agitated with having messed in her kennel as she slept that night, we knew the time had come.  We feared for her physical safety.  We knew the quality of her life was at an all-time low, she the once meticulous self groomer, now being restricted to the kitchen, the sofa, our office, her kennel.  We assumed she was in pain, though our little braveheart never complained. The Scientist made the call.  We held vigil as she slept in the living room sunbeam, told her repeatedly how much we loved her. Then the final drive, holding, whispers and kisses.  Now living the paradox of grief and relief, of feeling the fullness of her absence in every room of our home and hearts.  Gentle Annie, our five year old Setter, has been at a loss, never having lived without kennel mates.  And this is now the first time in over twenty years that we’ve shared our lives with only one “kid with fur.”

Come Wednesday, I co-hosted process at my monthly community of practice.  As no one had stepped in, I volunteered the week earlier before knowing how my week was to unfold. I was eager to experiment with an elegant and simple process I’d discovered and I knew this gathering would be a safe space in which to try.

Lectio Poetica is a contemporary re-working of the ancient practice called Lectio Divina, or sacred reading, wherein sacred texts were slowly whispered, repeated and contemplated to hear the small, quiet voice of the divine within.  During medieval times, it became formalized into four steps, or “movements,” and now, using poetry, into seven movements where grounding, considering one’s current life situation, posing a question, reading, reflecting, and deep listening to self and others bring insight and action.

I’ve relied on poetry both personally and professionally to help myself and others, find a way into and through the challenging, perplexing, complex and bitter-sweetness of life and work.  Little did I know it would be my heart’s balm that night.

Wednesday brought sunshine, warmth and the absence of most of our snow.  Eighteen of us convened in the St. James Room at a local church, a perfect place for what was to unfold.  As anticipated, the “right poem” arrived that morning, a “simple to recite and listen to” by Leonard Nathan, posted on Facebook by Parker Palmer:


So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis

or even a well-known singer

of popular songs and will never read Greek

or speak French fluently

will never see something no one else

has seen before through a lens

or with the naked eye.


You’ve been given just the one life

in this world that matters

and upon which every other life

somehow depends as long as you live,

and also given the costly gifts of hunger,

choice, and pain with which to raise

a modest shrine to meaning.

The warm and appreciative reception encouraged me to use the process as the cornerstone in next week’s session on self-care for social workers.  And I was inspired to set aside four Wednesday afternoons in April, and invite seven people to partake in a gently hosted circle, to create the space for “the ultimate meeting place.”

“It is said — here, now — that one of the great markers of spiritual kinship is a love for the same poetry. For if two souls are equally moved by the same pulsating constellation of metaphor and meaning, they are not only bound by a common language and a shared sensibility but also exist in the same dimension of truth and possibility. Poetry, after all, is the ultimate meeting place.” – Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings

You are welcome.  Your place is waiting.  Simply click here to register.

PS – Today we’re in the midst of Spring’s caprice, an Alberta snowstorm. Thinking about this post, I remembered phone photos I took of Peggy and Annie last year during a similar snowy spring morning.

Peggy Spring Snow 2014 TRIMAnnie Spring Snow 2014 TRIM

20 thoughts on “Heart Balm

    • I too am so so sorry,Katharine! i lost my beloved golden retriever a year ago and know the pain ! They are so trusting and so stoic in their last hours! we can learn so much from them! Love, Monica


      • Monica – I remember how devoted you were to your Golden, and so appreciate your words. Yes, given we have no children, our “kids with fur” have always been remarkable teachers. Peggy was exceptional in this way for me. Thank you.


  1. Thanks for this lovely reflection and a beautiful invitation. I eagerly pressed register, and then realized I am already committed for 2 Wednesday afternoons in April. Sorry!

    And a synchronicity… During my morning enjoyment of Brain Pickings I had already also copied and pasted that exact same paragraph you used on your invitation …


  2. Thank you for sharing, Katharine. I am so sorry for your loss and so happy for your courage to set her free. All the love she gave you and you gave her will last forever.

    Thank you for the poem – a self loving note at the end of a self-condemning day. You flipped the world right side up again.


  3. So beautifully and sensitively written, Katharine. Our wonderful pup will be 18 years old on May 28 and I know we will be facing this difficult time in the very near future. Very sorry for your loss.


    • How remarkable, Pat, 18! For Peggy, a sporting dog who hunted and field trialled with Sig, to have lived to nearly 17 was, too, remarkable. Thank you and blessings as you prepare for the inevitable heart ache.


  4. Hi Katharine,
    I am so very sorry to hear about Peggy. Over the years I too had to face that tough but right decision. What great pictures to remember her by! Take care and give Annie lots of hugs! XO


  5. Sorry to hear about your dog . We have had to go through the same sad decision with our little dog. I hope you find solace in warm memories and your thoughtful, “heartful ” process work.


  6. Katharine:
    I really identify with your loss. My wife and I lost two old cats within one year. Also wanted to say how rewarding it was to see that you discovered Lectio Poetica, and have experimented with it in your community of practice and other circles of influence. We so enjoy sharing this wonderful contemplative practice, and would be delighted to hear how people in your area are responding to it, and how you feel about the process yourself, especially as we have adapted it from lectio divina.
    Jay E. Valusek


    • Thank you so kindly for your words, Jay. I discovered you and your work via the David Whyte FB group. Appreciate what you bring to our precious world and your generosity regarding “sharing it forward.”


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