…is like a fine old wine. Mellowing and becoming more complex with age.
Our dogs are aging. Many of my friends have kids the same age as mine. We met through playgroups, at the park, at the schools our kids attended. We invited dogs to join our families at a similar point too.
The kids are heading off to college; it’s empty nest time. The dogs are getting old. Some are dying. I fear and know that the rest will follow sooner rather than later.
It’s a time of change and loss.
My mother-in-law said to me, “you give them roots and wings.” It works for both the kids and the dogs. But of course, they give us so much too.
So far this year two dogs in my circle have died. Their people went through the difficult process of deciding to euthanize them when the dog’s pain became too much.
One person is managing the loss of her beloved Sydney by fostering dogs. Not ready to replace her long-time companion, fostering allows her to temporarily share her home with dogs in need.
In the other family, Stella died only a few weeks ago. They and Zadie, the younger dog in their family, are processing the rawness of grief.
Stella was Pettigrew’s best gal. We went for weekly walks together and they had an understanding. Although they lived apart, as far as Pettigrew was concerned, Stella was his girl. Stella may or may not have been playing the field. All I know, is when she was out with Pettigrew, she only had eyes for him.
As they aged, their relationship settled. But, right up until the end, upon meeting, she always gave herself a good shake, fluffing her fur so it showed to its best advantage. For his part, Pettigrew perked up his ears and waved his tail as he walked purposefully towards her. He was always courteous and warm.
In recent weeks, Stella was in significant pain. At first we thought it was her arthritis acting up and she would join us for the first part of the walk and then we’d drop her off at home before continuing. Ultimately, she stopped coming altogether. It was bone cancer. The walks aren’t the same. Zadie, her younger companion is ebullient filled with a zany, joyful energy. She and Pettigrew never developed more than a tolerance for each other.
While she’s cavorting and throwing her body on the ground, offering her tummy for a rub, Pettigrew turns discretely away, unable to watch such undignified glee and requests for attention. They co-exist, but move in different planes.
My husband’s aunt once observed that there’s no clear ritual or process for managing the loss of a dog. Unlike with people, where there are funerals, wakes, shivas; there are no rules.
When my childhood dog died, my parents allowed the vet to handle her remains. When Sacha, one of our cats died, my parents decided to bury her in a metal box in the back yard. I fear for the child in the future who unearths the box and believes there is treasure hidden inside.
On the night my parents buried Sacha, the rain was coming down hard and my mother held an umbrella over my father’s head as he dug the grave.
How do I know this? I wasn’t there, having moved out long ago. However, my mother sent an email to me at work with the details. Perhaps it was because she was still distraught, but she bungled the address and our systems administrator forwarded the email to me.
Reading her account, I realized that nowhere in the email did she mention that Sacha was a cat. I stopped by my colleague’s desk to clarify this point. What he must’ve thought if he skimmed the email before forwarding it to me, I can only imagine!
Grief causes us to behave in unexpected ways. As much as we try to anticipate and prepare, it catches us by surprise.
I was talking the other day with a friend about rituals. How they anchor us and reinforce the truth that life goes on; we have the resilience to continue and thrive. When you lose a member of your family, I wonder if it is especially hard because these sustaining rituals are broken, constant reminders of how things have changed.