Friday, September 08, 2006

Mr. Wolfie

"Teresa, I had hoped to bring Shadow to see you again but he passed away during emergency surgery last night. He wanted you to know that you are his favorite aunt and that all dogs do go to heaven. He also wanted to thank you for taking the "Mr. Wolfie" photo which shows him at his regal best."

When one of my dogs dies I am at a loss what to do. The grief is so sharp my stomach hurts, but there is no adequate focus for it. The message I got yesterday, about the death of a dear friend's dog made me burst into tears at my desk, then walk around all day in shock. It wasn't my dog, but I'd known him nearly all of his 16-year life.

At home I shuffled through the hundreds of photographs of this wonderful creature, and found the one we called "Mr. Wolfie". It shows the dog looking up at the camera, his head slightly tilted, smiling, a good bit of tongue hanging out, and the eager and interested look he always had in his eyes. A loving life look.

I've never had a dog of my own but over the past 30 or so years I've looked after many dogs while their humans went on vacations or business trips, and these dogs are as much "mine" as any I might live with. When one of them is in trouble I worry along with the rest of his family, and when one of them dies, I grieve.

The death of a pet makes us think about death in a whole different way. We must let go of him in ways we tend not to with humans. For one thing, there are no possessions or "papers" left behind. All that stuff you bought for your dog over the years, that you thought he wanted, well he only used it or played with it to humor you, because basically all he needed was you. All he cared about was you. All he lived for was you. And when he dies, you will be all that's left.

In some traditions, keeping reminders of the one who died is considered unhealthy, and personal effects are burned or given away. I think this is a good idea. I find that my memory of a person is far stronger and deeper than my response to seeing something that belonged to the one who died, whether a photograph, a jacket, some bobby pins in a drawer, or a well-used chewybone.

But a smell. It can ambush you, can make you weak with sadness in the space of a second. Coming across a clump of hair of a deceased dog a few years ago under a bed I hadn't vacuumed under in awhile, I pressed it to my nose and in seconds he was there. A scent I'd know blindfolded in a crowd. When my mother died 10 years ago, I took a hairband from her deathbed, breathed in the scent of her on it, then put it into a small kitchen canister. I have it somewhere in a closet, saved for the day when I might need it, might need her presence more strongly than it already is in my life. But I haven't opened that can since the day she died. For awhile I thought it was because I hadn't needed it, and then after years passed, I almost forgot about it. Now, today, one day after dear old Shadow's death, I am thinking about the can.

It's not likely I'll go home this afternoon and open it up to see if the smell's still there, but what will I do with it? It's sat there all this time, undisturbed. I haven't opened it, and I don't want to know if the smell's no longer in there. All this time my memory of her has gotten deeper and more detailed, helped along by imagination and the telling of family stories. She's in poems and pieces I've written and published, and the older I get the more I look like her. What more could I possibly need?

Today I'm grateful for the life of my friend's dog. The story of how he came into our lives is already forming, its details brightening, the sound of his voice punctuating the sentences. The ways that he took us for granted and showed us things. The trust that only a dog would dare to have, the endless good-hearted patience with us. The care he took in accommodating us in our moods and shortcomings. The many laughs he provided, his cleverness. The way that he always was there. The love.

The love.



Blogger jo(e) said...

I still remember the dog of my childhood -- a black lab named Sam -- and how I felt when he died.

What a beautiful tribute to Shadow.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Shadow's Dad said...

Thank you so very much

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:49 PM  
Blogger Songbird said...

To you and to shadow's dad, I'm sorry for your loss.
Our dogs are the first I've ever had, only cats before, and I know they will break my heart when they go.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Please write more! It's quite captivating.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Oh how sharp and dull and deep death can be, whether it be our loved humans or our loved other beings.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Jarrett said...

Lovely. Thank you.

8:53 PM  
Blogger hele said...

thank you. this loosing of mithril is such a sharp new experience for me. as a result i find whenever your words echo my feelings it is as if they reach out and enfold me in understanding*

8:00 AM  

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