Thursday, November 25, 2010

No, Atropos, No

Michael Schaub and Matt Zoller Seitz bring up one of the lesser-acknowledged aspects of the holidays, the opportunity to reflect on those who aren't around to share them with us this time.

It's something that's been on my mind constantly anyway. A year ago today, my oldest dog died after several months of suffering with cancer. He had been preceded less than two months earlier by my youngest, also from cancer.

I make no attempt to hide the fact that I'm one of those people who mostly prefer the company of my dogs to that of other people. I've been around dogs my entire life. I've done volunteer work at veterinary clinics, animal shelters and rescue organizations. My dogs are my family and my best friends. This one in particular went nearly everywhere with me, from the time he was nine weeks old until he died a month shy of his fourteenth birthday. He always amusingly held himself aloof from the others as if he thought of himself as more human than canine, preferring to sit quietly and patiently next to me, whatever I was doing, rather than with the rest of the pack. I doubt I'll ever meet another one quite like him.

It's something about the passage of a year that brings home the finality of it to me. You can't help but think, after the loss of a loved one, about every significant experience and how they're not there to share it with you, but something about this particular measurement of time brings it around full circle for me. Something about having passed all the milestones of a calendar year without his company makes me feel deep down in my bones that he really is gone and never coming back.

I still think and dream about them constantly, especially as another one enters her final days, struggling with degenerative myelopathy. I wish I had something eloquent to say in honor of them, but I still find it too hard to focus long enough to corral my thoughts. Luckily, Chris Clarke already wrote one of the most beautiful passages I've ever read, one that I could never improve on anyway:

There will be years and years, each small forgetting a betrayal, each small betrayal a comfort, each small comfort another death. There is no lesson here, no lesson. Narcissus sought himself reflected in the world and found only death. Plums will bloom until there are no more plums. I will join him diffused into the soil, our component atoms intermingled one day soon, a dog and a man who walked together for a time, a brief spark of sweetness in an aching world.


  1. Brian M10:45 AM

    Beautiful quote (and post). It's been almost two years now since I said good bye to Max. (I waited too long, actually).

  2. Sorry about your dogs. Randy and I have had a similarly upsetting experience with ours: one, a dear companion for ten years until he died of cancer. Another we rescued from a neglectful owner, died of renal failure after only a few years. Currently, we have a German Shepherd rescued off the street who wants to climb into your lap when you pet her, but she weighs 80 lb. I sure hope she can hang around longer than the others; we're beginning to feel like we're bad luck for dogs.
    The quote is beautiful. We got lots of nice condolences when our first dog died, but one friend sent me something about him chasing rainbows in heaven. Ugh. She meant well.

  3. Brian M12:00 PM


    As "Ugh" as that Rainbow Bridge thing still makes me tear up terribly. In fact, just sitting here typing this....

  4. Thanks, fellows, and likewise to you.

    I've had quite a few plus-sized lapdogs myself; I've just resigned myself to never having a chair or sofa to myself for the foreseeable future. It also helps to learn breathing techniques to compensate for having a squashed diaphragm.

    Don't feel bad, Brian. There are lots of times I've inwardly rolled my eyes at some maudlin attempt at consolation, but in the right context, even those sentiments can be poignant -- my mom has one of those gravestones that I've seen in pet stores, something about how "if tears could build a stairway, I'd walk up to heaven and bring you home again", and when I saw it in her garden where she's buried some of hers, it really broke me up, to my surprise.