Our dog died this week. It should not have been a surprise to us, because I have been trying to prepare the family for this dog's death for months now. "He's an old dog - fifteen years!" "That poor dog is deaf and mostly blind." "It might be time to ask the vet if he's suffering." Yes, I said all those things to my husband and the kids over the last few weeks. I was trying to prepare them for what was certain to happen.
I was trying to prepare myself.
Of course, as with most things in life that you think you are ready for, we were not ready at all. When I saw my old dog's lifeless body, I was not prepared for the depth of my grief. I instantly started sobbing. I sat in front of my dog's body and cried over it. I touched his head, his body, his head again. I'm pretty sure I scared the kids. I think I heard one of them say, "Dad, she's touching the dead dog!" But I could not stop myself from crying and sobbing and generally falling apart.
It was awful.
However, I'm not sorry. Simba was a great dog - a part of our family for fifteen years. He was our first baby. We got him when he was a puppy, before we had babies of our own. He was the first pet of both of our kids. We have dozens of Simba stories that make us smile, dozens of pictures of that dog. He deserved to be mourned, and mourned deeply. After I was done falling apart, Stuart called the county and found the address where we had to take the dog's body. (They don't want you to bury your dead pets in your yard, by the way.) It was the quietest car trip our family has ever taken. The people at O C Animal Care were kind and professional; each person expressed condolences before helping us. We drove home in silence.
It's been a sad time at our house. I found a pet brush that I hadn't thrown out, and it made me cry. I found a coupon for dog food in my wallet when I opened it to pay for groceries, and I almost cried. I opened the back screen door, and the sound made me remember how Simba would stick his nose in the screen and open the door and walk around the house. It made me laugh, then cry. Twice I have started to ask the kids if they remembered to feed the dog . . . then stopped myself. I'm sure these moments of sadness will continue over the next few weeks.
There have been hidden blessings. We remembered a few days before he died, we let Simba in the house and he wasn't on his leash. This was rare, because he was starting to lose control of himself, and I kept him in the two rooms without carpeting. He had accidents in the house almost every week in the last few months. Anyway, he walked over to Stuart and licked his leg. Now, Simba loved to lick people, and mostly Stuart. Back in the day, Simba would run at full speed through the house, jump on our bed, and jump on Stuart to wake him up. It was our favorite Saturday ritual, having the dog wake up Daddy. But about six months ago, he stopped being able to jump on the bed. He stopped licking us. He didn't even like us to pet him anymore. He was an old dog and just wanted to be left alone. But when he walked over to Stuart and licked him that night, it was his goodbye kiss. He knew it was time. Looking back, I did too, but I didn't want to see it.
The emails, facebook posts, and text messages from our family and friends have been another blessing. Everyone understands how hard it is to lose a pet. That helps. That heals.
As I write this, I'm crying again. And I'm laughing at myself, because I really have no idea why or how we become so attached to our pets. I also have no idea why we still want to have pets, knowing that their loss is certain, and that we will feel so much pain when they are gone. This is one of the mysteries of life - it is wonderful and awful, it is joyful and painful - it is sometimes both at the same time. You can't have one without the other. I've been thinking of the other pets I have lost in my life - of our dog Roxy, our dog Cocoa, my sister's cat Spook, my mom's bird Pico. I don't know if it's good theology to believe that animals go to heaven, but I believe it anyway. Don't tell me I'm wrong, because in this area, I don't care if I'm wrong. I believe that dogs go to heaven. I like to imagine them up there, running around and getting in trouble and waiting for us. I like to imagine my grandma, who was a great dog lover herself, in heaven taking care of my dogs for me until I get there.