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A Death In The Family

Posted: April 21st, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A Eulogy, of sorts, of a dog that didn’t belong to me…

Kind eyes
I’m not a “dog person.” I’m not a cat person, I’m not a pet person. In fact, most of the fish we owned when we were kids went belly up and down the toilet before they got to appreciate the size of the aquarium they had moved in to — and our aquariums weren’t very large. So I never really graduated to the “animals with legs” stage of pet ownership.

But a few days ago, I had the unique — and unenviable — experience of being there when Kelsey’s dog, a dog that has been a member of her family since she and her sister were young, was put to rest. Now, I’ve never “known” a dog, nor have I ever grown comfortable with one. I’ve never looked at one lovingly, or even with the desire to pet it. At least, not in person. Movies and photographs, maybe. But it’s not because I have anything against dogs, but because… well, I don’t know, they’re dogs and I’m not and I’ll stay out of their way if they stayed out of mine. And I certainly never felt that a dog belonged to me.

Cinder was very much a dog with many families. I’d seen her around her own family, and I’d seen her around family friends, tongue wagging out of her mouth, eyes shouting, “play with me!” When we brought her out to the marina where Kelsey’s grandparents live, it was clear that Cinder was a part of their family too. And on more than one occasion, I felt that Cinder was a part of my family, or, better, I was a part if hers. And Kelsey’s family was gracious enough to let me feel that. And of course, so was Cinder.

One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind as we sat in Examining Room 3 of the vet’s office as Cinder lay dying on the floor was how remarkably similar this felt to losing a human member of the family. The same kind of emotions ran through that room as had run through other examining rooms I had been in, though the patients in those experiences were human, not canine. And the same thoughts and concerns that went through my mind then raced back for the opportunity to flow once again. Curiosity of what it’s like to be dying, to be looking at the end so clearly (or not).Playing in the snow Thoughts of an uncertainty of what comes next, if anything. And questions. Lots of questions. Is dying a calm process? Is it lonely? Is whatever comes next for them the same as what will come next for me. If anything.

I think that uncertainty is why death is so hard for us to take. There’s no guarantee that we go on to greener pastures or Heavenly exalt. But there must be something, we tell ourselves? Right? There’s a reason. We convince ourselves that yes, there must be something else out there, that why else would we be here! In the final moments, we try to attach significance to life, a greater truth to things.

But it happens, and we don’t get a choice, and meaning or not, we don’t get to choose a path. For no matter how long or short our life, the one constant is that it some day ends. A harrowing thought, yes, but also a comforting one. We don’t often get to see it, but there is a finish line. And more often than we would think, that finish line is a relief. Sometimes, we live to a point where it’s all we can do to get to that line, and once we cross it, it’s better than it was in the final moments. Death must come, and so we know that we don’t have forever to look forward to.

So we look back on life, the good times and the not-so-good times, and we try to assess the value of a life… Did we get the most out of our relationships, did we take every opportunity to do something good. And were we the kind of person we wanted to be. I can’t speak for Cinder, but I think she was exactly the dog she wanted to be. One who cared for her family, staying up late at night, listening for noises in the dark while everyone else slept. Lounging on the couch when nobody else was around, leaving evidence behind (she shed too much to be truly inconspicuous) but not once being caught in the act. Chasing squirrels and neighborhood cats from the back yard, because this was her yard — or whatever reasons dogs have for chasing squirrels and cats. Greeting visitors at the door, and, on one occasion, bolting for freedom while yours truly was standing guard (and standing with the door wide open, I suppose I should add…)1. But after our rocky beginning, she came around and I came around, and I began to enjoy our interactions, and she didn’t feel the need to sniff me quite so often and I didn’t feel the need to shriek like a little girl when she did so. We became comfortable with one another, and then even friendly. I would scratch behind her ears while we watched TV, or throw her a ball in the back yard — at least until she found something to dig in that was more fun, and I went inside to wipe the slobber from my hands. And i saw how much her family loved her, and she became my dog too.

And now that she’s gone, I’ll miss her. But I’m grateful for having gotten to know her.

At the beach

  1. Sure, she ran away and I had to enlist neighbors to go find her because I was freaking out that I had lost my new girlfriend’s dog, but she was confused then, an easy mistake — I have trouble enough getting upright mammals to do what I want, let alone four-legged creatures that don’t speak the language. Also, there was a thunder storm, and she didn’t like thunderstorms.
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One Comment on “A Death In The Family”

  1. 1 Maw said at 10:48 am on April 22nd, 2010:

    The write-up is right on. I’ll just add that Cinder could get very stinky at the Marina be it deer poop or goose poop or even more desirable a dead fish. Oooh, pe-ew. Bath time and back to her “treasure” she’d go. Yes, she was a good friend, so we say goodbye with fond memories.


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