This year we said goodbye to long-time companions Bluebell and Little Spot. Bluebell’s death hit me hardest because I’d nursed him through pain and illness. Little Spot was old, and so it was easier to let him go. But for months I felt Bluebell and Little Spot follow me round the garden, grazing and playing near me when I went outside. Only now is this missing beginning to ease.
Guinea pigs have lives which, in my opinion, are far too short. Bluebell was five years old and Little Spot reached a venerable eight.
Now they are pushing up bluebells (of course) and red freesias. This is their first spring, potted. Their urns decorate our deck and I greet my boys when I pass in and out of the house.
‘That’s a bit creepy,’ squirmed a young friend when she realised who was in the pots.
To contemplate one’s end may be considered morbid in Australian society, never mind potting one’s deceased pets, but in some cultures meditating on death is a spiritual practice. It confers the benefits of awareness and appreciation. It clarifies priorities and gives perspective. It allows one to practise the art of letting go.
Little did I know when I brought home tiny Hazel and Chestnut from the guinea pig show all those years ago, that they would become my spiritual teachers. That they would charge my days with present delights and become my meditation on life and death.
I became a guardian of lives, privileged with the great joy and the great sadness that comes with caring for creatures from babyhood into old age and death. This is an incredible journey.
I’ve now borne witness to and accompanied several of our guinea pigs through their dying. I’ve felt their breathing and heard their last cries. I’ve held them close and felt the love emanating powerfully from their tiny forms. I’ve cradled their still bodies and felt them stiffen. I’ve performed last rites and placed them in the earth. All of it has been heartbreaking, but absolutely magnificent.
The guinea pigs are my memento mori – my reminders of death, and so, my reminders to seize the day.
It’s fitting that they remain part of the garden, with its seasons and cycles, beginnings and endings. I’m comforted by their nearness, knowing their little bodies have dissipated into the soil, that they are part of the flowers sprouting from those pots. This is what they have become. Beautiful flowers.