Sixteen years ago I was standing, naked (as one does) save for a paper dressing gown, in my dermatologist’s office. She was telling me how she had just put her beloved dog to sleep, after thirteen years together, which was a pretty good lifespan for a dog of his size.
“How the hell can you stand the pain?” I asked, since it was obvious she was in an enormous amount of grief.
“It’s a journey,” she replied, wiping her eyes.
She didn’t want to talk about it anymore, I could tell. She had said she didn’t think she would get another dog. She loved them too hard, and when this dog left her it had damn near killed her.
I understood what she meant. I felt sympathy for her and compassion. I wanted to help alleviate that pain, but there was nothing I could do.
Now, faced with my dog’s beloved passing, I understand her pain in a different, bone-deep way. I feel what she felt. Empathy. I feel every jagged moment, every instance of denial, every hope and shattered hope.
Bailey is still with us. True, he sleeps most of the day and doesn’t eat until evening, whereas he used to eat pretty much any moment in the day when you’d offer him food. And getting his medications into him is a daily herculean feat.
No one can suss out a pill, or a half a pill, or a quarter pill, in a piece of roast beef like Bailey. What other things have we tried? Peanut butter, liverwurst, chicken, tuna, cheese, Pill Pockets, hotdogs, salmon, steak, banana, hard-boiled egg, bacon, mac & cheese, cottage cheese,￼hamburger, ricotta, apple, breakfast sausage…, and so he often doesn’t get all the meds he should get. I can’t ‘pill’ him (holding open his jaws and stuffing the pill down his throat) because he thrashes like a fiend and would take off a finger. Not that he doesn’t love me, it’s just that he’s a rescue and has had such horrible experiences with vets that some things just freak him out.
I worry about My Best Beloved as well. He is a Good Man who always wants to help, and almost all the time he figures out ways to improve a bad situation. In this case, however, there is nothing he can do and he knows it. He does not like it at
You can’t prepare for this kind of grief. And yes, I know it’s “just a dog.” To us, however, this dog is pure love incarnate.
The journey, as my dermatologist friend knew, is one way. And everyone travels it at least once during the course of a life.
I remember what my friend, Sr. Rita, said when I asked her how she was coping with her breast cancer. “It invites me to understand more deeply what others experience: anxiety, pain, worry, the closer experience of death. Now, I’ll be better able to help others going through it.” Yeah, she’s pretty amazing.
So My Best Beloved, the Rescuepoo, and I are on a journey, and at the end of it, we will have to say goodbye to this sweet boy. Then, our journey will continue without him, at least in a physical sense. I said to My Best Beloved last night, “We’ll get through this, but man, it’s going to be awful.” It will be, but as Sr. Rita said, there is also a gift in the midst of the grief: to understand more deeply the pain of others, to journey farther into the human experience, and perhaps, one day, even be able to help someone else through it.
Right now, however, it is a perfect spring day. All three of us are going to head out into the garden and delight in the world, and in each other, and we wish you a perfect, glorious day, too.