I’m posting this for a friend who is having her beloved dog euthanized today. You may have read parts of it here before.
This remains the only thing I’ve ever written about the death of one of my animals. I’ve never since been able to find words for that loss, so when it happens, (and, inevitably, after a few incidents of unproductive floundering around on the keyboard) I just go back and read this. When someone close to me loses a pet, I share it with them. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.
It hit me hard to re-read it today. I haven’t lost one of my animals, but I am grieving the loss of my group of friends from that part of my life. It was my choice to step away from them, and I do not regret it. It hurts, but it’s the hurt of a healing wound…I forget about it for awhile, then something catches me just right and the pain flares, fresh.
When we mourn the loss of a pet, we also mourn the part of our life that they carried us through.
Bringing an animal into our life is an optimistic act. We know how it will end, but we take the risk again and again. Love, of anyone or anything, is the ultimate engagement with life. Life is going to end in death. We might trick ourselves into thinking that not loving will spare us pain, but that’s no way to live. Optimism in the face of death: what the hell else is life?
Lovers leave, or we leave them. Friends fall away. Animals are relentless companions, our ultimate confidants. They see and know what we cannot bring ourselves to show other people; sometimes the parts we cannot even bear to show ourselves. Animals remain mostly silent; we mostly see our reflections in them, and thus they refract all the unconscious choices that make up the profound minutiae of our lives. We know so little of their internal lives. When we mourn our pets, we mourn the people we were with them.
The good days in the sun are easy. It is when we are in pain and think ourselves alone that we reach out and feel breathing evidence of our not-aloneness. They romp along for the best of it, and stay steady at our side through the worst of it. What we cannot bear, they help carry.
So, go on, hug your pet. Remember the ones you’ve lost, and what they carried for you. And try to let it go.
Dagaz was literally born into our hands. Asha followed a few hours later. Kalia (his mom) had a special relationship with him; she used to pick him up and carry him around by his butt. After awhile she would tenderly deposit him in the bathroom trash can. I think this explains why he always loved stuff in trash cans.
When he was growing up, he cost us a small fortune in vet bills; he ALWAYS had stitches for one thing or another. He and Asha and the rest of the Doberman 6-pack had fun up at our friends’ cabin where we all gather for sunshine and bonfires. We got to know each dog by the shape of their head when they came up to be petted in the dark; most of the time when I dropped my hand down it was Day’s oddly square noggin beside me. The dogs would bound through the woods, go for rides in the boat, and play hard with each other. Every morning I would wake up and think, Oh, no, it’s storming, and then be confused by clear skies…six Dobermans running is the sound of thunder. It’s hard to believe that Asha is the only one left of all those sweet, sleek beauties. I love my Dobermans, but I sure wish they lived longer.
Every animal is its own being, just like us, and my relationships with them are complex, aggravating and fulfilling. You can’t lie to animals. They teach me more about myself than I want to know sometimes. I have always had a close affinity to my dogs, but Dagaz saw me through the worst emotional and physical pain of my life. He learned to “stand steady” so I could lean on him when I had trouble getting up. When I was well, he followed me as I wandered around getting to know our land, or sat with me on my late nights with books. No matter where I was, no matter the time of day or night, I could drop my hand down and find him there beside me. His presence was silent and constant. The room feels empty now, at 3am with only me in it.
I’m glad I played with Asha & Day today, took the time to watch them run down the hill and up the hill and jump on each other and grin at me. They are so much a part of this land. They were thrilled to have me spend a couple of minutes with them on my way out to the barn. I thought it might rain so I opened the door to the porch (our version of a doghouse) for them. Dagaz jumped up on the couch and looked happy. I headed out to the barn. When Urban came home he let the dogs into the house. I opened the front door a few minutes later, and found my dog collapsed at the foot of the stairs. He was gone.
I don’t know if animals understand or care about the concept of names, but my animals are named with care. “Dagaz” is Norse. It means daytime, the fullness of light, midday, midsummer, the high point of the cycle. They say every dog has its day; Day’s day was June 21, Summer Solstice. It’s not his birthday but it’s what his name means, what I think of as his essence. In the Elder Futhark rune system, the divinatory meaning of Dagaz is the spiritual path. The symbol looks like an angular infinity symbol, or, to me, like Shiva’s drum. I name my animals for what I see in them: I saw vigor and sensitivity in Dagaz. I also name them for what they show me of myself, and what my relationship with them brings me. More than anything, Dagaz helped me both to face my pain and turn my back on it when needed. He taught me patience and emotional honesty. He taught me about the land, where the good shady spots are on the hill, and that possums really do faint when frightened. He brought me constancy and light. It’s hard to imagine this place without him.
But it’s not just me that has lost him. Urban is also grieving and sad. Asha is confused and whining a lot. She keeps running around looking for her brother. We are a little worried about her, but she is eating and drinking just fine. We will probably stick close to home for awhile, as she is unaccustomed to being alone. She will ride in the truck with us tomorrow (oh, well, today) morning when we go to the vet to take Day’s remains to be cremated.
I don’t know what we will do with his ashes, probably scatter them on the hill where he liked to run. I have been thinking of putting down some wildflower seeds, maybe we will scatter those, too. It would be nice to walk in knee-high flowers next midsummer, and remember him. I will drop my hand down and find him there beside me, his presence silent and constant.